A pretty compelling read introducing the radical idea that maybe Democracy needs to be reconsidered. Old hat to postmodernism, of course, but maybe it’s time for some mainstream exposure for these notions.
This is what democracy looks like: grotesque inequality, delusional Tea Party obstructionism, a vast secret national-security state, overseas wars we’re never even told about and a total inability to address the global climate crisis, a failure for which our descendants will never forgive us, and never should. Maybe I’ll take the turtle costumes after all. The aura of democratic legitimacy is fading fast in an era when financial and political capital are increasingly consolidated in a few thousand people, a fact we already knew but whose implications French insta-celebrity Thomas Piketty and the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page (of the “oligarchy study”) have forcefully driven home. Libertarian thinker Bryan Caplan sees the same pattern, as Michael Lind recently wrote in Salon, but thinks it’s a good thing. In America, democracy offers the choice between one political party that has embraced a combination of corporate bootlicking, poorly veiled racism, anti-government paranoia and a wholesale rejection of science, and another whose cosmopolitan veneer sits atop secret drone warfare, Wall Street cronyism and the all-seeing Panopticon of high-tech surveillance. You don’t have to conclude that noted climate-change expert Marco Rubio and Establishment mega-hawk Hillary Clinton are interchangeable or identical to conclude that it isn’t much of a choice.
Most critiques of democracy as it currently exists, certainly those from the liberal left, assume that democracy can and should be fixed and that it’s just a matter of switching off the cat videos and doing the work. They remain inside the conceptual and ideological frame mentioned above, the idea that democracy is the only legitimate expression of politics. This has the force of religious doctrine, and in fact is far stronger than any religious doctrines to be found in the Western world. Our democracy may be stunted or corrupted or deformed by bad forces of money and power, these arguments go, but it self-evidently remains the ideal form of government, and it is our responsibility to redeem it. If only we can build a third party around Ralph Nader (that went well!), if only we can ring enough doorbells for Dennis Kucinich, if only we can persuade Elizabeth Warren to run against Hillary – you’ve heard all this before. There are many versions of this strategy, some more plausible than others, but they all rest on the faith that the promised land of real democracy is out there somewhere beyond the horizon, waiting for us to reach it.
As the Italian political scientist Mario Tronti has noted, this faith in a golden future, with its implicit apology for the current state of affairs, may sound oddly familiar to those whose cultural memories extend back to the Cold War. It’s exactly what defenders of the Soviet “experiment” said over and over. Yes, “actually existing socialism” had its limitations, most of which resulted from imperialist meddling and ideological backwardness, but one day our grandchildren, or their grandchildren, would finish the task of building a communist society. That was hogwash, Tronti says, and so is the insistence that we should judge democracy based on some imaginary potential rather than what it is in practice. “This theoretical-practical knot that is democracy,” he writes, “can now be judged by its results.” What we see around us “should not be read as a ‘false’ democracy in the face of which there is or should be a ‘true’ democracy, but as the coming-true of the ideal, or conceptual, form of democracy.”
In other words, we have to consider the possibility that the current state of American politics, with its bizarre combination of poisoned, polarized and artificially overheated debate along with total paralysis on every substantive issue and widespread apathy and discontent, is what we get after 200-odd years. It’s not a detour in the history of Jeffersonian democracy but something closer to a natural outcome.…
Read more at Salon.
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