Socialization between animals was a huge progress boost in our history, but our species is not the only one that can socialize and communicate. Among social animals there is a tendency for an alpha to arise among the group, usually the strongest member. A group with an alpha can look to that leader for security as well as for decision making. Humans were not very different in this regard, often the strongest individual would take on a leadership role.
One specific difference between humans and other animals is that humans can support each other based on their ideas. For example, let’s say a tribe of early humans has two potential leaders. The physically stronger candidate wants to travel out of the valley that has kept the group safe for years while the weaker candidate wants to stay. If the majority of the people want to stay, the strength of the first candidate cannot reduce the support given to the weaker candidate. In this way, humans differentiate from animals: they can support a leader based solely on an idea.
As our ancestors progressed through the Agricultural Revolution and began to settle in a single place, the roles of the leadership expanded. One of the most important roles of early human government was to defend their people from animals and other humans. The strongest member of a tribe often became the leader for that very reason: when war comes, you want a commander who will win.
For a peaceful society, there needs to be laws set in place either by the leader or by a person claiming to speak directly to the god of those people. The leader would be responsible for the upkeep of roads and public facilities like wells and markets; or at least they were responsible for putting someone in charge of the infrastructure.
The leadership, which we’ll now call government, would eventually start to issue money to the people to exchange between them. It was the authority of the government that gave value to the money. In fact, the money often had a depiction of the leader’s face to further establish authority. Leaders could also demand money back from the people in the form of taxes, which could be reallocated to fund the many roles of the government. Eventually the government would take a role in educating their young, teaching them the ways of their own culture to pass down the traditions.
Although a leader should have a level head and make decisions based on long term consequences, they are a human just like you. As a human, that leader is susceptible to irrational and quick reactions when faced with a threat. Because of their widespread influence, the decisions of the individuals who happen to be in a leadership role have much more weight than the decisions of the average citizen. Since leaders are only human, their personal beliefs will influence their policies; a big problem when the leaders are racist or sexist.
Governments have successfully existed in a few different ways over our history but they all break down into two main types: a single person or small group rules the people, or the people rule themselves. The two types have opposite advantages and disadvantages.
The few ruling means that decisions get made quickly whether the people agree or not. For example, Alexander linked a huge portion of Asia in his irrational attempt to kill a fleeing enemy, conquering settlements as he went. This was a silly reason for a huge advancement in communication but the ends sometimes justify the means. Alexander never actually made it back home after his legendary chase.
The people ruling themselves means that everyone is given a voice, although it is difficult to listen to everyone’s voice when the population is too large. The more people who can speak their mind, the longer it will take to make a decision and act on it.
A republic is a mixture of the two types, allowing the decisions to be made by only a few leaders but those leaders represent many more people. This seems like a good compromise to get the best of both worlds but there is plenty more that can go awry.
Let’s say you run for office and you win based on your platform of creating more parks. You get to the leader’s table and start talking to other representatives about backing your plan. You then meet another representative who wants to turn your potential park into a power plant for an energy company. You are offered a handsome bribe to back down from your parks idea and are told that you can make another park soon enough. You just got to the table so you don’t want to ruffle feathers, not a good way to make future connections, so you accept. The people you represent may or may not be happy with your decision but you are the one at the table so their opinions don’t matter as much as yours.
A few years pass and you discover that the region of people you represent has been changed. You are now the representative for a new group of people that never would have chosen you to represent them. The act of changing representative districts is called gerrymandering and it’s often a way that the powerful leaders can maintain their position. They basically hand pick the people who will vote for them to be in their district.
You are shocked by all of the secrecy, strategy, and corruption present at the leaders table so you decide you need to clean it up during your next term. But now you have to cater to the people in your newly zoned district which means either you must publicly change your views or you’ll be out of a job.
These are a few problems of a republic: the few at the top are still susceptible to corruption and they want to keep their jobs so they may claim one side of an opinion publicly even if they privately disagree. A leader needs to be unafraid of upsetting the people as long as they are striving for a better future.
We still haven’t found the best way of governing without the possibility of individuals becoming corrupted or changing their opinions but that doesn’t mean we are done searching for it. We are humans, we are innovators, we will create a system that represents everyone equally and works for the betterment of all of us. I’m sure of it.