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The Big Answer


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Democracy On Trial

a book by Jean Bethke Elshtain

(our site's book review)

Elshtain presents an important discussion about some of democracy’s problems. One of the most important one for us to hear, in this information/computer age, is the difference between a democracy and a plebiscite. “In a plebiscitary system, the views of the majority can more easily swamp minority and unpopular views. Plebiscitarianism is compatible with authoritarian politics carried out under the guise of, or with the connivance of, majority opinion. That opinion can be registered ritualistically, so there is no need for debate with one’s fellow citizens on substantive questions.” Ritualistic voting via electronic town halls and interactive television and telepolling would erode democracy.

She says “. . . True democracy . . . requires a mode of participation with one’s fellow citizens that is animated by a sense of responsibility for one’s society. . . . plebiscitarianism is dramatically at odds with this democratic ideal. Watching television and pushing a button are privatizing experiences; they appeal to us as consumers, not as public citizens.”

TV is a consumer item that privatizes, not a voting tool
TV is a consumer item that privatizes, not a voting tool

Decisions would be made, by TV-watching consumer/pseudo-citizens, on the basis of the persuasiveness of sound bites paid for directly or indirectly by special interests. Those with the most money would make the best ads, persuade the most people, and win the most votes. Why not cut out the middle man—the public—altogether and just have the special interests cough up lots of money and buy—at political auctions—the policies they want? As you can see, the ideas in the book 1984 may be incorrect future predictions, but a future with democracy as a mere token gesture is not that big a stretch. We are already there, with elections as meaningless clown shows while shadow government neocons run things behind the scenes no matter who gets elected.

Shadow government neocons run things behind the scenes no matter who gets elected, who why vote?
Shadow government neocons run things behind the scenes no matter who gets elected, who why vote?


Elections are meaningless clown shows while shadow government neocons run things behind the scenes no matter who gets elected
Elections are meaningless clown shows while shadow government neocons run things behind the scenes no matter who gets elected


As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible
As long as corporations are the main deciding force in elections rather than the citizens, democracy will be impossible

Elshtain wrote her tome in 1995. It is 2017—22 years later. And special interests DO cough up lots of money and buy the policies they want and the candidates they want. This was made very easy by the recent Supreme Court ruling. After the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United case, the movement of the US towards a corporatocracy is complete. Justice Stevens, of the minority dissenting opinion, wrote: "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt." The ruling effectively drowns out the voices of everyday Americans and allows the buying of elections by the rich. Elshtain's sarcastic proposition from 1995 was quite prescient, it seems.

Decisions would be made, by TV-watching consumer/pseudo-citizens, on the basis of the persuasiveness of sound bites paid for directly or indirectly by special interests
Decisions would be made, by TV-watching consumer/pseudo-citizens, on the basis of the persuasiveness of sound bites paid for directly or indirectly by special interests

The price of freedom is still, and always will be, eternal vigilance, by actively participating citizens acting in the interests of the social good, not simply self-interest. Button pushing is a zero-sum game, and it is in harmony with the win-lose character being engendered by the average steep-gradient-nurturance-raised, authoritarian/permissive-parented American lifestyle. What it is not in harmony with is democracy, and with democratic parenting of the authoritative or harmonious (P.E.T.) type.

She looks at liberal lawyers and judges who block the way for crime-ridden neighborhoods to impose curfews, stop-and-search tactics and weapon prohibition. But she also looks at the horrors of having a right-wing overreaction. She decries the victim mentality currently in vogue—especially when it allows bad jury decisions that let criminals get off because they were once victims of something such as a bad childhood. Most of us had a bad or partially bad childhood! It is ludicrous and monumentally naïve to cite such a thing as a way to dodge responsibility for one's actions!