March 25, 2012
to be posted on and

Lawrence Lessig
Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 510N
Cambridge, MA 02138
617 496 112

Dear Professor Lessig:
I have read with great interest Republic, Lost (Lawrence Lessig, Hachett Book Group, New York 2011) and take your point that the sheer amount of money being given to politicians by special interest groups and businesses corrodes the very idea of rule by the people, that the situation is only getting worse and that only the moral equivalent of a revolution will restore our democracy.

I offer my wish that you have the best possible luck with your quest.  I shall try to offer something more.

I know how you feel when you raise the issue and are met with silence.  I find myself in the same place a lot, for I also have a warning.  And it is frustrating not to know how my message is getting across.  So let me give you my own idea of what people are thinking.  This is not to say it is what I believe or to question your thesis, but it seems to me to be a question.  The question is, “Why now?”  The notion that special interest groups could get control over the government was already obvious and dreaded two centuries ago.  And of course to a degree it has always happened.  But in the past few years it seems to have exploded without any obvious structural change leading to it.  On the face of it, that sounds like somebody who doubts your bottom line.  I do not.  And I can understand how people might not want to bring it up directly for fear of being misunderstood.

That is not to say that you ignore the question.  I gather you suggest that a democracy is sort of like a living thing, needing constant care and a steady infusion of the kind of sacrifice that changing things will call for.  That would mean that there is no inciting cause.  It has happened because it was always possible. 

So let me give you my own suggestion.  See if you like it.  Following the analogy of a democracy being a living thing, I would suggest that there are other kinds of political “living things.”  Ours is more precious to me than most regimes, but in the end it is still a regime.  And regimes are mortal.  They tend to die as they approach their 300th birthday.  Here is a link to the extraordinary evidence that supports this extraordinary claim.

If you wish to dismiss the evidence without examining it, then I fear you will never understand your current concern.  If you examine it and find fault with it, I should only be too delighted to have it attacked in detail.  But even if you find no fault, I doubt you will see immediately any connection between our interests. 

My bottom line is that regimes die because the critical population that makes it possible dies out.  In order to have a sufficient number of babies, one must marry kin, say third cousin or so.  Otherwise there will not be enough babies.  Every problem that was ever solved or ever will be solved was solved by people who started as babies. 

One response is, “We have an adequate number of babies.  Even if the people who were here for WWII are not represented in great numbers, there are lots of fertile immigrants.”  But it takes three generations to make a professional.  Take me for instance.  I am a diagnostic radiologist.  During most of my career I was technically good – I have been called brilliant – but only in recent years during the gloaming of my professional life do I feel like I have the skill to be a true professional.  If I had a son who was a radiologist, he would have faced the same problem.  While he was growing up I was still learning.  But my grandson should have taken to it like a duck to water. 

Politics is the work of professionals.  They need to have generations of experience in order to be adequate.  And that they no longer have.  The republic is in the hands of amateurs, who of necessity will make all the mistakes of amateurs.  And we will pay the price.

Please think it over, take a look at the link and let me know how you feel about it.


M. Linton Herbert MD

The professor was kind enough to send an acknowledgement. 

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