The Council on Foreign Relations asked me to come be on a panel on a small conference they were running on the “democratic recession”. They were even willing to spring for a JetBlue mint-class lie-flat bed-seat on a nonstop. So I went Video here. Transcript here.
But is there—or, rather, in what sense is there—a “democratic recession”?
I think you need to separate out three different meanings of democracy:
Alexis de Tocqueville’s democracy: social democracy—where everybody can stand on their own two feet and look everyone else in the eye, rather than lowering their gaze and tugging their forelock.
John Judis’s thing: public-square democracy—where everybody can stand up, pick up a megaphone, speak, and actually be heard.
Real, political democracy—where the material and ideal interests of the people are properly represented and aggregated in the formation of the decisions that we collectively make as we govern our own destinies.
The first two—social inclusion, and the ability to speak and feel that you have been heard—are important and are valid. But they are not the Big Enchilada.
The Big Enchilada is a working, functional political democracy in which we are free because we all obey the good laws that we have chosen and prescribed to ourselves.
In November 1787, eighty blocks south of the Council on Foreign Relations’s Harold Pratt House, Alexander Hamilton wrote to the middle classes of New York that “the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy produces feelings of horror and disgust…. Small intervals of felicity are overwhelmed by the tempestuous waves of sedition and party rage…” Alexander Hamilton promised the middle-class voters of New York that American democracy would not turn into a s—show if they ratified his Constitution: “advances in the science of politics”, he said, had enabled “republican remedies for the diseases of republican government”.
But now it looks as though the warranty period on Alexander’s “republican remedies” has run out. Certainly as the rest of the world looks at us—certainly as we look at ourselves—now, in this age of Brexit and Trump, nobody thinks that the Anglo-Saxon democracies have it right with respect to this Big Enchilada of political democracy. “What plans do you in America have to fix your broken political system?” China’s Min Zhu asked he—and that was back in 2015.
Madison and Hamilton’s plans are running out. We need new plans. What are our new plans going to be?
From: Council on Foreign Relations: The Future of Democracy Symposium: Session Two: Economics, Identity, and the Democratic Recession
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