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Fansy
Feb 26, 2013


Whenever I read my "A Kid's Guide to the Constitution" coloring book and the author points out that the founding fathers didn't want a pure democracy because they feared people would execute a 51% attack on freedom, I become honestly curious. When and where did these pure democracies fail so miserably? Was this a known problem with democracy at the time?

"All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government." - Alexander Hamilton

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computer parts
Nov 18, 2010

A homeless person was out on the street, looked up at me and said, "Draft Manziel." Just like that.

And that convinced me, that the Cleveland Browns' fans wanted Manziel.

California's proposition system would indicate yes.

Fansy
Feb 26, 2013


computer parts posted:

California's proposition system would indicate yes.

But how did the founding fathers know about california's democracy?

zeal
Sep 11, 2008

death is the road to awe


Studies and contemporaries of the the Athenian city-state during and just before the Peloponnesian War often blame Athens' defeat on a preponderance of democracy that opened the path to power for a series of ill-advised popular demagogues. I tend to attribute it to disastrous mishandling of the Sicilian Expedition, but then my era of particular interest doesn't begin till nearly 200 years later.

icantfindaname
Jul 1, 2008



The founding fathers were more worried about letting poor people and the uneducated vote. It wasn't a concern over the structure of the democratic system, it was "most people don't know what's good for them and shouldn't be allowed to govern themselves". The idea behind the electoral college was that the 'best citizens' in each community would be electors, and would not be themselves elected by the mass of the citizenry. This sentiment began to change by the early 1800s with the rise of Jacksonian politics and democratic ideals, but the founding fathers didn't really conceive of the US being a democracy at all by the modern definition of liberal mass democracy.

I think I might be sounding too harsh here. One of the biggest problems is that modern industrial/post-industrial society is completely different from the preindustrial world of the 1780s. Mass politics did not exist. The democracy of Athens, Rome, and the founding fathers was more of a "democracy for the 1% noble elite" than a "democracy for all age of majority adults". The industrial revolution created the conditions necessary for political participation from the majority of society, and in the 1780s obviously that hadn't happened yet.

icantfindaname fucked around with this message at Jul 30, 2014 around 17:07

Gleri
Mar 10, 2009


As a Canadian and as someone who works in criminal justice the American system, at least in some states, of having elected judges, prosecutors and sherrifs seems really crazy and dangerous to me and is the most obvious instance of too much democracy. How on Earth can a judge be an impartial arbiter of disputes involving potentially unpopular parties if the judge is elected? Criminals, and the criminally accused are invariably going to be conflated with the convicted in the minds of the public, are always going to be deeply unpopular. They're in many ways the most vulnerable class of people in society and constitutional protections are only going to go so far if the accused don't have the resources to hire a good lawyer.

I didn't even realise that DAs in the US were elected until recently. That seems to me to throw your incentive structure completely out of wack. The DA should have no interest in whether or not a particular person gets convicted. But if there's a danger that they'll lose their job for losing (or tossing) too many cases? I mean, if the case is weak or discriminatory or whatever the prosecutor should have discretion to toss it. Under the Canadian system the Crown Prosecutor's goal is the pursuit of justice and the truth, full stop. It doesn't matter if you win or lose a case or ten cases. Otherwise you're just asking for tunnel vision, for wrongful convictions and, if you also have the death penalty, for the wrongful deaths of innocent people.

Edit: As a foreigner I obviously don't care what your founding fathers thought.

Gleri fucked around with this message at Jul 30, 2014 around 17:02

BrandorKP
Jan 21, 2006

When there were five in the bed and we all rolled over I said nothing, because I would not fall off.

Fansy posted:

When and where did these pure democracies fail so miserably? Was this a known problem with democracy at the time?

I'd imagine they were thinking about the repercussions of Athens invading Syracuse.

icantfindaname
Jul 1, 2008



Gleri posted:

As a Canadian and as someone who works in criminal justice the American system, at least in some states, of having elected judges, prosecutors and sherrifs seems really crazy and dangerous to me and is the most obvious instance of too much democracy. How on Earth can a judge be an impartial arbiter of disputes involving potentially unpopular parties if the judge is elected? Criminals, and the criminally accused are invariably going to be conflated with the convicted in the minds of the public, are always going to be deeply unpopular. They're in many ways the most vulnerable class of people in society and constitutional protections are only going to go so far if the accused don't have the resources to hire a good lawyer.

I didn't even realise that DAs in the US were elected until recently. That seems to me to throw your incentive structure completely out of wack. The DA should have no interest in whether or not a particular person gets convicted. But if there's a danger that they'll lose their job for losing (or tossing) too many cases? I mean, if the case is weak or discriminatory or whatever the prosecutor should have discretion to toss it. Under the Canadian system the Crown Prosecutor's goal is the pursuit of justice and the truth, full stop. It doesn't matter if you win or lose a case or ten cases. Otherwise you're just asking for tunnel vision, for wrongful convictions and, if you also have the death penalty, for the wrongful deaths of innocent people.

Edit: As a foreigner I obviously don't care what your founding fathers thought.

Directly elected judges can be a pretty scary thing, yes. IIRC direct election of judges was started by progressive/left wing reformers in the late 1800s, but I think a large reason for why it is still around is because conservatives want 'tough on crime', meaning 'tough on minorities' red meat to throw to the base.

What the OP is describing, though, is a fairly prominent strain of American political ideology that essentially rejects the idea of popular sovereignty. It's basically a component of libertarianism of the Ron Paul / Ayn Rand variety. They love to break out quotes from the founding fathers to support the idea that the government has no right to inconvenience the wealthy ever, for any reason. And the fact is, the founding fathers probably would have agreed with them.

Nessus
Dec 22, 2003

robot whores
come before
a cure for
cancer




Fansy posted:

Whenever I read my "A Kid's Guide to the Constitution" coloring book and the author points out that the founding fathers didn't want a pure democracy because they feared people would execute a 51% attack on freedom, I become honestly curious. When and where did these pure democracies fail so miserably? Was this a known problem with democracy at the time?

"All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government." - Alexander Hamilton
Most of these guys were aristocrats or wannabe aristocrats. Some of them were very forward thinking for the time but they probably would not have intended the system we have now. Considering that the evolution of the system we have now is better than what they wrote down officially, I'd say on this one, who cares what they'd think; we must do the best we can, not live under the strict command of ancient dead men. (I may be sore from all the people who echo Plato's ancient snideness when saying 'thank God we don't live in this form of government that primarily existed in Greek city-states! I have clearly won a debating point by saying this.')

Most of the issues I see with having a lot of democracy are more or less addressed by elements of the national systems already in place - some room for review of laws, protection of minority rights, proportionate representation, etc. I don't think these make a system 'undemocratic' particularly.

Helsing
Aug 23, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Keep in mind that the American Founding Fathers weren't a monolithic bloc, so they had differing opinions on how the government should be set up. There's a lot of difference between, say, Thomas Paine and Alexander Hamilton. Like most revolutions the American one went through several distinct phases. Early on there was a lot more space for radical demagogues like Paine, but once the conflict was over guys like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton reversed course and imposed a stronger central government that would be better able to protect property rights. Its important to keep in mind that the United States originally had a different constitution, the so called 'Articles of Confederation'. The modern constitution was adopted roughly a decade after the revolution because a series of populist uprisings was threatening the position of the ruling class. If you want to know more you should look up Shays Rebellion.

So remember that the Constitution as it exists was heavily modified based on experience. The Founders weren't just using history as a guide, they were also specifically looking at the last ten or so years when they decided on a strong central government with only limited democratic participation. They were also looking roughly a century into the past and using the example of the English Civil Wars. During the midst of the Civil Wars there was a huge upsurge of popular and proto-socialist mobilization amongst the masses. Groups such as the Diggers, the Levellers, the Quakers and the Fifth Monarchy Men advocated all sorts of doctrines ranging from religious fundamentalism to something closely approximating early modern communism. If you're interested in that era I'd suggest starting here, as it will give you a sense of the sort of class consciousness that the Founders were afraid of.

When the Founders gathered together to discuss the modern constitution that was going to replace the Articles of Confederation they held a series of secret debates that provide some pretty bald faced explanations of why they didn't trust full democracy. Here, for example, is James Madison explaining why he thought Senators should serve long terms:

James Madison posted:

The man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa, or rolls in his carriage, cannot judge of the wants or feelings of the day laborer. The government we mean to erect is intended to last for ages. The landed interest, at present, is prevalent; but in process of time, when we approximate to the states and kingdoms of Europe; when the number of landholders shall be comparatively small, through the various means of trade and manufactures, will not the landed interest be overbalanced in future elections, and unless wisely provided against, what will become of your government? In England, at this day, if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. An agrarian law would soon take place [NOTE: By agrarian law he means a redistribution of property in favour of the poor]. If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability. Various have been the propositions; but my opinion is, the longer they continue in office, the better will these views be answered.

As other posters have pointed out the Founders also paid a lot of attention to the ancient world, especially Greece and Rome. Democratic states like Athens were generally perceived to be unstable and short lived. Others have mentioned the invasion of Syracuse, which came about because a popular demogogue named Alcibiades essentially dazzled the Athenian population into launching a massive invasion of a foreign country even though the Athenians were already locked in a very serious conflict with Sparta (the Athenians ultimately lost both conflicts, and Alcibiades turned traitor, abandoned the invasion of Syracuse and joined the Spartans after some of his political opponents at home tried to put him on trial).

Ultimately their aversion to democracy was a mixture of historical experience and a heavy dose of ruling class anxiety. When the property owning class participates in a revolution they always run a serious risk: how do you mobilize the masses against the sovereign without inadvertently threatening your own position. If the King's property rights over the government are being invalidated, how do you preserve your own property rights? The modern constitution was crafted, in large part, to address those concerns. That having been said I think there was also a genuine concern that a democracy would lead to fractious infighting that might result in political collapse. It wasn't just that they feared that the majority would tyrannize the minority, they also feared that a democracy would be so weak that it would be subject to predations from powerful countries like Britain and France.

Ddraig
Sep 5, 2005

Sits with a full house

People like to poo poo on the British House of Lords as being undemocratic but I'm honestly glad it is not elected because in general it tends to be more even headed and less reactionary than the commons. Several terribly poo poo bills and proposals have been kicked out by them. Mind you, several terrible things have had no problem getting through. I do think it would be much worse than it is now if it was elected, though.

McDowell
Aug 1, 2008

Surely, Caligula was my greatest role

Weimar Germany had 32 parties

Willie Tomg
Feb 2, 2006

Do Randroids Dream of Objective Sheep?

The general run of people are incurious, uncritical and docile and any attempt at good governance independent of ideology is necessarily going to be a balancing act of addressing concrete grievances of the populace versus marginalizing the bloc that thinks Obama is a Islam Communist who wants to take are freedoms or whatever your regional equivalent is.

Maarek
Jun 8, 2002

Your silence only incriminates you further.

Helsing posted:

Others have mentioned the invasion of Syracuse, which came about because a popular demogogue named Alcibiades essentially dazzled the Athenian population into launching a massive invasion of a foreign country even though the Athenians were already locked in a very serious conflict with Sparta (the Athenians ultimately lost both conflicts, and Alcibiades turned traitor, abandoned the invasion of Syracuse and joined the Spartans after some of his political opponents at home tried to put him on trial).

Alcibiades' opponents didn't just "try to put him on trial". They accused him of a crime and refused to actually try him while he was in the city, despite his request for them to do so. They waited until he had left the city as part of the invasion force and THEN accused him of even more crimes and ordered his arrest. Alcibiades was a ruthless person who did, in fact, help the Spartans against Athens after he defected, but it's not quite as cut and dry as you made it out to be, since the accusations made against him were basically proscription. Even Thucydides didn't take such a grim view on Alcibiades.

Davethulhu
Aug 12, 2003

Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

Whenever democracy produces a result I don't like, there's too much democracy.

Vermain
Sep 5, 2006




zeal posted:

Studies and contemporaries of the the Athenian city-state during and just before the Peloponnesian War often blame Athens' defeat on a preponderance of democracy that opened the path to power for a series of ill-advised popular demagogues. I tend to attribute it to disastrous mishandling of the Sicilian Expedition, but then my era of particular interest doesn't begin till nearly 200 years later.

The counter to this, of course, is that monarchies and dictatorships fall prey to the same problem of the patently unqualified being thrust into positions of immense power, and either completely bungling it or getting manipulated by the more ambitious below them. Good monarchies and bad democracies have both existed in equal numbers.

ReV VAdAUL
Oct 3, 2004

I'm WILD about
WILDMAN


Ddraig posted:

People like to poo poo on the British House of Lords as being undemocratic but I'm honestly glad it is not elected because in general it tends to be more even headed and less reactionary than the commons. Several terribly poo poo bills and proposals have been kicked out by them. Mind you, several terrible things have had no problem getting through. I do think it would be much worse than it is now if it was elected, though.

Yes. The Lords also tends to do boring but important stuff because while it isn't vote winning enough for the Commons to bother with it. That ultimately boils down to how election campaigns are run which is partially an issue with democracy but also an issue with the media and the issues about politics it tends to promote.

The biggest problem with the Lords is that there is no accountability, both for individual members but also for the chamber as a whole. While it is unlikely it is wholly possible a PM could choose to utterly pack the chamber with Yes-people and the public has absolutely no recourse. At which point all the value it currently has disappears.

quickly
Mar 7, 2012


The problem isn't just the type of democracy. There are numerous examples of states that introduced democratic political systems of all types without developing the requisite civic attitudes and political and economic institutions against a background of historic ethnic, religious, or class tensions that ended with the severe repression of minority groups by otherwise democratic means. The point, of course, being that the supposed virtues of democratic political systems have as much to do with those institutions and attitudes as the formal structure of the government.

Qublai Qhan
Dec 23, 2008


In Xanadu did Qublai Qhan
a stately taco eat,
when ALF the spacerat,
ran through to talk--
Of cabbages and kings
And whether pigs have wings.


Since the founders generally had a classical education they were undoubtedly aware of the Greek example, but I doubt that they would have found it highly convincing by itself. I think that it's much more likely that they were influenced against democracy by antipathy towards populism which is at the core of the philosophy of democracy but is by no means unique to democracy. Basically the founding fathers were aware that poor people tend to be stupid and religious and that such people are easy to manipulate.

Bel Shazar
Sep 14, 2012


Qublai Qhan posted:

Since the founders generally had a classical education they were undoubtedly aware of the Greek example, but I doubt that they would have found it highly convincing by itself. I think that it's much more likely that they were influenced against democracy by antipathy towards populism which is at the core of the philosophy of democracy but is by no means unique to democracy. Basically the founding fathers were aware that poor people tend to be stupid and religious and that such people are easy to manipulate.

I'm guessing if they had any lingering populist beliefs the French revolution sealed the deal in their minds on that one...

skaboomizzy
Nov 12, 2003

Prepare to be emancipated from your own inferior genes!


The GWB administration was all about free elections in Palestine until they elected Hamas, then suddenly it was a terrible idea.

Flavahbeast
Jul 21, 2001

dont touch me frodo

skaboomizzy posted:

The GWB administration was all about free elections in Palestine until they elected Hamas, then suddenly it was a terrible idea.

I think its a nice idea, they should start doing elections again

Ah Map
Oct 9, 2012


Doesn't pretty much everybody consider pretty much everybody to be idiotic and or evil?Or is it just me?

McDowell
Aug 1, 2008

Surely, Caligula was my greatest role

Ah Map posted:

Doesn't pretty much everybody consider pretty much everybody to be idiotic and or evil?Or is it just me?

Human beings are idiotic and evil, except for you and me, of course...

cheerfullydrab
Dec 29, 2006
leading helpless teens astray

Your answer:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberum_veto

Xander77
Apr 6, 2009

Fuck it then. For another pit sandwich and some 'tater salad, I'll post a few more.


As far as I understand things - "professional" politicians, who are wealthy, well educated, (to an extent) well informed, or at least capable of quickly getting the necessary information about any subject, are by definition better at making any and all policy decisions than the general public. The problem is that any political "class" will - again, by definition - worry more about its own interests than about the interests of the public at large. Democracy is just a means of "kicking the bums out" should that happen - making sure that every politician has to keep in mind the public interest (or at least the appearance thereof).

Any democratic institution that tries to have "more democracy" than that - having the general public actively making decisions they are incapable of understanding - is "too much".

asdf32
May 15, 2010

Hello! I am a forum chatbot programmed to mimic a dense and stubborn D&D poster. Attempting to explain words or concepts is futile, as I will be unable to process. Please do not reply.

Xander77 posted:

As far as I understand things - "professional" politicians, who are wealthy, well educated, (to an extent) well informed, or at least capable of quickly getting the necessary information about any subject, are by definition better at making any and all policy decisions than the general public. The problem is that any political "class" will - again, by definition - worry more about its own interests than about the interests of the public at large. Democracy is just a means of "kicking the bums out" should that happen - making sure that every politician has to keep in mind the public interest (or at least the appearance thereof).

Any democratic institution that tries to have "more democracy" than that - having the general public actively making decisions they are incapable of understanding - is "too much".

This is a good summation of my views as well.

Helsing
Aug 23, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

It's absolutely not the case that professional politicians are always "capable of quickly getting the necessary information about any subject". This is true for some types of information but it certainly isn't true for all or even most types of information.

Professional politicians (or, more likely, trained civil servants or contractors, since these days most professional politicians have to send most of their time getting and staying elected rather than mastering difficult policy issues) may be better suited for dealing with stuff like managing inflation, dealing with the specific details of regulation or managing public utilities.

On the other hand there's no reason to think politicians are going to automatically know better than local people on stuff like where to locate a new public park or school. Much of the important information in our society is not immediately "legible" to the state and it's officials. To interact with the area over which it governs the state must create a simplify and codify information so that it can be processed bureaucratically. Such a process will inevitably face the danger that it leaves out useful or important information known to locals. Often times the attempts of professionals to make a given area of action 'legible' involves simplifications that end up having serious unforeseen consequences. For instance:

The Trouble with the View From Above, James C. Scott posted:

Legibility and Power

The quest for legibility, when joined to state power, is not merely an “observation.” By a kind of fiscal Heisenberg principle, it has the capacity the change the world it observes. The window and door tax established in France under the Directory and abolished only in 1917 is a striking case in point. Its originator must have reasoned that the number of windows and doors in a dwelling was almost perfectly proportionate to the dwelling’s size. Thus a tax assessor need only walk around the house counting the windows and doors to estimate its size. As a simple expedient, it was a brilliant stroke, but not without consequences. Peasant dwellings were subsequently designed or renovated with the formula in mind so as to have as few apertures as possible! While the fiscal losses could be recouped by raising the tax per opening, the effects on the long term health of the rural population lasted for than a century.

The window and door tax illustrates something else about “state optics”; they achieve their formidable power of resolution by a kind of tunnel vision that brings into sharp focus a single aspect of an otherwise far more complex and unwieldy reality. This very simplification makes the phenomenon at the center of the field of vision more legible and hence more susceptible to careful measurement and calculation. Combined with similar observations, an overall, aggregate, synoptic view of a selective reality is achieved, making possible a high degree of schematic knowledge, control and manipulation.

The Invention of Scientific Forestry

I found this process strikingly evident in the invention of scientific forestry in 18th-century Prussia and Saxony. An abbreviated account of forest “science” can serve both as a model for processes of state-simplification as well as the advantages and disadvantages it entails.[2] The lens, as it were, for this simplification was “cameral science”: the efforts to rationalize the revenue of the princely states. To that end, the forests were reconceptualized as streams of salable commodities, above all so many thousands of board feet of timber and so many cords of wood fetching a certain price. The crown’s interest we resolved through its fiscal lens into a single number representing the revenue yield that might be extracted annually from the domainal forests. The truly heroic simplification involved here is most evident in what was left out of this utilitarian and minimalist conception of the forest. Missing were all those trees, bushes, and plants holding little or no potential for crown revenue. Missing as well were all those parts of trees, even revenue-bearing trees, which might have been of great use to the population but whose value could not easily be converted into fiscal receipts. Here I have in mind foliage and its uses as fodder and thatch, fruits and nuts as food for people, domestic animals, and game. Twigs and branches as bedding, fence posts, hop poles, and kindling; bark and roots for making medicines and for tanning; sap for resins, and so forth.

From a naturalist’s perspective, nearly everything was missing from the state’s narrow frame of reference. Gone was the vast majority of flora: grasses, flowers, lichens, mosses, mushrooms, shrubs, and vines, Gone too, were reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, and innumerable species of insects. Gone were most species of fauna, except for the large game integral to the aristocratic hunt.

The utilitarian state could, quite literally, not see the real existing forest for the (commercial) trees. New techniques of measurement were developed. Representative samples of the forest were designated; five classes of tree size (Normalbaüme) were specified, the timber yield of each was estimated using the cone-volume principles of solid geometry, and a complete census of a representative section was carried out to determine the distribution of trees by size class. This knowledge, coupled with careful assumptions about rates of growth made possible the tables from which the scientific forester devised a plan of extraction based on what was assumed to be the maximum sustainable yield.

It is, however, the next logical step in German scientific forestry that commands our attention. That step was to attempt to create through careful seeding, planting and cutting, a redesigned forest that was easier to count, manipulate, measure, and assess. Thus was born the modern, “production” forest: a mono-cropped (Norway spruce or Scotch pine), same-age, timber-farm planted in straight rows. The very uniformity of the forest vastly simplified its management and exploitation. Forestry crews could follow a few simple rules for clearing the underbrush, trimming and fertilizing; the mature trees of comparable girth and length could be felled into the alleys and marketed as homogeneous units to logging contractors and timber merchants. For nearly a century, during which German scientific forestry as a codified discipline became the world standard, the “production forest” was a resounding success in terms of steady yields at low cost.

Redesigning the forest as a “one-commodity machine,” however, had, in the long run, catastrophic consequences for forest health and production. The mono-cropped, same-age forest was far more vulnerable to disease, blight, and storm damage. Its simplicity and formal order, together with the elimination of underbrush, deadfalls and litter dramatically reduced the diversity of the flora, insect, mammal, and bird populations so essential to soil building processes. Once the soil capital deposited by the old-growth forest had been depleted, the new forest entered a period of steep decline in growth and production. The term “Waldsterben” entered the vocabulary of modern forestry science and led, in turn, to huge outlays for fertilizers, rodenticides, fungicides and insecticides as well as efforts to artificially reintroduce birds, insects and mammals that had disappeared. By redesigning the complex and poorly understood ecology of the old-growth forest as a veritable wood-fiber farm and bracketing everything else, scientific forestry had destroyed a vernacular forest and a host of ecological processes that came back to haunt it.


Think of some of the grand 'high modernist' projects of the 20th century, such as urban planning. Over the course of the 20th century technocratic politicians in North America redesigned many cities to be more 'efficient' and 'modern'. What that meant in practice was that communities were (re)designed to be centered around cars. Neighborhoods that had previously been dense, walkable and of mixed use were replaced with neighborhoods that served a single function such as residential, commercial or industrial, connected with big super highways that cut existing communities in half and often lead to the creation of low income ghettos. Often these projects were opposed by locals who had a much better grasp of what they wanted from their communities. You might say that this is just an example of politicians being corrupted by vested interests but that wasn't always the case. Many of them really did think that communities would be better off if they were transformed into auto-dependent single use neighborhoods. However, subsequent history has demonstrated that there were massive social and environmental problems with this model.

Any proper constitutional arrangement should balance different perspectives and make some room for local knowledge and input. A larger government can be a useful counter force to excessive NIMBYism but I'm honestly sort of shocked that people would actually think that its some kind of rule that politicians are always going to know better than everyone else. That's a premise so absurd that I'd think even a couple minutes of consideration would cure you of it.

Gantolandon
Aug 19, 2012




A procedure which lets a single individual reject a proposition everyone else likes is as far from democracy as possible.


Xander77 posted:

As far as I understand things - "professional" politicians, who are wealthy, well educated, (to an extent) well informed, or at least capable of quickly getting the necessary information about any subject, are by definition better at making any and all policy decisions than the general public. The problem is that any political "class" will - again, by definition - worry more about its own interests than about the interests of the public at large. Democracy is just a means of "kicking the bums out" should that happen - making sure that every politician has to keep in mind the public interest (or at least the appearance thereof).

Any democratic institution that tries to have "more democracy" than that - having the general public actively making decisions they are incapable of understanding - is "too much".

It's one of the things that baffles me most when it comes to criticism of democracy - the assumption that the average decision maker is more informed and enlightened than the members of the public. Like they were a different species, more capable of logical reasoning than the average voter. This relies on assumption that having a successful society is the matter of letting the most virtuous and reasonable people lead. This comes straight from the era of Enlightenment - that you can just deduce your way to the Plato's Republic and the public is only there to ensure they are not screwed.

The problem with this reasoning is that we already kinda proved that it doesn't work. Even if an average politician was better informed and more intelligent than the general public, it has nothing to do with making decisions that are beneficial to the society at large. Moreover, hoping that the public can prevent being screwed over by voting for virtuous politicians is pretty much another version of the notion that the free market will always supply the best solution. It is established that "well, buy your poo poo somewhere else" doesn't work as a method of weeding out dishonest businesses, but somehow people still expect they just need to vote wisely and there will happen to be someone able to solve all their problems.

Also, an average politician is not better informed than the rest of society - there are plenty of examples of politicians who made stupid decisions because they were completely out of touch with reality. Consider, for example, Greek ubermenschen accidentally banning video games. Generally, the members of the elite have the means to avoid the consequences of their decisions. They also tend not to mingle with hoi polloi, so they are rarely aware of the problems that concern the commons.

Even if there is such thing as too much democracy, it would seem that today we don't have enough.

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010

A homeless person was out on the street, looked up at me and said, "Draft Manziel." Just like that.

And that convinced me, that the Cleveland Browns' fans wanted Manziel.

Gantolandon posted:


It's one of the things that baffles me most when it comes to criticism of democracy - the assumption that the average decision maker is more informed and enlightened than the members of the public. Like they were a different species, more capable of logical reasoning than the average voter. This relies on assumption that having a successful society is the matter of letting the most virtuous and reasonable people lead. This comes straight from the era of Enlightenment - that you can just deduce your way to the Plato's Republic and the public is only there to ensure they are not screwed.

Or maybe the same way that a professor of climate change knows more about ways to reduce ecological impact than a random person?

Helsing
Aug 23, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

This is a bit of side note but its also worth pointing out that "democracy" and "voting" are not synonymous. In ancient Athens, generally seen as the originator of democracy, voting was mistrusted for important positions because the wealthiest citizens would consistently win elections. Important political positions were often selected by casting random lots. So while voting and democracy obviously have some connections they can also sometimes be seen as working at cross purposes.

And while we're making side notes, I cannot emphasize this enough: Plato's Republic was not a political document. Repeat: Plato's Republic is not a political document. The city described in the Republic is clearly and explicitly a metaphor for the human soul. Plato repeatedly drops very strong and unsubtle hints that the city he is describing would not be a desirable or functional political system. People who cite the Republic as a document advocating elitist government are utterly failing to understand the purpose of the document, which is a meditation on the individual's soul.


computer parts posted:

Or maybe the same way that a professor of climate change knows more about ways to reduce ecological impact than a random person?

That's an incredibly specific example that you're using. The poster Gantolandon was responding to was specifically saying that professional politicians are always going to know better on all subjects.

Gantolandon
Aug 19, 2012



computer parts posted:

Or maybe the same way that a professor of climate change knows more about ways to reduce ecological impact than a random person?

Tell me more how career politicians are comparable to professors. Where is this university that teaches them all they need to rule a country, from rules of warfare to climate science and where they learn how to prioritize the issues that currently are the most important?

Helsing posted:

And while we're making side notes, I cannot emphasize this enough: Plato's Republic was not a political document. Repeat: Plato's Republic is not a political document. The city described in the Republic is clearly and explicitly a metaphor for the human soul. Plato repeatedly drops very strong and unsubtle hints that the city he is describing would not be a desirable or functional political system. People who cite the Republic as a document advocating elitist government are utterly failing to understand the purpose of the document, which is a meditation on the individual's soul.

Thanks for clarifying - I tried to write "the perfect government" in a prettier way, but should have used something else in the hindsight.

Gantolandon fucked around with this message at Jul 31, 2014 around 17:47

GreenLight
Apr 5, 2014


they didn't want the plebs to take the stuff of the people who owned the country.

To point to athen is funny because there only people who owned property where allowed to vote. Thats even harsher.

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010

A homeless person was out on the street, looked up at me and said, "Draft Manziel." Just like that.

And that convinced me, that the Cleveland Browns' fans wanted Manziel.

Gantolandon posted:

Tell me more how career politicians are comparable to professors. Where is this university that teaches them all they need to rule a country, from rules of warfare to climate science and where they learn how to prioritize the issues that currently are the most important?

There is a reason why most of them tend to be lawyers.

Gantolandon
Aug 19, 2012



computer parts posted:

There is a reason why most of them tend to be lawyers.

It doesn't matter if you can write perfect laws if you don't know poo poo about the element you try to regulate.

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010

A homeless person was out on the street, looked up at me and said, "Draft Manziel." Just like that.

And that convinced me, that the Cleveland Browns' fans wanted Manziel.

Gantolandon posted:

It doesn't matter if you can write perfect laws if you don't know poo poo about the element you try to regulate.

That's why a lot of regulations are "sets up [agency] or allows [existing agency] to make sure [X] is at reasonable levels".

Gantolandon
Aug 19, 2012



computer parts posted:

That's why a lot of regulations are "sets up [agency] or allows [existing agency] to make sure [X] is at reasonable levels".

You missed the part where you explain how does a politician know what level of X is reasonable and when the situation merits to set up an agency.

computer parts
Nov 18, 2010

A homeless person was out on the street, looked up at me and said, "Draft Manziel." Just like that.

And that convinced me, that the Cleveland Browns' fans wanted Manziel.

Gantolandon posted:

You missed the part where you explain how does a politician know what level of X is reasonable and when the situation merits to set up an agency.

That's the point, they let the agency determine what's reasonable.

Helsing
Aug 23, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

Gantolandon posted:


Thanks for clarifying - I tried to write "the perfect government" in a prettier way, but should have used something else in the hindsight.

Regardless of what Plato intended, the Republic is regularly cited as the ur-document advocating elitist government, so your statement made complete sense. I just thought that for the general edification of the thread it'd worthwhile to point out that Plato is widely misunderstood on this point. I don't think it in nay way effects the substance of what you were saying.

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Helsing
Aug 23, 2003

THUNDERDOME LOSER

computer parts posted:

That's the point, they let the agency determine what's reasonable.

Yeah, and sometimes that works well and sometimes it doesn't. It completely depends on context. I think the key take away here is that until you investigate the specific context of each situation there is no basis for claiming that there's some kind of universal rule say elite or technocratic decision makers will know better than the man on the street. There are many examples where elites made terrible blunders.

Fetishizing elite decision making as some kind of universally superior system is just intellectual laziness. Without specifying what domain of policy we're talking about its meaningless to claim that elites are better or worse at making decisions.

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