American Stockholm Syndrome
Kay Zare

This is a thoughtful piece, and I enjoyed reading it. The following questions are not intended to be criticisms of the piece but of the underling assumptions of the evidence used.

The four part distinction you use, which Michael Sandel also explores well in Democracy’s Discontent, has always been of interest to me. If one is going to live in a political organization which is predicated, first and foremost, on the rule of law, doesn’t this mean procedural structures are more important than the democratic will? Aren’t written constitutions, by definition, also a procedural structure designed to limit the expression of the democratic masses? Obviously, the reason we have to use such modifiers behind ‘democracy’ is exactly what Orwell said, and taking it a step further, has pidgeon holed modern political science into this questionable position of seeing democracy itself as a value instead of as a kind of government.

My bigger question to you is two fold: which of the aforementioner categories is republican and why is elite leadership inherently a problem even for a modern democracy? I don’t mean the first as a question of semantics — democracies and republics are not the same thing even if we want to use them interchangeably in our modern rhetoric. Which one is better to err on the side of, democracy or republic?

As for the second question, and the citation which claims our democracy is devolving into plutocracy, the assumption here has to be that we once were a democracy as so understood. When was this the case? Tocqueville calls America a democracy because of the equality of conditions in the sense of all being in the same legal bracket; there are no plebs and patricians here. But this isn’t what is used in modern democracy and especially not in modern democratic theory. Is this at all problematic? Aren’t the modern assumptions that all human beings are rational actors, like those of democratic theorists such as Rawls, Fishkin, and Ackerman, coloring our understanding of democracy as a far rosier condition than it may actually be? Doesn’t it inherently undermine the federalism structure of the American system which maybe the linchpin of the Founder’s political theory? But doesn’t the breakdown of the nation into smaller units, and then those smaller units into smaller sub-units, actually increase the democracy of the system by allowing more and more participation? The issue, fundamentally, is our terms for democracy assume that the most valid measure is the representation derived from a vote cast and not in the capacity for more people to participate in the system by holding offices, serving on committes, being a part of local political associations. It assumes that citizenship requires nothing more than birth or acclimation and not a need for citizens to actually participate beyond voting. Thus we rely on elites to run the operation of the state because our conception of citizenship. So what’s inherently wrong with elites ruling if that’s the threshold for citizenship we use in a representative democracy? Isn’t the issue far more connected with the burden of citizenship than it is, necessarily, with the leadership of elites?

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