Hennessy's View

Domine, non sum dignus

When Will Minimalism Reach Government?

Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.

–Robert Heinlein

I threw away some of favorite clothes.

It was 2008. The economy was crumbling. My job hung by a thread. Even sober, wise people warned of global economic collapse.

So I threw stuff away or gave it to Goodwill.

I was reading Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits, at the time and also Jefferson’s letters.

Jefferson was a minimalist. He was lazy, too. Industrious men don’t work as hard as Jefferson at inventing machines to increase their leisure.

Jefferson had a proper disdain for pomp and ceremony and a health respect for simplicity in republican government. Jefferson spoke of the Federalist tendencies late in his life:

the forms and ceremonies which I found prevailing, not at all in character with the simplicity of republican government, and looking, as if wishfully to those of European courts

And he let us know that one federalist agreed that pomp and ceremony have little place in a republic:

Hamilton and myself agreed at once that there was too much ceremony for the character of our government.

Nathan Raab’s column in Forbes today reminded me of that period in 2008 when simplification became paramount to me. Raab points out that Jefferson hated the state of the union speech, preferring to send Congress a letter when needed. The precedent Jefferson set prevailed until the progressive Woodrow Wilson dusted off his crown and restored the British monarchy’s tradition of the “Speech from the Throne.”

Tonight, Wilson’s philosophical descendant will recreate, in Jefferson’s words,

…the pompous cavalcade to the state house on the meeting of Congress, the formal speech from the throne, the procession of Congress in a body to re-echo the speech in an answer…

America was once a republic, which means simply a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In other words, open government in which any citizen may take part. The other kind, the private government, is like a closed club. You must apply for membership.

We seem to have a semi-private government today. Yes, the public can still book tee times, but we’re limited to times left unused by members. We can look into the ballroom, but we can’t use it. No matter our handicaps, we never lose the understanding that, while we might play the course, we don’t belong.

Tonight’s pomp, and the king instructs Parliament in the presence of the court and Joint Chiefs, reminds us of our place.

The Constitution requires the president to inform Congress on the state of the union and to recommend legislation he deems “necessary and expedient.” No requirement for a speech exists, though.

Minimalism is all the rage in the design world these days. I’m a fan. When I look around, I see an overbuilt America. We’ve overdone everything. Everything.

But most of all, we’ve overdone the value and importance, size and scope, of government.

Jefferson was lazy, simple, and minimalist. His inventions and designs were purposeful and useful. As Heinlein points out, progress comes from man’s search for an easier path to an end.

It’s time we stripped government of its wasteful ornaments and de-festooned the whole damn thing. I’d like to begin that journey with a simple request: that the next president take an oath to email his state of the union message to Congress and free us of that trapping of monarchy.


comments powered by Disqus