Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Conversely if we expect most people to engage in

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Unformatted text preview: expect most people to engage in other difficult and complex tasks, how can we expect them to have the time and resources sufficient to devote themselves intelligently to politics? Third, since individuals have so little impact on the outcomes of political decision making in large societies, they have little sense of responsibility for the outcomes. Some have argued that it is not rational to vote since the chances that a vote will affect the outcome of an election are nearly indistinguishable from zero. Worse still, Anthony Downs has argued (1957, chap. 13) that almost all of those who do vote have little reason to become informed about how best to vote. On the assumption that citizens reason and behave roughly according to the Downsian model, either the society must in fact be run by a relatively small group of people with minimal input from the rest or it will be very poorly run. As we can see these criticisms are echoes of the sorts of criticisms P lato and Hobbes made. These observations pose challenges for any robustly egalitarian or deliberative conception of democracy. Without the ability to participate intelligently in politics one cannot use one's votes to advance one's aims nor can one be said to participate in a process of reasoned deliberation among equals. So, either equality of political power implies a kind of self-defeating equal participation of citizens in politics or a reasonable division of labor seems to undermine equality of power. And either substantial participation of citizens in public deliberation entails the relative neglect of other tasks or the proper functioning of the other sectors of the society requires that most people do not participate intelligently in public deliberation. 3.1 Some Solutions Offe re d for the Proble m of De mocratic Citiz e nship plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 12/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 3.1.1 El i te Theory of Democracy Some modern theorists of democracy, called elite theorists, have argued against any robustly egalitarian or deliberative forms of democracy on these grounds. They argue that high levels of citizen participation tend to produce bad legislation designed by demagogues to appeal to poorly informed and overly emotional citizens. They look upon the alleged uninformedness of citizens evidenced in many empirical studies in the 1950s and 1960s as perfectly reasonable and predictable. Indeed they regard the alleged apathy of citizens in modern states as highly desirable social phenomena. The alternative, they believe, is a highly motivated population of persons who know nothing and who are more likely than not to pursue irrational and emotionally appealing aims. Joseph Schumpeter's assertion that the “democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote” (1956, p. 269), still stands as a concise statement of the elitist view. In this view, the emphasis is placed on responsible political leadership. P olitical leaders are to avoid divisive and emotionally charged issues and make policy and law with little regard for the fickle and diffuse demands made by ordinary citizens. Citizens participate in the process of competition by voting but since they know very little they are not effectively the ruling part of the society. The process of election is usually just a fairly peaceful way of maintaining or changing those who rule. On Schumpeter's view, however, citizens do have a role to play in avoiding serious disasters. When politicians act in ways that nearly anyone can see is problematic, the citizens can throw the bums out. So democracy, even on this stripped down version, plays some role in protecting society from the worst politicians. So the elite theory of democracy does seem compatible with some of the instrumentalist arguments given above but it is strongly opposed to the intrinsic arguments from liberty, public justification and equality. Against the liberty and equality arguments, the elite theory simply rejects the possibility that citizens can participate as equals. The society must be ruled by elites and the role of citizens is merely to ensure smooth and peaceful circulation of elites. Against the public justification view, ordinary citizens cannot be expected to participate in public deliberation and the views of elites ought not to be fundamentally transformed by general public deliberation. To be sure, it is conceivable for all that has been said that there can be an elite deliberative democracy wherein elites deliberate, perhaps even out of sight of the population at large, on how to run the society. Indeed, some deliberative democrats do emphasize deliberation in legislative assemblies though in general deliberative democrats favor a more broadly egalitarian approach to deliberation, which is vulnerable to the kinds of worries raised by Schumpeter and Downs. plato.stanfor d.e...
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