Death of Democracy
Part IV: What is Democracy
What is this thing we call “democracy”. Just as once there was some general consensus about the nature of truth—facts in the public sphere—we once believed we shared a relatively common meaning of the word “democracy”. One of the reasons we (both in the U.S. and internationally) do not agree on how our governments should operate is that while we might call our form of government “democratic”, that is, reflecting the basic principles of democracy, we do not necessarily agree on the set of principles that constitute such an idea. When we use the phrase “death of democracy”, we might not be talking about the demise of actual “democracy” at all. In fact, we might be talking about something considerably more pervasive, profound and, if lost, catastrophic for American society.
“I’m on the FCC. Please stop us from killing net neutrality.” This is the title of a Los Angeles Times article written by Ms. Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the five members of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
“Western liberal democracy might prove to be not
the final destination on the democratic road, but just one of the many possible exits.”
Twenty years ago, in an article entitled “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy” (published in the Nov./Dec. 1997 issue of Foreign Affairs journal), Fareed Zakaria presented a somewhat controversial term he called “illiberalism”. The original article (the PDF of which is referenced here) was originally intended as Exhibit A in a much broader post for this week. However, on further consideration, its length and profundity warrant a front and center prominence the original post design did not afford.
Additionally, take a read through Zakaria’s December 2016 follow-up to the original article as well as both an analysis of and a counter to his proposals.
Next week we will reference these articles in a broader context which considers the possibility that while democracy could be on the demise worldwide, the American use of the phrase “death of democracy” could refer to the wane of something considerably more profound than we imagine.
Part 3: Morality That Divides Us
“I loathe nationalism. It is a form of tribalism–the idolatry of the century”
When many of us hear the word “morals”, we often withdraw, flinch, find someone else to talk to or another place to be. In fact, morals, in the simplest terms, only refers to what we consider “good” (or “bad”). All of us hold them (moral positions, that is). We might not talk about them much (in a metacognitive, that is, self-conscious manner) but we express them constantly.
“Democracy has dominated as a globally promoted and accepted form or governance not because it is perfect or because it, without fail, elects the best leaders or even very good leaders all of the time but because it is supposed to be self-correcting and potentially self-enforcing.” ~Susan Hyde
For some time now, citizens of the United States have increasingly begun to question just how “self-correcting” or “self-enforcing” American democracy might be. Some of our most prominent thinkers have begun to ask poignant questions about the state of democracy, both in American and throughout the world. (more…)
Last week we offered a link to Lee Drutman’s article “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” on Vox, September 5th, 2017. This week, in Death of Democracy – Part 2 (an admittedly transitional post for the sake of relative brevity of Part 3) we consider some of the antecedents to the democracy we see melting all around us.
Image by alexander parms
Before the [civil] war, it was said ‘the United States are’, grammatically it was spoken that way and was thought of as a collection of independent states. And after the war it was always ‘the United States is’ as we say today without being self-conscious at all.
~ Shelby Foote, historian
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” So begins the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. “We the People…” began with the idea of banding together in the spirit of democracy, in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” Oh, well! Could this period in which we now live represent the beginning of the death of the democratic experiment that was and is supposed to be the United States?
Charlottesville, 2017 – image by Andalou Agency/Getty Images
As a second follow-up to Tim Snyder’s article On Tyranny, the post this week links to a lengthy article only briefly mentioned in last week’s post. The article is called “We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy” (which appeared in Vox on September 5th, 2017). The article, by Lee Drutman is quite long, but well worth working your way through as it presents a series of issues we should all consider, including:
- Our fundamental disagreement about what it means to be an “American”
- The value of political parties
- Reasons for why we maintain relatively intractable political positions and staunchly maintained polarization
- How and why division in current U.S. politics is preventing democracy from functioning as it should
- How the current political climate in the U.S. threatens to create a breaking point akin to the Civil War
- That inequality and polarization have grown in tandem for the last few decades
- That the intrusion of money into the electoral process is fueling voter discontent and the disjuncture between the public (actual constituents) and campaign donors (paying constituents)’.
As mentioned, the article is lengthy, not very sexy, but well worth the effort to understand what it presents.
Extending the Drutman article’s focus on political division, next week’s post– Death of Democracy – Part 2—frames this problem into a slightly more embedded historical context, reaching toward addressing our need not only for less division but toward more proactive socio-political solidarity.