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American Democracy in Peril: Eight Challenges to America's Future

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Ch. 7- The Seventh Challenge: Inequality Equality and Democratic Theory Political Equality (all people are equally qualified to rule) is the core value of democratic theory o Justified by pointing to people’s shared capacity to make moral and political judgment decisions like those made by the government o Skeptical of all forms of elite leadership because of their alleged superiority o Has lead to revolutions and refuting their claims to superiority Many theories as to why the elite should rule have been created o Divine right, racial supremacy, aristocratic blood o Based on the assumption that certain people have special knowledge about how to govern o Only certain people can acquire that knowledge o To deny this is to accept inferior government Plato agrees with elite rule o Responsibility for governing should be given to those who have been trained since birth o People are no more equal in the capacity to govern themselves than they are in their ability to make good shoes o Ship parable (every sailor claims he is equal in his capacity to captain the ship) Flaw in Plato’s reasoning o Does not distinguish between technical and political competence o Politics is about the ends (the destinations) rather than the details of getting there o Even democratic sailors would be foolish to argue about who captains the ship o There’s nothing undemocratic about recognizing the need of an expert o All people possess roughly equal capacities to evaluate alternative courses of action from their perspectives and so to make political judgements Experts nearly always disagree about policy proposals because they involve predictions about the future o Any policy solution involves value choices o Answers lie in part with the experts and their predictions o Also requires the judgment of citizens about whether they value their money in their pockets or in government services
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o Democratic option assumes ordinary people to be equally capable of making judgment decisions once they have determined the probable consequences The relationship between political and social equality in a democratic society is controversial o Equal rights to political participation does not require that citizens be equal in any other way o Social inequalities (social status, wealth, and lifestyles) can be found in all countries claiming to be democratic. Equality of Opportunity o Democracy is compatible with social and economic inequalities, depending on the source of the inequalities o If the inequalities arise because of citizens’ intelligence, initiative, and luck there is no conflict o As long as the political rules of the game are the same for everyone, there is no cause for concern o Political equality assures that government will make the rules of economic and social competition fair for all Equality of Condition o Question whether or not political equality can exist when there is social and economic inequality o
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