Content Area Reading #9 – Democracy or not?

“The Case Against Democracy” by Caleb Craine. The New Yorker, November 7, 2016 Issue.

I chose to read this article as my weekly content area reading because my professor sent it to me and my fellow social studies peers and I was really intrigued by the title.  I think the questioning of democracy is a really difficult but interesting debate.

This article discusses theorists that believe that democracy is not the best form of government.  According to ideas articulated in the article, democracy does not necessarily protect the good of the collective as everyone and anyone is allowed to vote (over 18).  Theorists argue that those individuals who are ignorant about political issues should not vote, as they are not truly informed  and therefore cannot make the “best pick” when voting. Instead, some political scientists claim that only a special commission of intellectuals, with certain academic qualifications, should be able to vote and govern the country.

3 things I want to remember:

  • 1. Plato was weary of democracy, and instead proposed the following: “It would be much safer, Plato thought, to entrust power to carefully educated guardians. To keep their minds pure of distractions—such as family, money, and the inherent pleasures of naughtiness—he proposed housing them in a eugenically supervised free-love compound where they could be taught to fear the touch of gold and prevented from reading any literature in which the characters have speaking parts, which might lead them to forget themselves.”
  • 2. John Mill’s ideas about voting: extra votes to citizens with college/university degrees or with intellectually demanding jobs – “In fact, in Mill’s day, select universities had had their own constituencies for centuries, allowing someone with a degree from, say, Oxford to vote both in his university constituency and wherever he lived. The system wasn’t abolished until 1950” in Britain.
  • 3. A “pro” of democracy: “The economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has made the case that democracies never have famines, and other scholars believe that they almost never go to war with one another, rarely murder their own populations, nearly always have peaceful transitions of government, and respect human rights more consistently than other regimes do.”

2 controversial things/things I disagree with

  • 1. The idea of screening voters – I understand that there is frustration with all people over the age of 18 being allowed to vote, as many are ignorant (some purposefully ignorant) of the issues our society faces. However, I can only see institutional discrimination stemming from this. People who can’t afford a quality education or those who come from places with limited educational opportunities will lose the ability to participate in government, even if they actually do know the issues but just don’t have the label of “intellectual.” This will likely lead to disenfranchisement and discrimination against minorities (particularly people of color) who come from urban areas. Without the voice of these people, the government won’t be truly representative of its inhabitants, even if it is “more educated.”
  • 2. “Empirical research shows that people rarely vote for their narrow self-interest; seniors favor Social Security no more strongly than the young do.” I’m curious to know more about this research because I just don’t believe that it’s true. As humans, we always have our own interests in the forefront of our minds. Isn’t that what we elect politicians for? To represent our self-interests? If you look at even a local event, you can see the preservation of self-interest in action. In my town for example, we always have a difficult time getting our school budget passed because a lot of elderly people vote against it, as it will take money away from them and their interests.

1 question

  • 1. If our American society ever did get to the point of implementing an epistocracy, what role would social studies teachers really have? If only a small percent of the population would be able to participate in government, is there still a purpose to creating informed, critical thinking citizens in our classrooms?
Content Area Reading #9 – Democracy or not?

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