The Liberal Term
Transcript of the Third Presidential Debate in Political Philosophy
The stage is set for Ignoramia's last presidential debate before the election. The Republican candidate, I. Cant, enters and stands behind
the rightmost podium. He is followed by the Democratic candidate B.S. Mill, who positions himself at the far left podium. Both are
accompanied by their respective political advisors, Machiavelli and Guicciardini. The Independent candidate, Senator Cicero, then enters
unaccompanied and takes his place in the middle podium.
Moderator. Thank you all for attending this evening. As you know, this is the final presidential debate before the election. Whoever wins here
tonight will exert a great deal of influence on the minds of voters who have previously decided on the candidate they will perceive as
winning. So let’s get started, shall we? We’ll begin with the Republican candidate. Now Mr. Cant, as a successful businessman, how would
you define the primary responsibility of a public servant?
Cant. Everyone has an innate right to freedom. One should always act so as to be a law unto oneself.
Moderator. Could you speak up, please?
Cant. [Machiavelli whispers in his ear] I said, one should always act as a law unto one’s health—if it isn’t salubrious for others, it's not
salubrious for you.
Moderator. I’m sorry, sir, but could you dumb that down for all the folks watching on television?
Cant. Why of course. [Machiavelli grumbles something.] A man cannot act virtuously without principles. Never do anything unless you would
have everyone else do it as well. [The audience cheers wildly.]
Moderator. Thank you. We now turn to Candidate Mill. Mr. Mill, as a bureaucrat who has many years of experience working for the
government, what would you say is the primary responsibility of a public servant?
Mill. I’ve always believed in the greatest good for my greatest number of brothers.
Moderator. Yes, we are all aware that you come from a large family. On that matter, how do you answer the charges of nepotism your
opponents have laid against you?
Mill. [Guicciardini whispers in his ear] What I meant to say was, I believe in the greatest good for the greatest number of others—of the
people, generally speaking.
Moderator. And what form will this ‘good’ take?
Mill. I am a proponent of consequences. Good intentions are nice, but without beneficial effects we won’t get anywhere. Show me the money—
so I can spend it! [Guicciardini nudges him] —on behalf of the taxpayers! [The audience claps vociferously.]
Moderator. Thank you Mr. Mill. Now Senator, you are the only candidate who has concrete political experience.
Cant. [Under his breath] Crook!
Mill. [Coughing] Demagogue!
Moderator. As an elected official, what do you see the public servant’s function as being?
Cicero. Duty is the most important thing. Adhering to the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, justice, magnanimity, and decorum. The public
servant’s function is to lead by example, to show the way for all citizens to develop their characters within the context of the proper
obligations defined by their social roles. [Sporadic yawning in the audience.] Whether mother, neighbor, political representative…
Cicero. That sort is mostly beyond virtue. [The audience boos.] But as I was saying, in order for duties to be cultivated, we must…
Moderator. I’m sorry Senator, you’ve reached your time limit. I thank you all for your responses, but we must move on to the next question.
The Democratic candidate will lead off this time. Mr. Mill, where do you stand on the question of the economy?
Mill. Regulation. The personal harm of citizens is of the utmost priority. [The audience cups their hands to their mouths, wanting to cheer but
managing to control themselves.]
Moderator. Can you explain yourself?
Mill. [Looking nervously to Guicciardini, who shakes his hands and mouths something indiscernible] Why, yes. Policies of utility must be
enacted that prevent harm to the interests of others. [Raucous hooting and hollering.]
Moderator. Mr. Cant? Where do you stand on the economy?
Cant. Deregulation. State power cannot be based on the welfare of citizens. [The audience holds their hands up, wanting to clap but
Moderator. How do you mean?
Cant. [After Machiavelli whispers something to him] The welfare of citizens is of the utmost importance, but it is a matter of individual
responsibility. If a person doesn’t take care of himself, how can I take care of him? [Loud clapping.]
Moderator. Senator Cicero? Your position?
Cicero. [He glances upwards briefly before looking the Moderator in the eye.] The economy will only be as strong as the virtue of the people
contributing to it. A good work ethic must be aided by a willingness to help those in need. Welfare is the supreme law—the welfare of the
Republic. For a good public thing to exist, the thing of the people must be maintained. And since the thing of the people is the public thing,
the people must entrust the public thing to their magistrates, who will then ensure the good of the public thing, the people’s things, and the
people. [The audience goes silent.]
Mill. [Aside] Dreamer!
Cant. [In a low voice] Pedant!
Moderator. Thank you, Senator. We will return to Candidate Cant for the following question. If you are elected what will be your first act as
President of the United States?
Moderator. What was that?
Cant. [Machiavelli writes something on a notepad and places it in front of his master] Taxation! The state should not impose any particular
conception of happiness upon its citizens. Citizens are not children, but mature thinking adults capable of following their own desires. That is
why I will give those with the means to be happy the opportunity to exercise their own notion of happiness, by relieving the burden of taxes
currently weighing down the backs of the rich. [Loud cheering and stomping of feet.]
Moderator. Mr. Mill? If you are elected what is the first thing you will enact?
Mill. A mansion.
Moderator. Could you repeat that?
Mill. [Guiccardini throws a harsh glance his way] Expansion! I will enlarge the bureaucracy to meet current needs. The more subcommittees,
the more the government will effectively be able to bring happiness to all. Bureaucracy is desirable for its own sake, and everyone desires
that subcommittee which will make them most happy. Of course, others may have a more ultimate desire, and that desire will also have a
subcommittee. [The audience gives him a standing ovation.]
Moderator. Senator? I put the same question to you.
Cicero. The first thing I will do is to depose the city of the tyrants oppressing it, as one would amputate a bad limb. They must be got rid of. I
will initiate a purge. Corrupt officials and the businesspeople they take bribes from are beasts in human form; there can be no fellowship
between us and them. A corrupt regime is, strictly speaking, not a public thing at all. In order to put my will into action on this matter, I will...
[The Senator is hit by a tomato.]
Moderator. I’m sorry Senator, but you really must stay on topic. We're losing you.
Mill. [Softly] Straying dog!
Cant. [Sneezing] Daft old codger!
Moderator. I thank you all for your responses. I hope you’ve had the chance to get warmed up, because you're going to be in the heat for a
while still. The next round of questions concerns the issue of…[A power outage occurs]…covered all the major topics to the satisfaction of
any viewers immune to rational arguments that oppose their entrenched prejudices. Before we end this debate, do each of you have any final
words for the audience?
Cant. Exercise the rule of always thinking for yourself, by voting for me. If elected, I will bring Enlightenment to the Ignoramian people. [Wild
applause. The Republican candidate is showered with flowers.]
Mill. If you elect me, I will bring you the higher pleasures of life, whether those be the lower sensations that cause mental states, or the mental
states that cause sensations, or chains of sensations that lead to whatever jubilations, fancies, or ecstasies you hold of supreme value. If you
are an incompetent judge in these matters, leave them to a subcommittee that is capable of best judging which pleasure will occupy a superior
place in your community. And if you are a competent judge, I will appoint a subcommittee to guarantee the reliability of that judgment. [The
audience proceeds to enthusiastically riot.]
Cicero. [Waits for the audience to settle down.] If elected, [loud booing drowns out what follows] I will bring true glory to the citizens of this
great public thing, by ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to fulfill their duties. I will show citizens that violating their ethical duties
can never serve their advantage, so long as…
Moderator. I’m sorry Senator, but we’re out of time. On behalf of everyone watching, I thank you all for participating in this debate tonight.
Now the ball is in the court of the voters; they will decide who is the best candidate.
Update: B.S. Mill won the presidency by a narrow margin thanks to the Electoral College, though I. Cant secured more popular votes.
Senator Cicero was favored by only two percent of voters. President Mill held office for one term. In the next election I. Cant ran again
and defeated the incumbent by a slight majority.
The Conservative Term
Those fall farthest who first fall up
For millennia people have dreamt of a government administered with perfect justice under the rule of a wise philosopher. Nearly all of these utopians have been philosophers themselves. On rare occasions—as in the cases of Marcus Aurelius, Julian the Apostate, and Thomas Jefferson—Fortuna even thrusts an enlightened thinker into a position of near-limitless power. Curiously, these figures never wrote utopian fiction, much less any starring philosophers. Instead it is the thinkers like Cicero, Thomas More, and Francis Bacon—those who occupy high but slightly subordinate positions in government—who do this. Where the examples in the latter group chafed under their superiors (highly competent ones, interestingly), the former, burdened with the daily stress of omnipotence, did not delude themselves about realizing social perfection. In any case, The Republic is an idea whose time has finally come to be put to the modern democratic process, and determine which philosopher is best suited for rule.
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