St. Thomas Aquinas to the Rescue!

Grandpa Gary recently found a newspaper article which he thought might interest me, an article about an essay contest sponsored by the Nevada County Bar Association.  The annual contest is open to all Nevada County high school students.   This year’s topic is the separation of powers as framework for freedom, with an emphasis on party affairs. They gave some questions to consider, and on Monday (that being the due date), I set to work on some brainstorming.  The prompt page gave some questions to guide essay development, and I tried writing down a short answer to each.  When I came back after doing math, there seemed to be most promise in the question about whether our political muddle would be assuaged by reallocating senators based on population.

Eliminating the electoral college or reallocating senators by population would decidedly not help. If we did this, the states wouldn’t all be as represented. The large states would be in control of all the government, leaving the small states with little say. Whatever parties were dominant in them would have the power—it wouldn’t really matter what parties were dominant in small states like Rhode Island.

So I had some idea of a subject, and some ideas of what I could say about it: but what to write? What order to write it in? Where to start, where to travel through, where to wind up? This affair of reallocating senators had potential, but how to tackle it? I wanted to have a clear, well-formatted argument, not something with a vague sprawl for an arrangement, but I’m not accustomed to writing arguments.  The only argument format I could think of was that of the five-paragraph essay, but I didn’t feel like looking up how to write one, or like writing one. What format could I use for my argument? Then I realized. There is an argument format which I’m quite familiar with. St. Thomas to the rescue!

I turned out this:

Q: Should members of the Senate be apportioned by population?

We are governed by three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The legislative branch is Congress, which has two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are two members of the Senate from each state. Members of the House of Representatives are apportioned by state population.

Objection 1.
This is unjust, isn’t it? Not everyone is evenly represented in the Senate. We are supposed to have government by and for the people, but here the people aren’t equally represented. If you live in California, you are relatively discriminated against compared to someone who lives in Rhode Island.

Objection 2.
Besides, parties are unequally represented. If California were dominated by a party called Yellow and Rhode Island were dominated by a party called Purple, then each member of Yellow would have less power than a member of Purple.

I answer that,
Some quote from a Founding Father talking about balancing power between the Senate and House.

On the Contrary,
We live in a republic, not a democracy. We have three branches of government as a system of “Checks and Balances”, and this two-parted composition of Congress, one part by state, one part by population, is also part of the system of checks and balances.

Reply Objection 1.
Yes, someone in California is unevenly represented in the Senate compared to someone from Rhode Island. However, that’s not such a bad thing. Our government is supposed to be by and for all the people. If California had more power than Rhode island everywhere, then all laws which were made might be laws which favored large states and discriminated against small ones. This makes sure that everyone gets heard.

Reply Objection 2.
The same goes for parties. If a large states such as California are dominated by the party Yellow, and small states such as Rhode Island are dominated by the party Purple, and the states are represented in the Senate based on population, then Yellow has a good chance of dominating not only California but a large part of the government. With our checks and balances, each party is able to help in governing

Looking over this outline, Mom said, ‘Your intro and objections are good, but you need more than an argument from authority.’ I looked at the iPad. ‘St. Thomas doesn’t end with the I answer that!’ I said. ‘Did you see the other page?’ She had not, it turned out.

Thus, I have seen that it does me direct good to be reading the Summa Theologica (in the translated form of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s abridged and annotated Summa of the Summa).  I enjoy the work—except in the places where St. Thomas flies away, leaving me behind to gaze skyward in puzzlement, wondering where that train of confusingly unfamiliar terms and theorems went.  The theology is valuable, the ideas stimulating.  But as we were discussing this paper outline, Mom told me that she was having me read the Summa for logic-training as well as theology-learning.  All I can say is that I’m grateful for this: and while saying ‘it’s working’ seems rather prideful, I can at least say that it is very helpful.

After more writing, with editing from various quarters, I wrote and submitted a 499-word essay.  I’ll find out if I’ve lost within a month; but I don’t really care.  I appreciated the process of writing the essay, exploring how to write it and deepening my own understanding of the issues at point.  And the way it came out surprised me pleasantly:

Should Members of the Senate be Apportioned by Population?

The government of the United States has three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The legislative branch is Congress, which itself consists of two parts. In the House of Representatives, the members are apportioned by population. California, for example, has fifty-three members, while Rhode Island has two. In the Senate, though, there are two members from each state.

Isn’t this system unjust? In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke of “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This government should be for all the people, equally. Yet a person from California has much less representation in the Senate than one from Rhode Island. How can we have equal government without equal representation? Political parties are also unequally represented in this system. A democracy is about the voice of the people, and a party ought to be as strong as the people who support it. Let us suppose, for example, that California were dominated by a party called Yellow and Rhode Island were dominated by a party called Purple. There will be many times more members of the party Yellow than of the party Purple, yet in the current system Purple will be as strong as Yellow in the Senate.

What this argument doesn’t understand is that we are a republic, not a democracy. In a tyranny, a few people decide what will happen to everyone in a country. In a democracy, the largest and most vocal group of the people decide what will happen to everyone. But the Founding Fathers extracted America from tyranny and tried to keep America from democracy. They established a republic for us, which means that we have to all live in a compromise in which (as nearly as possible) everyone is heard and everyone is fairly treated. The three branches of the government are part of the Fathers’ system of checks and balances, so that power can stay divided more or less evenly. The arrangement of Congress in which the House of Representatives is by population, and the Senate by state, is also part of this system.

Yes, it is true that someone from California is less represented in the Senate than someone from Rhode Island. However, this isn’t such a bad thing. It is part of the huge compromise by which we are governed. It is because our government is supposed to be of, by, and for all of the people. If California and other big states had more power than small states in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives, then all the laws which were passed might be ones which discriminated against small states. It works the same way for political parties. If large states like California are dominated by party Yellow and small states like Rhode Island are dominated by party Purple, Yellow might make all the decisions. The way it is, there is a place for everyone to be heard. The way it is, we can really have government for all the people.