Rethinking Democracy

rubio_jeffersonA 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.

via Salon:

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.

28 Comments on "Rethinking Democracy"

  1. This article is inadvertently surmising that we are not in a democracy at all, which renders the original point it’s trying to make invalid. See first paragraph.

    • Anarchy Pony | May 19, 2014 at 10:14 pm |

      The system we live in calls itself democracy, but that doesn’t make it so, and the soviets claimed they were socialist but that didn’t make it so. One has to look at the perversion of language and the use of propaganda and realize their impact on society.

    • I saw the same thing it kind of contradicted itself. However considering on paper the US is actually a constitutional republic with some democratic aspects to it so it really has never actually been a pure democracy. But like I said this is all on paper and what the US is supposed to be and what it actually is are not the same because it is clearly a plutocratic oligarchy.

      • We have to assume in today’s vernacular that “democracy” just simply means “constitutional republic”. But, you saw the same thing I did.

  2. misinformation | May 19, 2014 at 10:59 pm |

    Democracy? Isn’t 2500 years long enough to decide that something better must be out there?

  3. VaudeVillain | May 19, 2014 at 11:27 pm |

    “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.”

    You seem to disagree. Fair enough, I see plenty of space with which to conclude such positions are bunk.

    So what’s the alternative? What better option does anyone have to float? I, for one, am all fucking ears. If you want to blow up what we’ve got and start from scratch, then bring some blueprints for what we’ll build afterwards or put away the damned dynamite, because I’m not about to live in a crater while you catch up to the notion that we can’t just skip that bit in the middle where everything sucks. So far, I haven’t heard any better ideas, and I have no shame in admitting I don’t have any myself… which is why I’m all aboard the fix what we’ve got train.

    • Rhoid Rager | May 20, 2014 at 1:17 am |

      No one can design a society. Societies emerge through the patterned interactions of their members. That we are convinced that our society is a coherent whole that is managed is a clever ruse–owing specifically to an abundance of oil, indoctrination through false social and historical narratives, and the introduction of interest-bearing currency as the sole token of economic exchange. Take away any one of these factors, and you’ll rapidly see how coherent society remains. There is no alternative ‘system’ like it currently exists, because it arose this way through the growing confidence of a population gleaning spoils from an elite circle of family gangsters. I’ll crack a bottle of champagne when that confidence ruptures.

    • Virtually Yours | May 20, 2014 at 1:41 am |

      “So what’s the alternative? What better option does anyone have to float?” I vote for a resource-based economy, but how do we to get from Here to There? This is the most thorough breakdown which I have yet seen from Peter Joseph and ZM:

      The whole lecture is fantastic and worth your time, though I particularly enjoyed the Q&A at the end (starting at 1:45:10) since you get to see PJ think fast and interact with those who do not always agree with him.

  4. Tchoutoye | May 19, 2014 at 11:47 pm |

    In ancient Athenian democracy, sortition (the selection of decision makers by lottery) was the primary method for appointing officials, and its use was widely regarded as a principal characteristic of democracy.

    Sortition seems more resilient to the infiltration of psychopaths and the greedily corrupt into political institutions. It certainly couldn’t be any worse than what we have now.

    • Rhoid Rager | May 20, 2014 at 1:12 am |

      How about a collective rule to lop off all limbs for any volunteer official to symbolize the dependency of the official on the people he/she officiates?

      • Virtually Yours | May 20, 2014 at 2:08 am |

        Funny, though unnecessarily harsh. These volunteers would already be agreeing to unprecedented levels of transparency during the limited amount of time that they would serve in office. And instead of threatening them, why not give them added incentive: if you are assigned to oversee/manage a particular project and you are able to successfully complete it before the end of your term, why not give them the option of retiring early? Granted, that might lead some unscrupulous individuals to try and cut corners, but there could be an additional system of oversight via citizens’ juries (groups of lottery-selected peeps from those communities which would be directly effected by these sorts of projects)

  5. mannyfurious | May 20, 2014 at 12:14 am |

    Well, the society we live in is a “Republic.” And quite frankly, I think it works exactly as a Republic is supposed to work. The minds behind such an idea didn’t like the idea of a true democracy, because they wanted control over the masses. A Republic provides for that while simultaneously allowing the masses to believe they have some sort of say or influence, which they don’t. They are the ones being influenced.

    A true democracy–direct democracy–I think would work better. However, there is no political system that would be perfect. If we lived in a direct democracy, there’s a good chance that many aspects of the Tea Bagger and Anarcho-Capitalist agenda go through, for example. Or, conversely, that “liberal” agendas are passed and then the more “conservative” portions of the populace are unhappy and complaining about how democracy doesn’t work. Furthermore, a direct democracy is still vulnerable to propaganda and untruth.

    However, maybe without the dog and pony show of a two-party Republic, “liberal” and “conservative” don’t hold nearly the same meaning, and the country isn’t nearly as polarized.

    What I’m saying is while I don’t think direct democracy would be perfect, it is something I would like to try.

    • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | May 20, 2014 at 12:29 am |

      Direct democracy is most effective in groups of people around 150 or less. Larger groups can’t be realistically called a cohesive community. A federation of such units could make an ideal government. Maybe the survivors will adopt that method upon emerging from their vaults once the fallout decays.

      • Rhoid Rager | May 20, 2014 at 1:10 am |

        Or maybe people will learn to live just one day at a time from then on, and not concentrate so much on overcoming the ‘collective action problem’ as the policy wonks like to refer to it. Humans have, after all, amply demonstrated that they can exist in an extremely wide variety of social arrangements–everything from fascism to egalitarian-communist collectives–so that should speak sufficiently to the fact that we are integrated and dependent on each other no matter if we’re bashing skulls in or gifting food. Too bad it’s taken thousands of years for the species to realize this. No we have to get past this major barrier in consciousness–i.e. ambition for ever increasing mechanical leverage, domination of everything, overcompensating for our sense of isolation and loneliness etc…. that whole laundry list of psychological issues the species suffers from right now.

        • Bluebird_of_Fastidiousness | May 20, 2014 at 8:32 pm |

          I don’t claim exemption to that laundry list. I like to think I’ve made progress on this conceptual transformation that you describe. I don’t have any expectation this kind of personal growth will happen en mass. Not without extreme intervention, as I describe above.

      • Virtually Yours | May 20, 2014 at 1:22 am |

        “Maybe the survivors will adopt that method upon emerging from their vaults once the fallout decays” Goddamn, Blue…that is some dark shit right there 🙁 I do like your idea about a federation of such units, though am curious…where did you get the number one-fifty from?

    • Virtually Yours | May 20, 2014 at 1:16 am |

      Don’t forget about the lottocracy…it has huge potential for addressing these issues and would be a way to maintain checks and balances within a system of direct democracy:

    • The modern vernacular assumes that the word democracy means constitutional republic, dont get caught up on technicalities, because it takes away from the real point being discussed. Democracy is just easier to say than constitutional republic.

      • mannyfurious | May 20, 2014 at 10:26 am |

        In this case, though, the technicalities are not trivialities. There are well-defined and distinct differences between a “constitutional republic” and the kind of democracy I’m talking about. I haven’t missed the point at all. A constitutional republic has not worked out very well for the common person.

  6. The people who actually run America despise democracy and regularly overthrow democratic movements around the world. This is a national security state insulated from public accountability, a protection racket for an empire. They put up two candidates who will never do anything to undo what I just described despite what a majority may want. That is not a democracy. His premise is false and relies upon loaded terminology to make his points.

  7. BuzzCoastin | May 20, 2014 at 1:53 am |

    Democracy isn’t the problem in Duh Homeland
    it’s a powerful central gruberment
    run by an oligarchy
    cut off DCz balls and let freedom reign

  8. The only people who have been in a democracy were a few guys in Athens for about 50 years. The closest the rest of us have gotten this constitutional republic crap. Citizens in republics have zero actual political power.

    Once we get the internet out of the NSA clutches, Direct Democracy could actually work.

  9. InfvoCuernos | May 20, 2014 at 4:58 am |

    I would like to figure out a way in which people can be governed the way that they feel is best, regardless of what physical location they reside in. In this technological day and age, I feel we should already be doing this. I can have a different cable company, phone company, internet provider than my neighbor, why not a different political affiliation? Taxed accordingly, with guarantees that my tax money will go where I feel it is best put to use. Municipal governments would care for the local infrastructure, paid with sales tax, and the overall larger government would allow for an infinite number of representatives-us. We simplify the law codes so that everyday people-people with public education- can read and understand them, and we grind up all the lawyers and use them to feed farmed carp. If we have the technology to get 33 million people into the healthcare database, we can do this. I understand there are fifty million problems with this idea as it is presented here, but I bet if we brainstorm this, we could hammer out a workable solution that doesn’t allow elitists, psychopaths, nobility, or religious fanatics to take over the system.

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