Review of Dahl’s “On Political Equality”, part 11: “The political institutions of representative democracy”
December 24, 2007
Before conflating eklogecracy with democratic government, Dahl devotes a short section (pp. 12-14) to arguing that certain institutions or patterns, characteristic of eklogecracy, are necessary (but not sufficient) for democracy. He lists 6 such patterns:
- Elective representatives
- Free, fair and frequent elections
- Freedom of expression
- Alternative sources of information
- Associational autonomy
- Inclusion of all members of the demos
Dahl sees a system possessing these patterns as approximating Ideal Democracy. A more realistic evaluation of those patterns – at least as they are commonly interpreted and implemented in the West – is that they form a system in which whoever can command the attention of large numbers of people possesses great political power.
Each of the six patterns has two aspects: passive and active – the first applying to the masses, the other to a political elite.
December 23, 2007
I have been referring to the kind of government and associated structures that exist is the U.S. and Western Europe as Western Style Government System (WSGS). I have been looking for a convenient term that could replace this acronym.
December 14, 2007
Dahl presents a list of the conditions for Ideal Democracy. Trimmed to its core conditions, the conditions are1:
- Gaining enlightened understanding (condition U),
- Final control of the agenda (A), and
- Equality in voting (V),
defining the UAV model of the democracy. The UAV model can occur within an intimate group: a family, a group of friends, a social club, or a band of foragers. There, it is based upon the possibility of all-to-all interaction and of a considerable weight for the single member in shaping policy decisions taken by the group.
The two barriers for extending the model of intimate democracy to a large scale democratic society are thus:
- In a large group, most members can be heard only by a small minority in the group. This makes it impossible to allow all members who wish to put items on the agenda to so do. It also makes enlightened understanding less likely since achieving a good understanding of an issue requires hearing out all points of view on the issue.
- In a large group, the median political influence of a member is small, therefore there is very little motivation for most members to become politically informed or active in any way. Without being informed and without political activity, most members do not gain enlightened understanding of issues on the agenda.
December 13, 2007
As long as bribery – of the direct, money-under-the-table kind – is not involved, abusing government power in a Western style government system cannot be punished more severely than by removal from power. That is, an elected official pursuing policy that is perceived by the public as damaging to the interests of people cannot be sanctioned in any way other than by not being re-elected. For example, a congressmember who tries (or succeeds) to push through legislation which allows the release into the air of pollutants that can cause the death of tens of thousands of people cannot be prosecuted as having some responsibility for those deaths.
Applying other types of power – say economic power, or a position of influence through control of a media channel – in order to exert disproportional political power for nefarious purposes is completely unpunishable. Lobbyists, for example, who promote bills that favor the interests of a certain industry over those of the public cannot be held accountable in court. A columnist who advocates a war that would (or does) result in mass killing cannot be prosecuted as having some responsibility for the disastrous policy.
December 4, 2007
The standard dogma about democracy is usually taken for granted in public discussion, and therefore it is often hard to find explicit statement of central elements of the dogma, simply because, I believe, those ideas are usually considered self-evident. The book “Understanding Democracy” by John J. Patrick is thus very useful.