Ladies and Gentlemen. This will be the biggest political matchup since the fall of Rome:
In the red corner, weighing in at over 2,400 years old, with a record of more than 320 KOs, 0 TKOs, 0 split decisions, and 0 defeats, we have the Cycle of Civilization, the Destroyer of Republics, the Grim Reaper of Democracy, the undisputed champion of all political theory: Anacyclosis.
In the blue corner, weighing in at over 230 years old, 27 amendments, and 1 civil war, we have the oldest national written constitution in the world, ranking in legal significance alongside Hammurabi’s Code, the Twelve Tables, and Magna Carta: The Constitution of the United States.
This fight won’t even be close. When anacyclosis makes contact, it’ll be all over. Two hits: Anacyclosis hitting America and America hitting the floor.
True, America has shown some fancy footwork over the past couple of centuries. Democracy has dodged the first few blows, including the 1930s depression where half of the world went dictator. Thankfully, the Founding Fathers had studied anacyclosis and incorporated some safeguards against the cycle into the design of the Constitution. Most noteworthy are the separation of powers and the blending of democratic with non-democratic elements.
Polybius, Cicero, and other classical writers reasoned that, since all states naturally cycle through the simple constitutional forms of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, the best constitution should combine all three. They believed that counterbalancing the energies of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy would prevent any one of them from predominating, thus halting anacyclosis. This strain of thought made its way to the American Founding Fathers – especially John Adams – who incorporated the principle of separation of powers into his 1780 Massachusetts state constitution (still in effect). This charter was referenced by the Framers at Philadelphia in 1787, along with John Adams’ explicit writings on Anacyclosis.
In furtherance of the separation of powers, the Founders designed the Constitution to limit the democratic element. Many modern writers, either being uninformed or misinformed about anacyclosis, have attacked the US Constitution on the basis that it isn’t democratic enough. The Framers of the Constitution fortunately enjoyed a much more nuanced and historically-informed understanding of democracy. They moderated democracy precisely because the lessons of Classical Antiquity taught them to fear democracy’s vulnerabilities to corruption, demagogy, and mob-rule.
The Philadelphia delegates believed that consent must derive from the governed. But they rejected direct democracy for the reasons experienced by the Greeks. They accordingly designed the Constitution to temper the popular energy within democracy. To the principle of democracy the Constitution originally gave this much: the people would directly choose those holding the power of the purse, would indirectly choose those holding the power of the sword, and would themselves be entrusted with neither.
For almost 250 years this design has remained intact, with only few amendments. American society has never yet degenerated into anarchy or mob rule. But will the Constitution protect America from the oncoming onslaught of anacyclosis?
Don’t bet on it. The longevity of America’s social stability cannot be attributed to political genius alone. Far more important, as anacyclosis counsels, America has been buttressed by a large and stable middle class.
Since ratification of the Constitution, three key factors have favored the middle class. The first was the sheer breadth of the middle class at the nation’s inception. The American revolution, unlike European revolutions, did not harness proletariat rage against the ancien regime. The American revolution was a struggle of merchants and farmers, not serfs and slaves. As Alexis de Tocqueville reported as the very first sentence of his 1831 work Democracy in America: