Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

Quick thought about last night's State of the Union speech:

Is anybody else creeped out by these things? I mean, what with the Glorious Leader descending from on high to tell the masses what a great job he's doing to thunderous applause? It's all a very bald-faced propaganda stunt, if you ask me.

Put in this light, one might say "I would expect such an affair from a country like the Soviet Union but not the United States," but that would imply a fundamental misunderstanding of the way our democracy works, specifically, how our democracy operates within very narrow boundaries. The parties themselves, of course, are highly centralized and operate undemocratically. Between elections, it is the party bureaucracy that engages in social decision-making, not the public. Democracy in America (and in most modern democracies) thus amounts to choosing between a government of one or the other tyrannies, similar in this one fundamental respect to Medieval European states that were ruled by elected monarchs. A truly democratic society implies rule by the people, not rule by parties.

A few suggestions come to mind that have their roots in colonial-era democracy. First, give the people the right to instruct their legislators. The people themselves should choose directly the platforms that their delegate to congress will push for. Second, give the people the right to recall their legislators if they find their performance unsatisfactory. Third and perhaps most importantly, invest local legislative power in town meetings. The rationale behind representative democracy is that direct democracy at a national level is too cumbersome; at a local level, this rationale does not hold (and even at a national level, this argument is severely weakened by advances in communications technology). At a local level, therefore, the best form of government is direct democracy. Furthermore, only by interacting with government directly through legislating rather than indirectly through voting do the people acquire a political sophistication necessary to the health of a democracy.

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