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Problems of (civics textbook) democracy

Isn’t the claim that we have “democracy” a bit of a fossil? It may have been arguable in 1840 that the goal was popular rule, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense today:

  • Due to the development of constitutional law and conventions regarding what issues are allowed to be discussed in public fora like TV and newspapers, elites can now enforce radical changes in fundamental matters of social identity and organization, like immigration, ethnic relations, public religion, the relations between the sexes, and the definition and nature of the family. No back-talk is allowed, and if people complain or drag their feet it shows there’s something wrong with them and they have to be re-educated. But if oligarchs or guardians can redefine the demos and turn it into what they choose, how can the system be a democracy?
  • The new push on the Supreme Court and in enlightened opinion generally to bring United States law and policy in line with that of the “international community” is obviously radically anti-democratic.
  • It’s generally agreed that national security shouldn’t be “political”. Maybe so, but if the most important issues of policy are none of the people’s business, how is it a democracy?
  • When issues are allowed to be political, it’s generally agreed that expenditures by interested parties should be severely restricted near election time so the issues can be defined and information fed the people by responsible established institutions like CBS News, the Associated Press, and the New York Times. How is it democracy though if it’s the oligarchs and guardians through whom the people have to carry on their discussions?

It’s of course possible and even likely that popular rule is a bad idea in many settings, but if that’s what everybody accepts it just confuses things to claim that what we have is “democracy.” It makes it impossible to talk about how things are and how they should be. The claim we have a democracy thus becomes a final way to suppress discussion.

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