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Jack Fears that American Democracy is Eating Itself

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It is posts like this one that have me worried about the state of American democracy. Over thirty years of anti-government hysteria seems to have made Americans forget the point of us rebelling from the crown. What started out as a somewhat justified argument against a government too reliant on Keynesian economic tactics, has become an argument against democratic governance itself.

What was developed as a means to combat tyranny by affording a measure of control to citizens is now seen as the enemy of the citizenry. Cynical Americans rightly angry by abuses of power have reacted not by attempting to right American democratic institutions, but by eliminating them at every turn. Becoming less active in government and actively supporting measures and candidates who designs place more of the responsibility for the common welfare to business interests, who without evidence, are sighted as being more efficient in the tasks of the people. Never mind that businesses are, by the very nature, not in any way beholden to the public good. In practice, it has been shown again and again, that businesses pursue business interests, not public ones.

This belief is not necessarily partisan, and is shared by political gradations between the left and right. The major difference between the two sides lies in where they will accept some government control. Anarchists on the left are tolerant of government intervention in the form of a social safety net and domestic concerns such as labor and the environment, where the rightward libertarians will eschew government involvement except in defense, and imperial military escapades. However, this is not so much a support of democratic governance, but rather a placid support for government policies that they appreciate. When it comes to civic participation both sides are too often focused on their own narrow interests and personal politics.

The last point is of vital importance. Despite their often political leanings, both groups are more involved in a narcissistic individualism that is hostile to the idea of democratic governance. Anarchists abandon society and form walled off collectives, and libertarians only involve themselves in politics to advance policies that limit and de-legitimize the very idea of democracy. The former, although often compassionate at least in theory, do not realize that they do a disservice to their democratic principles by isolating themselves (even when they believe they are being inclusive). The latter, although they have an almost religious interest in the founding fathers, are openly hostile to the civic element of democracy, that they savage whenever possible.

Libertarians, who are viciously capitalist to a point of compassion-less zeal, seem to look past the many, of what they would decry today as needless government interventions, that their beloved forefathers pioneered. America did not just pioneer the modern democratic state, but “big government” interventions such as the police, firefighters, libraries, schools, hospitals, roads, prisons, etc. They also are unable to understand that the modern world is very different than the one the founders lived in. What other political movement would chose Ron Paul as their public face, a man who has not put forward a single political policy that hasn’t already been implemented before the 1830’s.

It is important to understand that the America of the founding fathers was one that was only beginning to experience the birth of capitalism and the industrial revolution. The model of society that existed 200 years ago is hardly an exact model for the present. The industrial revolution has dramatically changed the family unit, and increased specialization to the point where individuals are not able to exist in modern society without relying on others to a much greater degree. The idea of the self-dependent family may have been possible when industry was nearly non-existent, but in the era of hi-tech information systems, and complex manufacturing processes it is no longer possible for families to exist as such autarkic units. Unless anarchists and libertarians wish to return to a pre-industrial society (and some do), then they will have to accept the fact that we are all reliant on each other, and democratic governance is the only instrument that is capable of sustaining such a society without economic ruin and drastic inequality.

It is still surprising to this observer how the arguments in defense of elite’s interests have become the arguments of the vox popli. Mass participation in democratic governance is the only weapon the people have against elite interests. By abandoning civic instruments for privatized control the overwhelming majority of Americans unintentionally surrender power to the very elements of government they claim to despise. Whether it is the corporations despised by anarchists or the political elites despised by libertarians.

In terms of healthcare there is no greater example of what happens when democratic governance is forsaken. Corporations make money hand over fist and secure their dominance by paying off the political elites who keep the system private. In a business of life and death, leaving such affairs to the private sector has shown that they neither care about the public interest or that they have even necessarily secured efficiency. America stands alone as one of the most inefficient and least pluralistic healthcare systems in the developed world. Americans may have the choices between healthcare providers, but this turns out to be anything but freedom, for ultimately their care is dictated by the bottom line of their provider, not in anyway by their health.

The other developed nations have realized that a public good such as health is something that must be handled collectively. The interconnected nature of modern society does not afford us the possibility to ignore our neighbors, no longer is the argument strictly moral. True, issues arising through bad personal choices such as obesity, drug use, and promiscuous sexual activity should not be born by the public, but these are precisely the issues that should be decided by the public, not the oligarchy of private wealth. The other democracies have done this, and while deciding between what should be treated and what shouldn’t has proven difficult, it has been a decision made by their respective populations. They have proven that democratic governance can not only be fair, but efficient as well. It truly is a sad day when Americans have to be instructed in why democratic governance is a good thing.

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Written by jackofspades83

June 12, 2009 at 2:11 pm