Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Posts Tagged ‘egalitarianism

Why I Study Philosophy

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An op-ed article in the New York Times was brought to my attention last week. The article is “Where Is the Love?” by Nicholas Kristof, and was written in response to feedback he has received from readers regarding his earlier writings:

When I’ve written recently about food stamp recipients, the uninsured and prison inmates, I’ve had plenty of pushback from readers.

Kristof apparently doesn’t appreciate the pushback, describing the comments he receives as “scorn” and a “coruscating chorus,” which last I can only interpret as a sarcasm. He links the commenters to “modern social Darwinists,” categorizing them in with believers who tout le monde, any person of the faith, knows to be discredited.

Kristof considers the viewpoints of the readers who respond negatively to his writing to “reflect a profound lack of empathy.” Here again, we observe the attitude that those who don’t agree with the author just don’t get it and are defective in some way, lacking in some necessary mental faculty. If you only had a proper amount of empathy, you would see the correctness of my viewpoint. Off to the re-education camp with you!

And what should the content of the re-education be? Fortunately, Kristof provides us with insights as to where he got his beliefs:

John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a “veil of ignorance” — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?

So let’s take a closer look at this “brilliant 20th-century philosopher.”

The Philosophy of John Rawls

The work for which Rawls is most known is his 1971 book A Theory of Justice, in which he set out what he believed to be a just foundation for a politically legitimate society.

[Rawls] only wrote this book, basically. He wrote some articles which lead up to the book and then some things that follow out of the book, but basically his book A Theory of Justice is it. And so he’s not a great in that sense of the greats of the tradition, but he certainly has more intellectual staying power than any contemporary, in the broad sense of the word, that you’ve read in this course or will read in this course. People will still be reading Rawls long after people like me have been forgotten about.

So in that sense he’s a really important figure, and he’s a really important figure also in the sense that even if you don’t like his arguments, even if you are completely un-persuaded by all of his arguments you have to come to grips with him. I’m not in sympathy with any of his major arguments, but you cannot work in this field and not deal with John Rawls. That’s how important he is, and he’s going to be for a long time. So that’s just by way of background and letting you know what you’re dealing with.
— Ian Shapiro, “Moral Foundations of Politics”, Session 16

The above is from a Yale course given in 2010 by Dr. Shapiro that was recorded and made available online at http://oyc.yale.edu/political-science/plsc-118 and that I will reference again in this article. It discusses the various theories that would make a government morally legitimate and is worth taking a look at.

As Dr. Shapiro says, John Rawls is an unavoidable presence in contemporary normative political theory — the study of how society ought to work, as contrasted with how it actually does work. So we need to examine what he had to say and what the merits and defects of his position are.

Justice as Fairness

When Rawls talks about justice, he is really basing it on fairness. His point of view is really a logical destination once you secularize the concept of a universe where life outcomes are just.

If you are a Christian, you have the final judgment of God to make everything come out right. God can see into each person’s soul and know what she was capable of. He can evaluate her actions against her capabilities and make a just decision about how she lived her life. Maybe the person didn’t have any advantages on Earth, but tried her best. It’s just a vale of tears, anyway; you’ll get your reward in heaven (unless you believe in predestination, which is beyond the scope of this discussion).

Once you remove the judgment of God, there is no reward to be had in heaven. So if you are a caring person, you look at disadvantaged people and you think, “how can this be right?” Starting here, it is understandable to want to have society make it right. This is where Rawls is coming from. In his view, a just society would make it right for the disadvantaged.

This viewpoint is understandable, but it doesn’t work. As Thomas Sowell explains in his book The Quest for Cosmic Justice, this concept of justice is unrealizable and has profoundly immoral side effects. From a summary written by Dr. Sowell:

John Rawls perhaps best summarized the differences when he distinguished “fair” equality of opportunity from merely “formal” equality of opportunity. Traditional justice, fairness, or equality of opportunity are merely formal in Professor Rawls’ view and in the view of his many followers and comrades.  For those with this view, “genuine equality of opportunity” cannot be achieved by the application of the same rules and standards to all, but requires specific interventions to equalize either prospects or results.  As Rawls puts it, “undeserved inequalities call for redress.”
— Thomas Sowell, http://www.tsowell.com/spquestc.html

God is omnipotent and all-seeing. God can see into the souls of persons and determine whether or not the inequalities between two persons are undeserved, and God will make that judgment in divine terms, not human terms. What human or human institution has this godlike capability? There is none.

The Veil of Ignorance

According to Rawls, a society is fair if you would choose to live under it without knowing beforehand whether you would be a prince or a pauper. Rawls calls this restriction on foreknowledge the veil of ignorance. A person acting from behind this restriction would be in the original position and would, according to Rawls, be most likely to enter into a social contract with others that would minimize the disadvantage he would encounter if his initial circumstances in life turn out to be unfavorable. He believes that persons who were in the original position would only chose to be governed by principles that could be universalized to all. Consider how you would feel if you were in the least advantaged position governed by the principle in question; would you still want to follow it?

Not that you genuinely have a choice, mind you; this is all a thought experiment to establish the existence of a social contract. Because the social contract is a political justification for power, everyone has to be subject to it or it is meaningless; you can’t say, “I am bound by all terms except these two that I really don’t like.” The idea of a social contract is one theory among many attempting to explain the moral legitimacy of governance, and has valid criticisms. First and foremost hangs on the concept of consent. You can’t be a citizen and not consent to it. For citizens to be valid and effective political actors, they must consent to their relationships, yet the social contract would unravel if those unfavorably affected by it could opt out.

Locke and Hobbes attempted to show the existence of a social contract by asserting that the reasonable person would consent to it when confronted with the alternatives of tyranny or anarchy. Even for Locke, there were limits to what the state could do before anarchy became a palatable alternative to the social contract, which is why Locke is in the roots of American political philosophy. Locke’s rights to life, liberty and property became Jefferson’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The social contract of Rawls grants the state control over all resources to distribute in the name of fairness. The needs of the disadvantaged trump trivial concerns of ownership. While Rawls wrote that he was agnostic between capitalism and socialism, there does not seem to be much room for a coherent capitalist system with rewards that relate to risk. It would be more accurate to say that Rawls is indifferent between corporatism and socialism.

Rawls also makes unwarranted assumptions about preferences. He believes that a fair society would arrange social and economic relationships so that they are both to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged. However, history shows that people who are at a disadvantage often do not want all advantage to be leveled, but to exchange places with those who are in a position of advantage. There is no room for this in Rawls’ world, but others, notably including John Harsanyi in 1976, have challenged Rawls’ assertion that the rational course of action for a person in the original position would be to ensure the best conditions for the least well-off.

Moral Luck

An even more radical departure in Rawls is his concept of what it means to deserve something. In his idealized society, there is just a scale running from disadvantaged to advantaged. It really doesn’t matter why. Those who are disadvantaged don’t deserve to be, and therefore it follows that those who are advantaged don’t deserve to be either. As Kristof explains:

Successful people tend to see in themselves a simple narrative: You study hard, work long hours, obey the law and create your own good fortune. Well, yes. That often works fine in middle-class families.

But if you’re conceived by a teenage mom who drinks during pregnancy so that you’re born with fetal alcohol effects, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against you from before birth. You’ll perhaps never get traction.

The transmission mechanism of intergenerational poverty is through failure to develop success behaviors in children. Rawls and his followers take this further, to say that the person who has the advantages of proper parenting and examples of hard work being rewarded is just advantaged and morally lucky. He doesn’t have a moral claim to more goodies than the next person. In the Yale lecture, Shapiro followed where this line of thinking leads, challenging the students directly:

Isn’t it just true that the differences between us nature or nurture are morally arbitrary? It is moral luck whether it’s genetics or upbringing.  Nothing you did, nothing you chose, nothing you have, therefore, any particular right to. So you guys think you all worked so hard to get into Yale and all this and you deserve to be here. It’s a load of bunk. None of you deserve to be here more than anybody else. That’s what [Rawls is] saying. It might be a nice fiction you tell yourself.
— Ian Shapiro, “Moral Foundations of Politics”, Session 17

According to Shapiro, Rawls himself was not entirely comfortable where this line of thought is going, seeing that it threatened personal responsibility in any form. He attempted to draw a distinction between the differences in capabilities between people, which he saw as arbitrary, and the uses people make of their capabilities, which he claimed was not. Therefore a person who just can’t do better doesn’t deserve to be disadvantaged, while a person who can do better but doesn’t would deserve to be. This is a paper-thin distinction that is easily brushed aside: the ability to use one’s capabilities effectively is itself a capability, subject to the same genetic and/or environmental influences as any other capability.

Production and Distribution

The starting point for Rawls, the original position, also says something very different about the world than did the starting point for Hobbes and Locke, which was the state of nature. For Hobbes, in his classic expression from Leviathan, life in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

By contrast, Rawls presupposes an existing civilization with wealth production going on. How it happens doesn’t really seem to matter. Production is inevitable, just like the weather. This is a species of the fallacy of material abundance.

As a simple example of fairness, Shapiro uses the problem of dividing a pie among two people. The solution is to have one person cut, then the other person select the first piece. This is fine if we are at a potluck dinner. But what about a situation in which you have paid for the pie and are offering me a slice? Is it fair, let alone appropriate, for me to split it down the middle with you? At what point do I take what I am given and consider myself lucky to get anything?

In the state of nature, there are no pies sitting around waiting to be divided. You don’t get any presents you didn’t bring. The original position is very different: the pies are there, and the big moral question is how to equitably share them.

Most contemporary intellectuals assume that the table is piled high with pies waiting to be divided, with plenty more where that came from. The issues of production do not interest them; they assume that the pies will come from somewhere. Their attention is focused on distribution; they want to make sure that everyone gets some pie. But if production matters, then people who produce are not just “advantaged”, they are productive. This puts the distribution issue in an entirely new light, because productive people deserve some reward for being productive. Even if you believe that productive people are productive because they won the “ovarian lottery,” society is up the creek without them.

Defending the Indefensible

The followers of John Rawls present his theory as if it were the unchallenged and authoritative standard in political philosophy. Consider this example from the series The Left W-er, The West Wing:

WILL: The answer to your question about why the MD should accept a greater tax burden in spite of the fact that his success is well earned is called the veil of ignorance. Imagine before you’re born you don’t know anything about who you’ll be, your abilities, or your position. Now design a tax system.
LAUREN ROMANO: Veil of ignorance?
WILL: John Rawls.
The West Wing Season 4, Episode 84, “Red Haven’s on Fire”, http://www.westwingtranscripts.com/search.php?flag=getTranscript&id=84

Similarly, Kristof is appalled at the pushback he gets. What kind of knuckle-draggers dare challenge the theories of John Rawls?

However, pushback is what I am all about here at Clause 61. From Kristof’s op-ed piece:

A reader named Keith reflected a coruscating chorus when he protested: “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”

A reader in Washington bluntly suggested taking children from parents and putting them in orphanages.

Jim asked: “Why should I have to subsidize someone else’s child? How about personal responsibility? If you procreate, you provide.”

After a recent column about an uninsured man who delayed seeing a doctor about a condition that turned out to be colon cancer, many readers noted that he is a lifelong smoker and said he had it coming.

“What kind of a lame brain doofus is this guy?” one reader asked. “And like it’s our fault that he couldn’t afford to have himself checked out?”

The readers who are writing these comments are looking for personal responsibility. They won’t find it in the works of John Rawls. They know that what they are reading is wrong, even if they are not able to adequately articulate what is wrong about it. Perhaps the people writing these comments do not fully understand the issues involved, but they do understand, at least at an intuitive level, that the moral positions they are reading are not acceptable and you cannot build a functioning society on these bases. I thank God that we have people in this country who are not willing to swallow the repugnant moral theories of John Rawls and his acolyte Nicholas Kristof whole, even if they can’t fully explain what is wrong with these ideas.

Kristof could use a dose of empathy as well. The people paying the freight are becoming the disadvantaged in our society, with all of the duties and none of the rights. How about some empathy for us? Kristof would like to paint his commentors as people with indefensible viewpoints, but examination of the theories that informs his writing reveals that it is Kristof who is defending the indefensible.

Moral Self-Defense

I never found philosophy intrinsically compelling to study. I never took a college course in the subject. I wanted to study practical applications of economics, politics, technology and cognitive science. I also have a day job, and keeping up with developments in my field is a second job unto itself. But when I was in my twenties, I kept on confronting the fact that all normative positions, all statements of what things ought to be, are informed by ethics, which are in turn founded on beliefs of what kind of world we live in — metaphysics — and how we know that — epistemology.

… the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.
— John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

I found that I had to understand philosophy and its theories so that I could distinguish right from wrong and refute the wrong. I learned that I couldn’t trust those who were supposed to specialize in philosophy to fully disclose what was still open to discussion and what their agendas were. I encountered a lot of intellectual bullying (“Everybody knows Kant said …”).

The students will believe that the professors know the proof of the book’s theory, the professors will believe the commentators know it, the commentators will believe that the author knows it — and the author will be alone to know that no proof exists and none was offered. Within a generation, the number of commentaries will have grown to such proportions that the original book will be accepted as a subject of philosophical specialization, requiring a lifetime of study — and any refutation of the book’s theory will be ignored or rejected, if unaccompanied by a full discussion of the theories of all the commentators, a task which no one will be able to undertake.
— Ayn Rand, “An Untitled Letter” (1973), Philosophy: Who Needs It

The book upon which Rand was commenting was: A Theory of Justice.

It is too easy to be led down the primrose path by high-sounding ideas and generally accepted sentiments. Then, when the path leads you to a place you never intended to go, you are left wondering what went wrong. This happened to many people in Russia after 1917 and Germany after 1933.

I don’t want to be in that situation. I don’t want to be sitting there hearing ideas such as those of John Rawls and thinking, “I know that this is wrong, but I can’t say why.” I studied up so that I can say why.

Philosophy is just too important to be left to the academics and journalists.

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Written by srojak

December 9, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Liberal Capitalist Democracy

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When words have no defined meanings, it is hard to hold an intelligent conversation. It should really be no surprise that our national conversation is so shrill and so inconclusive, when we can’t even agree on what the words mean.

Liberal

The words liberal and liberty have a common root, the Latin liber, meaning free. In late medieval England, a liberty was a piece of land in possession of a lord or abbot, into which royal officials such as sheriffs may not enter without permission of the possessor [Roberts and Roberts, A History of England, vol. 1, p. 339]. By 1630, the meaning of the word liberty had been broadened to mean freedom for anyone from domination by the king and court. A person who supported the rights of persons against the divine right of the monarch became a liberal.

The word was also used by opponents to include persons who did whatever they wanted without moral restraint, seeking to imply that those who would defy the will of the king today would act without any limits tomorrow. However, by 1700 there was general understanding that such a person was not a liberal, but a libertine.

In nineteenth century terms, the opposite of a liberal was a reactionary, someone who reacted to threats to established order and privilege. Liberals sought freedom of speech, assembly and worship, and to end slavery and involuntary servitude. Liberals wanted all people (well, initially all men, but the program did broaden to include women over time) to have the freedom to choose their residence, occupation and avocations.

In the United States in the 1930s, political activists who were not at all liberal adopted the term for themselves in order to give themselves the appearance of continuity with existing political traditions. They sought to paint themselves as the heirs of liberalism and their opponents as the party of reaction. The success model for this was Lenin: in 1903, after a split within the Russian Communist Party, he and his followers began calling themselves bolshevik (majority) and their opponents menshevik (minority), even though it was quite the other way around. Lenin and his followers had lost the vote, were marginalized within the party and ultimately sought exile abroad. However, through endless repetition, they have succeeded in being known to history as Bolsheviks.

Irving Babbitt had seen this coming: in his 1924 book Democracy and Leadership, he devoted an entire chapter to “True and False Liberals.”

It is a matter of no small importance in any case to be defective in one’s definition of liberty; for any defect here will be reflected in one’s definition of peace and justice; and the outlook for a society which has defective notions of peace and justice cannot be regarded as very promising. [p. 262]

The history of the twentieth century has demonstrated the wisdom of this observation.

Most people who we identify as liberals are not really liberals at all. They are prepared to sacrifice liberal goals such as individual self-determination and rule of law to ends that they consider to be higher priorities. This in itself does not invalidate their programs, but we should not mistake them for liberals. It confuses everyone’s thinking.

Capitalist

Capitalism was named by Marx and primarily defined by its detractors. It seems that those who understand capitalism go out and make money, while those who do not write content complaining how unfair the system is.

Partly as a result of the ideological conflicts during the Cold War, capitalism has typically been identified with private property, but not all economic systems featuring private ownership of property are inevitably capitalist. Manorialism, which was the economy of feudalism, included private property but also enforced servitude and restricted economic growth. Fascist states have typically allowed private ownership of property, but restricted how the individual could make use of it. You can have all the headaches of owning and caring for property; we’ll just tell you what you can and cannot do with it.

Capitalism could not take root until ordered conditions such as rule of law and enforcement of agreements over time — contracts — had been firmly established. Even today, in countries where one cannot count on enforcement of a contract, economic development is next to impossible.

The deployment of capital necessitates risk. Lenders have relatively low risk; they are senior to investors in their legal rights to recover their money. Investors have greater risk than lenders, and expect greater rewards when successful.

Owners have the greatest risk of all. Being an owner just means that you get paid after everyone else is paid, if there is anything left to pay you with. If not, you get the losses.

A person who can form capital and manage risks in its use can obtain rewards far greater than a hard-working person who takes no risks. This is the part that Marx, who was wedded to the labor theory of value, did not comprehend. Marx, along with many others, could not understand why a hard-working laborer should be rewarded less than a man who sent his money out to work for him. The answer is that you can find a thousand persons who are willing to work hard for every one person who is willing to take risks. However, without the person who is willing to take risks, you don’t get the benefit of capital. At best, you have people piling their surplus up and storing it under the mattress. At worst, you have a peasant society, where people eat their surplus when times are good and starve en masse when times are bad.

It is human nature to try to fob the risk off to someone else but keep the reward. However, this breaks capitalism. An economy that allows this is not capitalist, but something rather different. Theodore Lowi noticed this decades ago:

Privileges in the form of money or license or underwriting are granted to established interests, largely in order to keep them established, and largely done in the name of maintaining public order and avoiding disequilibrium. The state grows, but the opportunities for sponsorship and privilege grow proportionately. Power goes up, but in the form of personal plunder rather than public choice. It would not be accurate to evaluate this model as “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor,” because many thousands of low-income persons and groups have profited within the system. The more accurate characterization might be “socialism for the organized, capitalism for the unorganized.”
— Lowi, The End of Liberalism, 2nd ed. (1979), pp. 278-279.

Lowi developed his characterization of the new political economy this way:

Permanent receivership would simply involve public or joint public-private maintenance of the assets in their prebankrupt form and never disposing of them at all, regardless of inequities, inefficiencies, or costs of maintenance.
— Lowi, p. 279.

The enterprise in question need not be on the verge of bankruptcy or a candidate for liquidation. It could simply be large enough to represent a risk of dislocation to the economy if it were to collapse: too big to fail.

This could be called anticipatory receivership suggesting that the policy measures appropriate for the concept give the government a very special capacity to plan. Permanent receivership can be extended outward to include organizations that are not businesses. If there are public policies which are inspired by or can be understood in terms of this expanded definition, then we have all the elements of a state of permanent receivership.
— Lowi, pp. 279-280.

This is not capitalism at all. There is no creative destruction; it is a goal of policy to avoid destruction in any form. There is no risk, provided you are included in an approved group. There is no profit-and-loss discipline. And all organization, including but not limited to business enterprises, become “public-private partnerships” directed to obtain public policy goals. Properly understood, this is a species of corporatism:

A U.S.-style corporate state has arrived unsung, unheralded and almost never mentioned. The emergence of corporatism has to do with the parallel emergence of Big Labor, Big Agriculture, Big Business, Big Universities, Big Defense, Big Welfare and Big Government, all operating in a symbiotic relationship. It also has to do with the growth of modern social policy, with the government assuming a great role in the management of the economy, with the greater emphasis on group rights and group entitlements over individual rights, and with the growth of a large administrative-state regulatory apparatus.
— Howard J. Wiarda, Corporatism and Comparative Politics, p. 147.

Main Street may be mostly capitalist, but Wall Street and K Street are solidly corporatist.

Democracy

There is a material difference between a democracy and a republic. Although many people use the terms interchangeably, they are not in fact synonymous.

In The Federalist #10, James Madison makes clear that a republic can offer safeguards against mob rule that a democracy cannot.

A republic, by which I mean a government in which the scheme of representation takes place, opens a different prospect, and promises the cure for which we are seeking. Let us examine the points in which it varies from pure democracy, and we shall comprehend both the nature of the cure and the efficacy which it must derive from the Union.

The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.

Neither Madison nor most of his contemporaries — possibly excepting Jefferson — saw direct democracy as a desirable outcome. This viewpoint was not limited to southern planters:

It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute publick opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny. When the majority of the entire community commits this fault it is a sore grievance, but when local bodies, influenced by local interests, pretend to style themselves the publick, they are assuming powers that belong to the whole body of the people, and to them only under constitutional limitations. No tyranny of one, nor any tyranny of the few, is worse than this. All attempts in the publick, therefore, to do that which the publick has no right to do, should be frowned upon as the precise form in which tyranny is the most apt to be displayed in a democracy.
— James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat (1838), p. 71.

The framers of the Constitution sought safeguards to prevent the tyranny of the mob. They divided the government into distinct branches that could block the initiatives of the others. They also set specific limits on what each branch could do.

The framers also divided power between the federal government and the governments of the sovereign states. An unfortunate casualty of the civil war was this balance. The Secession Crisis discredited the concept of states’ rights, and there was a subsequent erosion of state power. In 1913, the 17th Amendment was ratified; this replaced the election of senators by state legislators with election by the citizens of the states directly. This, together with the increasing cost of running a statewide election campaign, has turned the Senate from the legislative body representing the states and a counterweight to the House of Representatives into an American House of Lords. The attempt by Caroline Kennedy to obtain the seat from New York being vacated by Hillary Clinton in 2008 was symptomatic of this state of affairs.

Even Irving Babbitt must be questioned; after all, he titled his book Democracy and Leadership, not Republicanism and Leadership. What did he really want? He clearly did not support egalitarian democracy:

If we go back, indeed, to the beginnings of our institutions, we find that America stood from the start for two different views of government that have their origin in different views of liberty and ultimately of human nature. The view that is set forth in the Declaration of Independence assumes that man has certain abstract rights; it has therefore important points of contact with the French revolutionary “idealism.” The view that inspired our Constitution, on the other hand, has much in common with Burke. If the first of these political philosophies is properly associated with Jefferson, the second has its most distinguished representative in Washington. The Jeffersonian liberal has faith in the goodness of the natural man, and so tends to overlook the need of a veto power either in the individual or in the state. The liberals of whom I have taken Washington to be the type are less expansive in their attitude toward the natural man. Just as man has a higher self that acts restrictively on his ordinary self, so, they hold, the state should have a higher or permanent self, embodied in institutions, that should set bounds to its ordinary self as expressed by the popular will at any moment. The contrast that I am establishing is, of course, that between a constitutional and a direct democracy.
— Babbitt, pp. 272-3.

More properly, it is the contrast between a republic and a democracy.

A direct democracy is, in fact, a sentimentalist fantasy. Each citizen must allocate her time among the demands of citizenship and other interests and occupations she may have. Some citizens will make the economic decision to relinquish participation in governance, delegating their voice to others and accepting the results. There can never be an effective direct democracy, because even if everyone can participate, not everyone will. This is not alleviated by technology; it is a natural consequence of the different priorities and time allocation decisions of the citizens. As Madison believed, a republic in which citizens were represented by those who had chosen to commit their time to the responsibility is the only practical approach to self-government.

The sentimentalist also ignores the possibility that some citizens may not view political responsibility as a good at all. Anyone who is out in the world paying attention knows some persons who would rather relinquish power to others than have to take responsibility for their own decisions. Such persons are easily led, and their scope for malignant effects on the body politic are much greater in a democracy than a republic.

Before calling for reforms to increase democracy, we must review whether democracy is something we really want. Our predecessors who founded this country did not, and there is no evidence that they were wrong.

Written by srojak

May 26, 2013 at 11:02 pm