Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thoughts on Democracy, Part 1

Intuitions that democratic polities are not, in fact, very well informed, and do not mostly vote on anything like policy thinking are, of course, nothing new. But Converse measured them. He not only showed that many votes were not on sensible things (some, in fact, are apparently made at random), he quantified the differences.
It seems to me there are three common responses to this knowledge: elitism, despair, or denial. The great statesman and scholar George F. Kennan, architect of the Marshall Plan, ended with despair, rejected by radical right of his day. The Straussians and Trotskyites who became the core of the neo-cons are elitists. Many political commentators and activists depend on self-validating denial. On the left, there has long been talk of raising class consciousness. But it never seems to work.
Politicians, mostly, don't care, so long as they are elected.
The ideological minority can win no elections by itself. But it can swing elections, and it can persuade.
I'm going to croak out some principles here:
  1. People, even the most apolitical, do not mostly wish the consequences of bad government [added 2010.10.25: in their own lives and the lives of their friends and families].
  2. That many people do not understand or are not interested in politics is not a justification for mistreatment, any more than a patient's limited understanding of medicine is a defense of malpractice.
  3. The system of representative government is intended to allow people to select representatives who represent their interests. Unfortunately, in the United States the majority of these representatives falsely claim to do so. When they are not outright corrupt, they largely represent factions of their constituencies.
  4. Activism can succeed, even in this political environment. How and why are questions that do not seem to have been adequately answered. (Or perhaps I am unaware of the answers.)

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