This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
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...
View Full Document