Dagens ord


Ansvar väger tyngre än frihet - Responsibility trumps liberty

4 feb. 2012

American democracy in a nutshell

Continues part 2.

Note: these are my personal opinions, not an attempt to accurately summarize Fishkin's book (even though I think he would agree).

Fishkin delineates four characteristics of various attempts at democracy: (1) equality, (2) participation, (3) deliberation, and (4) absence of tyranny (meaning an ignorant "majority" enforcing its will). He discusses at length why it's hard (nigh impossible) to implement all of these at the same time. In practice, usually only two of these get prioritized. It's partly a matter of compromise, and partly a matter of intentional design.

The founding fathers were no fools. But they struggled with the compromise, and they did not agree with each other. And things have developed from there. Fishkin describes the American form of democracy as one of "competition". It stems from the prioritization of (1) equality and (4) non-tyranny, while downplaying (or even ignoring or questioning) the value of the other two features.

This choice reflects a disillusioned view of the potential of democracy: The (non-deliberated) opinion of the masses cannot be counted as a voice of reason, but at least everyone should be able to have their say. Leave it to the elites to do the actual deliberating and acting, on behalf of the people.

Of course, Madison and others imagined benign elites (republican institutions); enlightened servants of the people -- not of their actual will, but of their best interest. In practice, elites tend to get distanced from the people. (Ironically, this is one of the strongest arguments for democracy in the first place.) Also, participation is hardly mandatory. In fact, some proponents of "competition" actually prefer a low turnout. It doesn't really matter anyway.

Now, the marketplace of ideas is open for (deliberate) manipulation of people's opinions. Given that it couldn't be any other way (or so it is said) such manipulation should be encouraged, in a true competition for votes.

So, the U.S. democracy is based on a misanthropic view of people in the first place: it's no use even trying to accomplish (2) and (3). But it gets worse. Not even (1) and (4) are actually in place. Consider, e.g. the gerrymandering of districts, the registration procedure, the step-by-step electoral process, and the complex and skewed tallying of results. It's actually a deliberate attempt to confuse people, to discourage them from voting, to disregard their votes, and to explain away the fact that "democracy" in this version never quite seems to work as alleged. So much for equality.

All of the above means that tyranny is also present: By manipulating who votes and for what, and by keeping turnout low, the "support" for the governing elite is merely a facade. They don't really have the mandate to do or say what they do, but they dare you to prove it, or to do anything about it! So it is that MediCare and other no-brainers get filibustered forever, even though it's clearly ludicrous.



And waddya know? Hans Ruin writes in DN today about the soon ungovernable super-power.

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