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Whither Democracy, Part 3

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages)   3 comments
Message Fred Gohlke
Obstacles To Achieving Democracy
A major deterrent to the advance of democracy is that it offers no rewards for individuals or vested interests. It is easy to pay lip-service to democracy, but it is more difficult to advocate it in a meaningful fashion. Political activists who declare a democratic intent are invariably seeking power for some out-of-favor ideology. Since democracy seeks to empower all the people rather than the adherents of a particular ideology, it has no champions.

It is also frequently asserted that another deterrent to democracy is that the people themselves are an amorphous mass of dullards. Such an attitude, however, is a disservice to humanity. The weakness in Plato's opinion of democracy, and the weakness that curses democratic theory to this day, is the failure to recognize that, even though many citizens are not interested and informed enough to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, there nevertheless remains a multitude of citizens who do have those qualities.

The reason these talented people do not rise to leadership positions is that our modern pseudo-democracies do not permit meaningful public participation in the political process. The people have no practical way to influence the policies of their government or the choice of candidates for public office. They have no incentive to improve their knowledge and awareness because, unless they are ready to sacrifice their principles for the sake of one of the major parties, they have no hope of public office.

Alasdair MacIntyre [8] has theorized that the people need to participate in the political process in order to achieve their fullest potential, and Esterling, Fung and Lee have shown that taking part in the deliberations of small groups raises both the knowledge level of the participants and their satisfaction with the results of the deliberations. [9] Our political institutions, however, do not allow such participation.

The real challenge of democracy is to devise a political system that lets every member of the electorate participate in the political process to the full extent of each individual's desire and ability. We must construct an infrastructure that lets the people find, among themselves, those individuals best equipped to uphold the public interest when resolving the issues of their time and place, and raise them to positions of political leadership.

Seeking Improvement
The 200-plus years of our nation's existence have created innumerable tentacles of habit and belief that have a firm hold on our minds. To loosen that grip we must pry back its fingers, one by one, with irrefutable logic. Doing so is a challenge. The difficulty is increased enormously because vested interests have usurped the reins of our national and state governments. They will not yield their power easily.

Since partisanship is the one human trait corrupt politicians can rely on to manipulate the people, they will use it to divide and conquer us. We can eliminate this devastating use of a natural, healthy human trait when we have a practical way to deliberate among ourselves to (1) determine the issues that concern us and (2) select the people we believe best suited to resolve those issues in the common interest.

Constructive resolution of political issues requires, first of all, lawmakers with the ability to extract value from competing points of view. The challenge of democracy is to sift through the multitude of individuals to find those with the wisdom to accept the best parts of competing opinions, the ability to integrate them into productive proposals, and the persuasiveness to motivate others to adopt solutions that advance society.

Given the range of public issues and the way each individual's interest in political matters varies over time, this can only be done by examining the entire electorate during each election cycle and letting every voter influence the outcome of each election to the best of his or her desire and ability.

This approach has two drawbacks. One is the seeming difficulty of sifting through the large number and broad diversity of people who make up the populace. When examined, however, we find that problem is no different than harvesting grain. It is simply a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff.  That is neither difficult nor time-consuming if we use the right sifting mechanism.

The other drawback is more difficult. We cannot achieve democracy until we achieve humility. We must be able to admit (at least to ourselves) that there are others whose perspectives are better suited to address common concerns than our own. For the least capable among us, that's a pill they may find hard to swallow.

Political parties, in their omnivorous quest for power have, during my lifetime, gone a long way toward destroying the greatness of my homeland. Unrestrained, they will succeed.

It need not be so.

Those who seek good government need not tolerate the corruption of party politics. We do not need an adversarial political process that sets one faction against another to achieve power; we need to let the American people select from among themselves those individuals with the qualities required to advocate the common interest and resolve matters of public concern. In other words, we must change the way we select our representatives.

We have the technological ability to support a more democratic method; the big hurdle is to get people to acknowledge the need for change.  Many fall victim to the common malady of believing our press clippings.  We've been told so many times through so many years that our political system is the best in the world, some of us can't admit it is a cesspool of corruption, funded by special interests that buy the laws we endure.

Most Americans assume political parties are legitimate centers of power under our Constitution. They're not. Nothing in our Constitution authorizes, institutes or enables political parties. They were created by what George Washington called "cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men."  We now see what they have done to our country. We must take back the power they usurped.

The difficulty lies not in our Constitution, but in our will. There is no Constitutional bar to devising a more democratic process; the only impediment is ourselves. We must want to build a political system that puts public interest above partisanship, a method that responds to vested interests but is not controlled by them.

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I was born just before the Great Depression. I learned our country's virtues in a one-room schoolhouse and it sickens me to see them trampled as they have been. My perceptions of "right" and "wrong" have been strong motivating forces in my life (more...)
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