Democracy Symposium: A neat trick



Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Roger says:

    I recently finished reading Douglas North’s Violence and Social Orders which tries to tackle these issues, though in an extremely awkward way, imo.

    The book labels liberal societies as “Open Access,” and defines them as societies which embrace equal opportunity, inclusiveness, impartiality, lack of constraint into the competitive realms of economics and politics, and large decentralized governments that supply safety nets.

    Open Access societies in effect establish a social compact on another way to struggle. One necessary ingredient is that in open access societies we are parts of lots of majorities and lots of minorities. We have multiple networked interests. Indeed they show the vast majority of the worlds voluntary organizations exist in these rare liberal societies.

    Thus I would offer that one reason minorities do not resort to violence is that the same minorities are also members of numerous majorities. The system is not one dimensional, and where it is, they can become democracies, but they won’t be liberal.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Well said. Which is a bit awkward for me to say, as I just submitted my proposed symposium post to Mark, and this would serve well as a partial rebuttal to it. If I had read this before I sent my email, I might not have sent it at all.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Nice post Murali. But one quibble – at the meta level: it strikes me that you’d never realized this before. That might account for some of the disagreements we’ve had about democracy in the past.Report

    • Avatar Murali says:

      it strikes me that you’d never realized this before.

      Yeah, I’ve recently come to think that actually perceived legitimacy, whether warranted or not, is important for pragmatic, stability related reasons. Previously, I tended to focus on the justice of the system and even now, still think that perceived legitimacy has nothing to do with whether the policies it enacts are the right ones.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        Also while I have more or less always preferred to buy stability with just policies that serve everyone’s actual interests, I have laely come to appreciate that this may not always be possible.Report

  3. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Unlike JamesK, I don’t think that it is a point in favour of democracy that it aggregates preferences.

    More to the point, what they actually aggregate is a synthesis of preferences and beliefs about how certain policies will satisfy those outcomes. Since voters are really bad about getting the second part right, democracy is bad about getting the first part right.Report

  4. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    However tentative it is in granting the real value provided, this enunciates at a least a notional suggestion about why we might care about democracy for it’s own sake, or for what it can provide that liberalism really can’t (i.e. you could have a minimal state – definitionally satisfying the demands of liberalism – governing a society that employs a large amount of violence to settle its political, though that word is redundant here, disputes). As I’ve mentioned, the symposium until recently hadn’t really offered much of a reason why we should be concerned with the democratic part of liberal democracy, rasing the question of whether its subject was even compelling on its own terms. (Though I didn’t give enough recognition the last time I pointed that out to James K.’s contribition which did do that.)

    This post continues to help balance the ledger of considerations on each side, and I think we’re arriving at something that actually offers a reason to give real thought to both sides of the topic we’ve chosen to discuss. So kudos Murali and to the League for again eventually identifying the key questions around a topic raised for discussion and producing a very worthwhile series. We should keep doing this.Report

  5. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Murali, I talk about this in my guest OP that may or may not ever actually make it online. Since it hasn’t shown yet and since I won’t be around if/when it does, I’ll steal some of my own thunder and point to one of my sources here. In it the authors contend and I agree that it isn’t the ‘democracy’ per se that gives it staying power but the “institutions”. In a democracy we may not like the leader “we” elected, but if the institutions are sound we know that we get to wait our turn and perhaps fix the problem in the next election. That hope alleviates the distress at being under the wrong leader, to a point. To say more would steal too much thunder from the OP, which I wrote fully expecting to be the last in the Symposium since Burt was ending it early. It doesn’t /have/ to end it of course, it just talks about a serious touch of grey in the silver lining of democracies.

    I considered adding an economic element to my post but gave up as unwieldy. This was going to be my foundational text for that component of the discussion. You might like it on general principles.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      What is the delay? Did you send it to Burt?

      On the economic text, I wasn’t persuaded. They seemed to be looking at the pie and ignoring the size of the pie. Per capita incomes continue to rise in GB, for example, even as their share of world income drops.

      I agree that economic progress is cyclical, but I am more aligned with the philosophy of Mancur Olson. Countries become prosperous to the extent that they create institutions which enable them to become more productive and innovative (and it is easier to import these than create them the first time). However, over time, special interest groups form which resist change and seek rents and privilege. The system gums up and eventually the leaders are passed up by the followers, who will gum up later. From the city states of Italy, to the Netherlands, to GB, to Germany and the US. As long as there are competing and cooperating states, some are advancing and some are gumming up.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        What is the delay? Did you send it to Burt?

        Gee, ease up on Burt. He’s doing his best, I’m sure. 😉Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Actually, Burt was so awesomely responsive I assumed he sent it somewhere else.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith says:

            The email I got from Burt said it was going to be up at 9 this morning and then he had to go to a funeral. Perhaps it is waiting for someone to click a box or ED has nixed it, who knows? I do keep pushing the imaginary line on this site to see where it might be. I figured the guns post would do it, but it just got held up a week or so. 🙂Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        Sent it to Burt yesterday. They like to make we wait until I’m out of town here before they post so I can’t reply to my detractors. 😉

        On the economics text, you’ll see they have those 5 stages. Britain is on the 4th stage, regardless of size of pie. They had a big dip down because of two world wars in quick succession and eventually recovered to the economists’ average of 70% of our income as they have. When you look at GB’s industries you don’t see much beyond their financial system. Take that away and they’re far worse off than they appear at first glance.

        To your last point I agree that special interests conspire to capture as much of the pie as they can and factionalize the country in the process. That’s one of the theses of my OP but of course not as neatly eloquent as you would have said it. 🙂Report

  6. Avatar James K says:

    To be fair to Churchill he did say “democracy is worst form of government, save for all the others that have been tried”. I took it to be a description of current political technology, rather than some eternal truth.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Have plausible improvements for democracy arisen since then? (In the real world, not purely in the realm of the imagination.)Report