Sunday, March 29, 2020

Towards a New Democratic Vision

Since Karl Marx, socialism or progressivism or whatever you want to call it has focused on the material conditions of life. There is no doubt that improving these conditions improve lives. That has not persuaded the public to be progressive. Against all evidence, progressives keep thinking that if they make the reasonable case, people will believe. Something else is necessary; we cannot make philosophers of all the world.

On the one hand, according to Converse’s work (and I don’t think matters have changed much since he first published in 1962) the largest plurality makes its voting decisions based on what he called “group identification” and what we now call representation, it is a minority, perhaps 10-15%, that are even aware of policy. Yet any good or bad we get from government comes from policy and from the conduct and character of the people who govern. The largest group votes based on nothing that affects their lives and they get unpredictable results.

Ideally, democracy would create a bridge between the two; the candidate you identify with, that feel you could have a beer with or would like to have in your sewing circle should also be, or be able to pick, the people whose policies will be good for you. In practice, we get affinity scammers: Reagan and Trump and the like, but also various Democratic leaders, though they are less toxic.

In the end, voting for people you identify with is nothing more than voting for a warped mirror of yourself, a kind of self-regard. And every now and again, a great leader slips through the haze of self-regard, but it’s not common.

A successful progressive movement, if such a thing ever comes to pass, would combine the sense that the various leaders and elected officials were people you could trust with the choice of people of good character who could make good policy.

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