Closing the Democracy Symposium
Thanks everyone, for participating in our symposium on democracy. This particular party’s over, and I’m not going to compalin too much about Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential nomination taking some wind out of our sails. That sort of thing is democracy in action, after all. And we’ve had some really great stuff written this week. Please indulge me in a quick recap of it all:
International relations specialist Nob Akimoto pointed out that as we know it, liberal democracy remains rooted in geographically-defined nation-states — and suggested that to the extent that only such polities can provide liberal democracy, we ought to take note because globalization is rendering obsolescent the idea of a geographic nation-state.
Murali, of all people, conceded that democracy is good at reducing civic violence, but ever the skeptic of democracy as a basic proposition, suggested that there are ways that we can take our collective decision-making out of the hands of a fickle electorate, and increase social justice in the process — if liberal democracy isn’t viable, that might not be such a bad thing if we manage the transition correctly. James Hanley offered us a alternative to liberal democracy, something he called Tiebout democracy, which struck me as at least harmonious with Roger’s thoughts that an essential liberty which liberal democracies ought to offer the ability for individuals to exit particular policy programs.
On a related note, Jaybird suggested that when considering the desirability of liberal democracy, the democracy part isn’t nearly so important as the liberal part. This calls to mind BlaiseP’s provocative accusation that far from being a liberal democracy, the United States is actually a conservative democracy. As if this wasn’t provocative enough, Tim Kowal gave a scathing indictment of the creeping power of the regulatory state and Jason Kuznicki went further than I did in condemning the security state, calling for some good old-fashioned disobedience to check against it.
Conor P. Williams wrote about the issue of cultural heterogeny in a democratic nation. Saying I have a favorite amongst this feast seems unfair to the many other superb contributions, but I would have chosen this one as my favorite even without the picture of the Univision
soccer babes sports presenters.
Our man in New Zealand, JamesK looked at what democracies do well, and what they don’t, and optimistically explained that the organic evolution of a liberal democratic system is inevitable. Sam Wilkinson gave an example of democracy in the United States not dealing with a particular constellation of issues well, and Yours Truly gave more generalized thoughts about whether democracies contain inherent tendencies to to fiscally self-destruct and to gradually prioritize individual liberty over collective security over time. I hoped that I wasn’t too pessimistic..
But maybe I was, because Tod Kelly cautioned those of us inclined to see dangers in the folds of democracies trying out policies that doomsaying is not congruent with the historical record — liberal democracies tend to expand liberties and become better places to be over time, despite some backslides (often inexcusable backslides) along the way. Ward Smith begged to differ: a he sees it, the relationship of the citizenry to the government has become one of “us” and “them,” and having passed that threshold, it is only a matter of time until an “us”-“them” relationship becomes adversarial. This inspired another rejoinder from Tod, who suggested that an example chosen by Ward actually exposes a much more complex relationship between citizen and democratic government.
That’s a lot of voices, a lot of ideas, a lot of perspectives. But despite the very different ways we’ve all looked at this subject, one common thread I can point to is a bedrock concept that seems to be infused into all of the heterogenous arguments of our symposium: the culture in which democratic choices are made matters intensely. If democracy is truly the people expressing, and getting, what they want from their governments, then a truer a democracy is, the more it will reflect the culture of its citizens.
Lots to think about, both now and in the future. Thanks again to all who contributed, and to all who commented.