The Death of Democracy

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27 Responses

  1. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    This is a minor point that doesnt take away from the post, but as a point of clarification Gary Harrington wasn’t fined and given 30 days for collecting rain water that fell on his property. He was prosecuted for diverting run off water what fell elsewhere that was on its way to the city’s water reservoir; he diverted the water to three reservoirs on his own property.

    It also should be noted that it wasnt the first time he had been caught doing so, which is why the jury gave him 30 days and $1500 fine.

    None of which is to say that laws against diverting public water for your own use are good or bad – just saying that people in Oregon are not going to jail for having rain barrels.Report

    • Like most western states, Oregon’s water law is based on the doctrine of prior appropriation. In such states, diversion and storage of water that would otherwise run off is generally illegal, unless the person doing the diversion has acquired the necessary water rights. While water in Oregon may, by definition, be publicly owned, the rights to use it are private property that can (once properly established) be bought and sold. In this case, the rights to use the water that would run off of Mr. Harrington’s property are held by a local government agency. They could as easily have been held by a downstream farmer; Mr. Harrington’s actions would still have been illegal.

      I am used to hearing Easterners, who have heard a description of Western water law, say “That’s insane!” In the East, where water is an abundant resource, probably so. In the West, prior appropriation was a necessary step to successful settlement. I think I’m beginning to see the breakdown of riparian-based water rights in parts of the East. The Georgia/Alabama/North Florida area is a good example, I think. Population growth and the demand for cooling water for power plants are putting serious strain on the water supply during drought years, with no clear-cut way to determine whose water allocation has priority. I find it particularly amusing that Georgia is challenging where its legal border with Tennessee falls; if Georgia gets its way, the border shift would give them riparian rights to the Tennessee River, from which they would like to divert water to satisfy Atlanta’s needs.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I could get more worked up over restrictions on water in Oregon, if I weren’t sitting here in a semi-arid Orange County sipping a glass of snowmelt from Northern California, after watering my lawn with a portion of the Colorado River.Report

  2. I see a lot of assertions, but no real argument. Saying “liberals bad” (and linking to an absurdly biased hitpiece) on one hand, and “conservatives good” on the other really takes a bit away from this post given the usefulness on deconstructing democracy writ large. This is PARTICULARLY true as conservatism in the US has coopted a lot of the majoritarian impulses of society, particularly in pushing for social issues.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Nob the title of the symposium was “liberal” democracy, not “conservative” democracy. Yes I picked on liberals a bit and yes liberal = undefined kinda like dividing by zero = undefined. You have all the room in the world and all the digital ink you want to spill playing tu quoque with conservatives, but the fundamental issues with liberalism as currently defined/practiced are they have done one hell of a job quantizing the population into victim groupings whether justified or not and have engaged in dramatic (and failed) experimentation to resolve same. Just to do you a favor I linked to a piece that condemns both sides’ use of the victim label. As a Libertarian I’m sure I’m somewhere in the middle of that argument, I’m not necessarily victimized by the liberal bias in society but it is certainly evident to a neutral observer.

      I was (supposedly) under a tight deadline on the OP and wrote it up in a hurry, perhaps 2 hours. Unfortunately it took two days to be posted after that. Meantime, Tim, Jaybird and Murali wrote some excellent OP’s that could have dovetailed into this one had the timing been better, or I could have dovetailed this into theirs except mine was already submitted.

      Meanwhile the most recent tyrants like Chavez have all waved the Liberal flag and pursued the liberal agenda of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor as they grabbed the reins of power, never to let them go. This is the pernicious threat to “liberal Democracy” and as Tim said better than I, no democracy is too big to fail. Erosion of institutions is the pathway. I think the US is one or two elections away, coupled with a major economic catastrophe and a previously defined factionalization that is already in the works between the supposed “haves” and the “have nots”.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to wardsmith says:

        Nob the title of the symposium was “liberal” democracy, not “conservative” democracy.

        …you’re joking, right?Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          BlaiseP also wrote saying that the US is a conservative democracy, not a liberal one. There therefore seems to be at least a significant minority who treats the word liberal in liberal democracy as a more partisan term than in which the rest of us normally doReport

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Murali says:

            Yes, and I’m going to critique Ward in the same way I critiqued Blaise. Although I actually liked this post up until the penultimate paragraph, the word “liberal” in “liberal democracy” does not mean “contemporary political liberal.”

            Had Ward left out the penultimate paragraph, this error would not really appear in the post at all. And the rest of the post, the focus on democratic forms vs. rule of law, the dangers of executive power and the sacrifice of liberty, are all good.

            But since it did take a turn toward focusing on modern liberals and conservatives, let’s not forget to point out that it’s conservatives who are most likely to deny equality to unpopular minorities, and that conservatives are supportive of a whole slew of trespasses on our liberties, from using SWAT teams to serve drug warrants to warrantless wiretaps to the claim that the president can unilaterally suspect the writ of habeus corpus.

            Liberals have their own sins to answer for, but when conservatives pretend liberals are “the” source of infringement on our liberties, it’s pots and kettles time.Report

            • What the topic ought to force us to consider is the extent to which classical liberals, social liberals, and therefore also contemporary so-called conservatives and liberals, share the same horizon, all children of the Enlightenment, just fixated at different stages of modern history, while the rest of us seem to want to back our way into whatever may be next or perhaps is already everywhere present, not necessarily visible.

              Leaving problems with the formation of the question aside, “Is liberal democracy viable?” should also be taken as asking “Is the United States of America as we know it [still] viable?” I’m sure that that’s what provides the underlying force of the question, but the academic, post-Rawlsian, and libertarian tendency to deal with political philosophical questions as unlived abstractions gets in the way. Into the reality-vacuum rush posts like this one.Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

          Liberal democracy has a well-known liberal bias.Report

  3. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    Aye. Hugo Chavez’ tyranny is quite democratic.

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29210196/ns/world_news-venezuela/t/chavez-wins-vote-scrap-term-limits/

    “I am advocating making him king in order that we may behead him in case he goes too far beyond the limits of the endurable.”—Mencken on FDR

    Mooted by the 22nd Amendment, but otherwise quite reasonable.Report

  4. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Sadly <a href="http://www.orthocuban.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/Enough-about-obama-chavez-catoon.jpg"this picture didn’t make the top as it was intended and this one was supposed to be at the bottom.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to wardsmith says:

      Could someone with front-page status please remove this post and if you’re really good, please insert the pictures where they belong?
      Thanks and unfortunately I likely won’t be participating in this discussion because I’m out of town for several days.Report

  5. Avatar wardsmith says:

    Sadly this picture didn’t make the top as it was intended and this one was supposed to be at the bottom.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to wardsmith says:

      Ward, please e-mail me the pictures as separate files (not embedded in the text) and I’ll add them in. (I have some reservations about copyright violations, but we’ll see how it works out).

      I’ve deleted the earlier post. Apologies again for my clumsiness in moderating the post here.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Did you perhaps delete James H’s post by mistake? It’s … gone!Report

        • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Stillwater says:

          I bet it was my weapons grade snark that vaporized it.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

          I think I’ve got all these problems fixed. I’ve no idea why James’ post disappeared but I was able to conjure it back from the aether. I have the comics Ward intended in his post now despite my reservations that this form of us violates the authors’ copyrights; should we receive a takedown notice I think we will have little choice but to comply.

          Moderating a forum like this is proving to be a bit greater of a technical challenge and a bit greater of a demand on my time than I had anticipated, I must admit. I think it’s worth it, though, to get all this dialogue and different ideas out there.Report

  6. Avatar Kris says:

    “Democracy isn’t a good idea (it is) but whether it is a workable concept in the modern world (it isn’t). The world stage is rife with pseudo-democracies which are really just cover for a new kind of pseudo-voluntary servitude to the state under outright dictators who thumb their noses at the electorate who put them there in the first place.”

    Wait, is this the main argument of your piece? Democracy isn’t workable in general, because it didn’t work in some cases, even though you admit these aren’t really democracies, but “pseudo-democracies?

    I don’t get it.

    What is your evidence that democracy (never mind liberal democracy, specifically) isn’t workable? (Is it the slippery slope from 22 ounce sodas to Stalinism?)

    Or do you assert that it’s just sort of prima facie true that democracy is unworkable.Report

  7. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Also, did you really link to Conservapedia? Really?Report

  8. Avatar Roger says:

    A common theme now from various sides of the LoOG political spectrum is emerging around the pernicious effects of “us vs. them” activities in democracy.

    When democracy is channeled into “we” activities it seems to be reasonably effective. When it shifts more towards win/lose, us/them it just becomes a new way to fight over scraps.

    I’d offer that the black hole of us/them is “equality of outcome.” With different values, capabilities and trade-offs along countless dimensions, equal outcomes are both impossible to achieve and undesirable. If it wasn’t such a destructive idea, I would call it brilliant. When you want to redistribute from them to us, the perfect number to aim at is equal. It seems justifiable, and since it feeds back into effort, it self amplifies. The more you redistribute, the more you discourage the effort element. Pursuit of equality creates and sustains victim classes. It guarantees the redistribution will never end.

    The far left justifies equality of outcome as a “we” activity. They are wrong, it is the ultimate “us/them”.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Roger says:

      A common theme now from various sides of the LoOG political spectrum is emerging around the pernicious effects of “us vs. them” activities in democracy.

      Madison, Federalist 10: By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

      I’d offer that the black hole of us/them is “equality of outcome.”

      I’d offer a different take, the the problem is too many people not understanding that what they think is the good of the public is really their own good. They pursue it all the more vigorously because of the moral enthusiasm engendered by the phrase “the good of society,” and so they see those who disagree not as those with legitimately differing interests, but as existential threats to society. All sides do this, left, right, and libertarian.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Roger says:

      The issue is that humans seem to be deeply tribal in nature. This observation goes back as far as Aristotle to John Donne to modern day psychologists and other scientists like Johnathan Haidt. Haidt basically thinks that it is the inherently tribal nature of people that allowed us to survive and thrive especially during our caveman years when we had much fewer advantages to animals. In Ezra Klein’s recent piece on the Individual Mandate in the New Yorker (more really on how groups change policy positions), Haidt said that people might not always come up with the best ideas but we can often be “really good team players.”

      Yes a lot of people in the pundit and armchair pundit classes like to talk about the wisdom of the Founders especially how the Founders warned against political parties. However, forming political parties is just what people do. It is natural for like minded people to get together and form power by numbers. No one has ever found a way against this except absolute monarchy perhaps.Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to NewDealer says:

        New Dealer,

        Good points all. The breakthrough is to realize that groups can be engaged in zero sum games or positive sum games. The zero sum games achieve what they strive for on net, that is nothing. Positive sum games — such as the competition within science — create positive externalities.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Conservatives are the brakes on a society careening out of control as more and more of our natural rights are handed over to the state under the misguided belief that we are getting more out of the bargain than we are giving up.

    Where were you guys during the Bush Administration? We could really have used your help.Report

  10. Avatar Kimmi says:

    “I’ve already stated that politicians and psychopaths are cut from the same cloth”
    cite your sources, or provide your reasoning. I call bullshit.
    (CERTAIN politicians are psychopathic, but they are by far the exception, not the rule)Report

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