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1 The Questionable Timing of a Flea  Wed, Mar 14, 2012 6:39:58am

And the final section of the article on American Interest:

Were it possible, democracy would benefit from the restoration of certain conditions original to its successful and socially progressive development. The franchise should be pared back (a development that would not, by the way, seriously jeopardize the rights of the people, since these are now secured by social and judicial norms). We could, in short, benefit from more elitism. If those who seek elected office must go through a competitive selection process, proving their competence as they compete with respected adversaries, why shouldn’t voters have to prove themselves as well? This does not require revisiting any of the principles of the democratic process, only the actors participating in it. There is perhaps a model for this beyond classical meritocracy as described by Plato, Confucius and even Thomas Jefferson, where a person’s position in the hierarchy of power is determined by his intellect and virtue. Perhaps a new, more multi-tiered version of democracy can be produced wherein certain citizens earn the right to participate in certain more difficult and complex decisions.

No one supposes this would be easy to do, or that the solution would look precisely as I describe. It might be easier to pull off in new democracies than in more established ones. Regardless, unless we somehow address the accumulating contradictions of democracy, democracy will continue to suffer from its own universality. The Enlightenment ideas of freedom and equality are as worthy and critical to genuine civilization as they ever were, and democracy once inspired and enabled people to fight for a just society based on the rule of law and political guarantees and freedoms. But these goals have been achieved in the developed countries, and the democratic means that helped achieve them are dissolving into a mere instrument of “intercultural dialogue”, or else drifting into an inchoate ochlocracy, ironically subordinate to the interests of oligarchs. As such, it does not offer a very attractive model for developing societies anymore, whose elites today see as many illiberal and imitation democracies as they do the real thing.

It would be ideal to preserve all the achievements of the democratic form of governance with which it is properly associated: liberty, the rule of law, prosperity and fairness. But to do so the essential liberal foundations of democracy must be preserved in the face of the current threat posed by runaway multiculturalism, populism and autonomy of the bureaucracy in the face of technology-driven social interdependence. These threats can only be managed if democracy is reinvented as an elite (in the positive sense of the word) project, which is of course what it was until recently. Democracy has gotten too far ahead of itself at the turn of the 21st century, both on a global scale and at home. If its ambitious reinvention succeeds, then it could be said with good reason that history has indeed returned—a new and perhaps better history. If not, that could be a problem.

I don't have time right now to fully pick apart this guy's assumptions and how it leads to conclusions that were probably his starting point. But this...is a flawed argument that oversimplifies these ease of with which Western democracies succeeded and the frequency with which the benefitted by illiberal practices like slavery, peonage, and colonialism. The discussion of democracy in developing countries is a weak invocation of "Enlightened values" and capital-C civilization while (1) ignoring the economic and infrastructure realities that make democracy...and liberality...possible; (2) that many of the worse-off developing nations failing at democracy are suffering precisely because of intervention (for selfish motives) by Europe and the US in the past two centuries; (3) that conclusion can only be reached via the author's preposterously constrained understanding of liberal democracy.

2 The Questionable Timing of a Flea  Wed, Mar 14, 2012 6:48:25am

Addendum:

Without realizing it the author is using a variation of the (colonial) assimilation narrative: that some people should have stewardship and everyone else will have to prove that they deserve franchise. And there's three hundred years demonstrating that the result of this concept in democracies results in the enfranchised continually moving the goalpost of enfranchisement.

Pair this idea of meritocracy--hilarious that he cites two philosophers with zero interest in democracy--with his griefing over Enlightenment values and "rampant multiculturalism" and it's hard not get the impression that there's a faint dog whistle here.

Also funny: the compleat argument being made is refuted by the continued existence of India as a fully democratic nation.


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