Free Case Study About Democracy And Its Critics And Defenders

Type of paper: Case Study

Topic: Democracy, Politics, Sociology, Theory, Dahl, Government, Elections, World

Pages: 9

Words: 2475

Published: 2020/09/27

In Liberalism Against Populism (1982), William Riker argued that democratic decision making was chaotic, arbitrary, meaningless and impossible. This was nothing new, various thinkers have been poking theoretical holes in democracy since before Plato’s Republic. Socrates thought democracy was cute, but “full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike" (Plato 558). Voting – one of the essential foundations of a democracy - is problematic. In the late 1700’s, the Condorcet voting paradox only paved the way for Arrow's impossibility theorem (Arrow 2012). A variety of dangers, including mob rule, cycling, agenda control, guardianship and multidimensional manipulation have been analyzed and used to deconstruct and diminish democracy (Mackie). Furthermore, democracy, which looked so promising after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, seems to be eroding, even in Europe, the birthplace of the Enlightenment and democratic ideals. According to research conducted by The Economist, there are currently fifty-one “authoritarian regimes” and only twenty-five “full democracies” worldwide (“Democracy Index 2013”). The Arab Spring, a series of democratically inspired protests, riots and revolutions that spread through Arab countries in 2010 has done little to form legitimate democracies. The “war on terror” and cultural conflicts between Islamic fundamentalists, who largely support authoritarian forms of government, and European countries with social democracies experiencing increasing Muslim immigration in Europe are intensifying (“Democracy”).
Despite both theoretical opposition and practical obstacles and conflicts, democracy is still the dominant form of government worldwide. Monarchies are largely symbolic and the various forms totalitarian forms of government, such as fascism, nazism and oligarchies are not seen as a viable alternative by most political scientists (Landemore 48). There is a growing body of research that convincingly defends democracy from its detractors (Dahl 1991, Mackie 2003, Landemore 2013). Despite the problems associated with compromise and reaching consensus on a large social scale,
democracy has survived and proved to be a flexible, robust and economical viable political system. Catt (1999) and Mackie (2003) have effectively dismissed twentieth century Marxist and social choice critiques of democracy. As a political system, democracy has been attacked as being mathematically incoherent (Arrow 1951), however, in real life it is not chaotic, arbitrary, meaningless and impossible, but the best bones of a system that humanity currently has to work with.
Direct democracy is inefficient. In his “Federalist Papers” No. 10 James Madison criticized direct democracy as turbulent, contentious and violent. Republics, or representative democracies prevented mob rule, prevented factions from gaining too much influence, and was the way towards a more enlightened and less chaotic government (Madison 79). In A Preface To Democratic Theory (2012), Dahl analyzes what he call “Madisonian Democracy” and the importance of compromise. Compromise between majority and minority, freedom and security, equality and authority. A basic question of democracy – and one that rages on today – is how far can governments limit natural rights without being tyrannical, trampling on the birth rights of its citizens? External checks, balance of powers and other democratic ideals and institutions can stop tyranny. However, Madison and Hamilton were also afraid of too much power falling into the hands of the masses, who could then “oppress the few” (Dahl 11). This was mob rule, and to Madison and particularly Hamilton (who would preferred an enlightened constitutional monarch or philosopher king), this was a terrifying prospect. Dahl outlines the Madisonian system as a system that strived to strike a democratic balance that would prevent both mob rule/chaos and tyrannical despotism (Dahl 11). Tyranny, the over accumulation and abuse of power, was negative because it was a “severe deprivation of natural rights” (Dahl 12). External controls – rules, laws, constitutions, rights - could prevent this. Dahl mentions alternatives to this method of dealing with tyranny. For example, from a Machiavellian perspective, rules are relatively meaningless. Only societal norms, or “habits and attitudes” can prevent the abuse of power (Dahl 12). A democratic society would reject tyranny on moral grounds, not simply because there was a Magna Carta, constitution or bill of rights that defined the social contract. Madison believed in checks and balances, and institutional framework to prevent tyranny – which is the abuse of power. Dahl argues that social norms, particularly the ideas that a society believes in politically, are what makes it democratic and protects the natural rights of citizens. Only a democratic society can create democracy. Dahl believes the problem with modern democracy is that society has neglected the social checks and balances, which are ultimately more important than the institutional ones: "In the absence of certain social prerequisites, no constitutional arrangements can produce a non-tyrannical republic" (p. 83). This argument raises a number of intriguing questions about the nature of democracy and whether it is universally positive, desirable or even possible across cultures. If societies and not institutions are democratic, can some societies be undemocratic by nature?
Dahl makes a number of compelling arguments that confirm his belief that democracy is the best form of “collective decision making” and "the most reliable means for protecting andadvancing the good and interests of all the persons subject to collective
decisions" (p. 322). Dahl believes democracy – at least in the US - is resilient. According to Dahl, Americans share a general consensus on important basic core values. Political representatives share these values and want to be reelected, so they pass laws that conform to the majority’s desires and expectations (Dahl 87). Democracy works because there is not much “wiggle room” for politicians to play with:
With such a consensus [on basic values] the disputes over policy alternatives are nearly always disputes over a set of alternatives that
have already been winnowed down to those within the broad area of
basic agreement." (131-2).
Ultimately, this political, social and cultural consensus protects minorities, not political or legal institutions. His conclusion is simple, what protects a democratic society is the ideals, norms, philosophies and shared values of the citizens, not institutions.
much more plausible to suppose that the constitution has remained because our society is essentially democratic." (143)
The democratic consensus that Dahl is describing is one of the reasons democracy is not chaotic or arbitrary, meaningless and impossible. While individual social choice, legislation, voting logistics and other variables of the democratic political systems can be seen as chaotic and arbitrary, the fundamental consensus of the people on core values offers a stabilizing effect.
This consensus, the lifeblood of American democracy, is under attack from what Dahl calls guardianship, the Madisonian idea that only the qualified elite can effectively govern (Dahl 53). Dahl attacks this elitism, particularly judicial interference in the political process, and argues that each individual is the best judge of his or her own interests (Dahl 54). This argument evokes the pre-Civil War States Rights vs. Federalism debates has been at the core of American political discourse since the framing of the Articles of the Confederation and Constitution. Dahl is a realist and concedes that no country has ever been a perfect democracy (117). However, he believes the US has a strong democracy that suits the will of its people. Since Madison, democracy’s critics have advocated for a form of democracy that cuts out the masses, and relies on the elite and institutions to protect the system from sliding towards tyranny. Dahl concludes that good old fashioned populism is the true bulwark of American democracy.
Democracy is a collective form of government and social choice theory has been used to attack it on a number of fronts. Social choice theory is a theoretical model of analysis that aggregates the votes, opinions, preferences, interests and ideologies of individual members of society to reach a theoretical “social preference” that represents the general will, desires, and common good of the community as a whole (Johnson 44). This social preference is seen as an expression of the democratic will of the people. This theoretical framework can be useful to decipher a best social welfare outcome for complicated issues that require compromise between different groups and interests in a society (Johnson 45-46). Condorcet's voting paradox (1785) is an early example of social choice theory. Arrow established his impossibility theorem in Social Choice and Individual Values (1951) which brought social choice theory to the forefront of the analysis of democratic systems. Using economics and formal logic, social logic theory has been used to dissect voting systems in democratic countries. Many of these theories have shown voting to be chaotic, illogical and not adequately expressing the wills of the voters en masse. Using social choice theory to describe democracy as chaotic has been part of a trend in political science towards using mathematical models to collect and analyze the collective decision making process (Downs 1957; Buchanan and Tullock 1962; Riker 1982). Books like The Calculus of Consent (1962) examined the ways special interest groups, voting manipulation, big government, public. vs. private interests and the inefficiency of voting can distort democracy. Economists Buchanon and Tullock disagreed with the ideas behind Dahl’s theories. They believed that humans are fallible, and only a constitutional framework and strong democratic institutions that are created by collective consensus can protect, refine and maintain democracy and the interests of all members of society (Buchanon and Tullock). The best public interest must be logically ascertained economically (they used a lot of game theory) and then applied politically. Many of these theories use logic and math, and when the numbers do not add up, democracy is to blame, not the theoretical framework behind the research.
In Democracy Defended, Mackie offers a veritable smack-down of the various theories that attack democracy. In particular, he addresses the arguments of Arrow (1951), and Riker (1982). Like Buchanon and Tullock, Riker analyzed democratic voting systems using game theory and other mathematical models in Liberalism against Populism: A Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice (1982) and The Art of Political Manipulation (1986), and concluded that voting results did nor represent the will of the people, the votes and agenda were often manipulated, societies desires were ignored and therefore democracy was chaotic.
Mackie rejects the social choice critique of democracy and dismisses both the mathematics behind it, and the researchers obsessions with “voting futility”. Mackie is a pragmatic political scientist and not an economist, philosopher or logistician. Many of Arrow’s and Riker’s presumptions are absurd and would require “theoretically implausible conditions” to exist (Mackie 114). In the real world, electoral systems are flawed, and do not satisfy mathematical models like Arrow’s impossibility theorem, but it does not matter. Empirically, it “can be shown that problems like strategic voting or agenda control are not sufficiently harmful, frequent, or irremediable to be of normative concern” (Landemore 39). Ultimately, the societal will is expressed through the electoral system. There is a public good and it is routinely expressed through elections and other democratic processes. Mackie offers a persuasive argument about the strength and fortitude of deliberative democracy. Political decision making can be deliberate and coherent, reach a normative consensus, and the majority can rule without resorting to tyranny and stomping on the rights of the minority. These are the true strengths of democracy, despite the technical weaknesses that Arrow and Riker delineate.
While Dahl and Mackie do a thorough job of questioning the foundations of the conclusions of many of the social choice and game theory mapping critiques of democracy, there are a number effective and influential theories that cast doubt on the foundations of capitalism and democracy. Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) predicted the downfall of capitalism, not through a violent Marxist revolution, but through slow erosion and decay as a result of its own success. He believed the new leisure class would produce an intelligentsia that would attack and break down capitalism and democracy. This is evident in the works of Arrow and Riker and other social choice theoreticians, who – as highly educated professional theorists – can attack the system that produced them. Schumpeter coined the phrase “creative destruction” to describe this process, where intellectual malcontents deliberately destroy democracy because its fashionable and they literally have nothing else to do. Like Arrow and Riker, Schumpeter also saw the voting process as corrupt, flawed, incoherent and ultimately meaningless. Instead of voters electing representatives to reach consensus and a common good, he believed the politicians manipulated the agenda. He argued for a stripped down, realistic and pragmatic market based political system where leaders lobbied and competed for the support of people, and then did what they wanted (165-171). It was a cynical model, but one that can be seen in many facets of politics today. Schumpeter offers a well constructed modified Marxist critique of democracy. However, his predictions on the overthrow of democracy by intellectuals is hardly credible today. Outside academia, intellectuals are scarce in the US, and Marxist dissent is hardly fashionable.
Democracy can be an easy target, and along with the Marxists, feminist theory has made important contributions to the analysis and critique of democracy. Carole Patemen, a feminist political theoretician, focuses on the structural flaws of democracy in her seminal Participation and Democratic Theory (1970), and her collection of works The Disorder of Women (1989). Pateman asks some basic questions: How do women participate in democracy and are their voices heard? The book looks at the social contract of Locke and Rousseau and how it relates to women. She argues that women have been subjugated, therefore their political voice was stymied, creating social conditions that were not democratic. Since women had been relegated to a private sphere of home and domesticity, they were not active in the public sphere of political processes. To Pateman, democracy is historically patriarchal, the very core beliefs and ideologies of democracy and capitalism are male-centric. Women were excluded from the public sphere and the political world, and the system has not made necessary changes to adapt to a modern world. While all of these arguments are true, democracy is flexible and has drastically changed since the time of Rousseau and Locke. What makes democracy strong is its adaptability, and women have entered the public sphere of politics and can make the necessary changes from within and at the ballot-box. In her 2012 Participatory Democracy Revisited, Pateman examines how buzz words can be manipulated to create the façade of democracy without delivering anything of substance. She breaks down “feel-good” words and phrases like “deliberative democracy” which she accuses of being used to give people a false sense of participation, and “participatory budgeting”, which she believes means nothing most of the time (171).
While Pateman takes shots at democracy for being patriarchal and fake, she at least believes democracy is here to stay. Democracy has proven to be a durable construct, evolving over time and meaning different things to different peoples.
John Keane, however, asserts that democracy is dead in his recent work The Life and Death of Democracy (2012). However, his earlier research on the potential survival of European social democracies was equally grim. Moreover, Keane argues that most people do not even understand democracy and are ignorant of its true history. Democracy is in fact, according to Keane, not western, or Greek, or shaped by the Enlightenment. Instead it is a highly chaotic and transitory form of government, that has and has existed in fits and starts in one form or another since 4,000 B.C. in Syria. European democracy is hardly enlightened according to Keane and was responsible for the absurd atrocities of the World Wars and the Holocaust (Keane 60-61). According to Keane, since 1945, representative democracy has died, and has been replaced by “monitory democracy” , a kind of watchdog agency government, which is also watched by the public, and in the end, nobody rules. He concludes that this is actually better than the more brutal forms of democracy, and technology may provide more opportunities for participation and monitorization (214). Instead of Arrow’s argument that democracy is chaotic, arbitrary, meaningless and impossible, Keane seems to be implying that democracy has become highly regimented, controlled and subdued. This interpretation seems to make more sense in a modern world, where power seems to be increasingly divided amongst groups, countries and corporations.
Democracy may not be meaningless, dead or chaotic, but as a result of technology and globalization it is changing. Many believe that a hybrid form of democracy will evolve, social democracies will prevail, or a new world order will emerge with a single government that retains some tenants of liberal representative democracy. In Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance (1995), David Held believes the days of liberal democracy are over. He questions the very definition of democracy, and believes the new global economy needs a new form of global governance. The nation state, which made so much sense in the twentieth century, is not longer a sufficient model of governance (Held 11). Since multi-national corporation do business in many different countries, there are complication and inequalities that arise when conflicts develop (12-13). Many of Held’s arguments are based on a biased big government, UN, and NGO related worldview that was popular in the 1990’s, before many of the problems of globalism emerged. During this era of increasing globalization, George Bush had called for a New World Order in a speech in 1991, that called for nations of the world to unite. Held’s conclusion that a “cosmopolitan democracy” could solve the problems that liberal democracies seem convoluted by recent political developments. A world government would be an unresponsive, undemocratic monstrosity, trying to apply stable and rigid uniformity over a diverse landscape of people, religions, ideologies customs and beliefs. In his 2006 book, Models of Democracy (2006), Held moves on from one world governance and sticks to analyzing the nature of democracy, offering interesting definitions and analysis of democracy from Greece to the present day. Held argues that the universal admiration that is professed by western countries today is relatively new phenomena, and historically, democracy has been seen as a profoundly flawed or even broken system. However, it has survived and Held argues for a deliberative democracy, addresses the rise of technocratic elites, and the disappointing legacy of liberal democracies.
Arrow and Riker used mathematics to cast doubt over democracy, a political system. As a social science, politics may not conform to the same rules as algebra or calculus. At the time, their research was seen as revolutionary, and was picked up and proselytized by theorists who may have had an axe to grind with democracy anyway. The collective or group “will” may be fuzzy, and hard to define mathematically, but it does exists and is the basis for laws and institutions. Through participatory democracy, referenda, initiatives and representative democracy individuals can get their voices heard, even if they get lost in the din or overpowered by louder and more powerful voices. Instead of aggregating individual political voices, like Arrow and Riker, and calculating their weight, it may be more important to listen to the whole chorus of political voices. Democracy is not perfect. It is messy, hard to quantify, and ever evolving to fit the present social and political circumstances. This flexibility may seem arbitrary, or chaotic. When groups or individuals are marginalized or feel left out of the system, democracy may seem meaningless or impossible, but it is a political system that provides a firm foundation for society, and strains under the collective weight of millions of diverse voices and interests. It is the only political system flexible enough to bear the load of a society with so many groups, religions, agendas, parties, lobbies, special interest groups and individuals.

Works Cited

Arrow, Kenneth J. Social choice and individual values. Vol. 12. Yale university press, 2012.
Buchanan, James M., and Gordon Tullock. The calculus of consent. Vol. 3. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962.
Bush, George H.W. "New World Order Speech." Address Before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union. Washington D.C. 29 Jan. 1991.
Catt, Helena. Democracy in practice. Psychology Press, 1999.
Dahl, Robert Alan. Democracy and its Critics. Yale University Press, 1991.
Dahl, Robert A. A preface to democratic theory. University of Chicago Press, 2013.
"DEMOCRACY." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 15
Jan. 2015.
"Democracy Index 2013." Democracy Index 2013. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.
Downs, Anthony. "An economic theory of democracy." (1957): 260-276.
Held, David. Democracy and the global order. Vol. 232. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995.
Held, David. Models of democracy. Stanford University Press, 2006.
Johnson, Paul EE. Social choice: Theory and research. Vol. 123. Sage Publications, 1998.
Keane, John. Global civil society?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Keane, John. The life and death of democracy. Simon and Schuster, 2009.
Landemore, Hélène. Democratic reason: Politics, collective intelligence, and the rule of the many. Princeton University Press, 2013.
Mackie, Gerry. Democracy defended. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Madison, James. "Federalist 10." The Federalist Papers (1787): 77-84.
Pateman, Carole. "Participatory democracy revisited." Perspectives on Politics10.01 (2012): 7-19.
Pateman, Carole. The disorder of women: Democracy, feminism, and political theory. Stanford University Press, 1989.
Plato, The Republic (London: J.M Dent & Sons LTD.; New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. Inc.), 558-C
Riker, William H. The theory of political coalitions. Vol. 578. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.
Riker, William H. The art of political manipulation. Vol. 587. Yale University Press, 1986.
Riker, William H. Liberalism against populism: A confrontation between the theory of democracy and the theory of social choice. San Francisco: Freeman, 1982.
Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, socialism and democracy. Routledge, 2013.

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