That Congress has never been held in greater contempt at any time in its two centuries is something all available evidence, whether statistical or impressionistic, indicates. When our noble Conscript Fathers, a few months back, undertook to promote themselves a little pay raise, public outrage achieved its greatest negative unanimity since the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor. The unmistakable expression of the people’s will has not fazed the people’s representatives in the least, and the pay raise is back again.

The same public that regards our representatives as little more than matter for cynical jokes regularly reelects them to their posts at a rate in excess of 90 percent, also a two-century record. If we were any longer able to be surprised, we would regard this as a very startling paradox. Some attention has been paid to the excessive incumbency problem, but not enough. Political operatives blame it on gerrymandering and the advantages of incumbency in name-recognition, etc. Ralph Nader, strangely, blames it on PACS, though PACS, indeed, are the only powers in the land with enough strength to challenge incumbency.

None of these explanations even begin to get at the question. The existence of either aspect of the current situation, not to mention the paradox, would have been prima facie evidence to our Founding Fathers of a grave crisis in republican government—of defects and perversions so fundamental in the people and the principles as to call into question the whole foundation of representative government.

Our present situation is, in fact, merely the result of long-term changes that have been accumulating for some time but that have only recently become apparent—changes that have altered the essence of our government from republican to imperial. In government we must look at the thing itself, not at the name. Nothing could be more delusive than to believe that dead names and forms preserve something when its living essence is gone.

Our Congress as it stands is purely and simply the natural and normal spawn of the Great Society. While we have not quite reached the Utopia promised by Lyndon Johnson, we have achieved an immense patronage machine that extends with a thousand arms into every congressional district and every community and almost into every home. The federal government is now a great giant who presents us with endless goodies, but who also demands steady tribute and who might carelessly roll over and crush us to death.

Our congressmen have simply adapted themselves to function in natural harmony with the Great Society—itself a perversion of representative democracy. They are its creatures. They are not lawmakers—they do not go to Washington to give the law to Leviathan. Rather, they are brokers, or at best ombudsmen, who are in a position to coax and coddle the giant into throwing some of his goodies our way. To put it another way, they are not primarily the representatives of our communities to the government, but primarily the delegates of the government to our communities. They work for the government and not for us.

Only a minimal amount of cunning is needed in a congressman to sit atop the flow of largess from Washington and take credit for it. He need only make sure that a sufficient number of citizens are paid off, in some way or another, to guarantee reelection to infinity. It does not matter whether the representative is a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, an abortionist or a pro-lifer, a rake, a pervert, a thief, or a drunk. All he has to do is make sure enough of us get our share of the gravy, that the balance of those who think they are getting something from the government is maintained over those who know they are getting shafted. Thanks to the diabolical system of withholding, this is made much easier. We do not blame our representatives for the tribute we pay, but thank them for what we get back.

The very meaning of representation has been transformed into something our forefathers would not have recognized by the term.

In order to understand why representative government has been altered beyond recognition, we have to understand what it meant to our fathers. The executive branch of the government, especially of the federal government, was regarded by most people, except the lucky few of placemen and monopolists, as a necessary evil. The purpose of representatives was to protect the communities which they represented from the depredations of the government. This is why revenue bills had to originate in the House of Commons and the House of Representatives.

It was understood that the main job of the representative was to protect and defend the community—to give the law to its potential oppressor, the government; to make sure the government’s impositions on the community were really necessary for the general welfare and were confined in strict and lawful limits.

Two-year terms were a way of making the representatives refer back to their communities frequently so that they would not be seduced away by the payola and honors that it was in the power of the executive to confer. Turnover was also an affirmation of government of the people in another sense. The representative was temporary. He came from the ranks of the people and when his term was done there he returned, to live as an equal citizen under the benefits or the burdens of the laws he had made.

But one of the things that has happened in recent years is that congressmen have been insulated from the consequences of their acts. Whether from malice, from ignorance, from irresponsibility, from cowardice, or from some combination of these, they can decree for us war, taxation, inflation, crime, busing, abortion, and social decay, whatever they wish. They are largely immune—after all, the few who are unlucky enough to be turned out have their pensions, their appointments to the bench or the executive branch, nice jobs as lobbyists and “consultants,” etc. etc. etc.

The traditional representative was not only a representative, he was also a leader. In the high original concept of Anglo-American democracy, the representative was not a machine who registered the preferences of 51 percent of his constituents. He was, rather, an exceptional person entrusted with a high responsibility, along with which went the scope to exercise his own wisdom and ethics in pursuit of the long-term best interests of the community. That is, he was expected to be not a mouthpiece but a statesman. Until this century, nearly all the great and admirable political figures in the British and American tradition were parliamentarians—not those who promised the people everything, but those who showed the people what was needed.

Needless to say, we do not find many statesmen of this sort in our Congress, which is as much a reflection on our virtue as on theirs. In order to have such representatives again we would have to elect people with intelligence and moral determination to consider the interests and welfare of society in a larger time-frame than the next election or the next brown bag full of money. And people with a higher conception of their duty than constituent service or following the recommendations of their pollsters and publicity agents.

There is, then, in the minds of our congressmen no reason why they should not receive a raise, whether we want them to have one or not. They are the brokers who handle an immense transfer of wealth from hand to hand—and brokers are always entitled to a handsome percentage of what they handle. They do not work for us. They are the servants of Leviathan, and it is Leviathan that rewards them.