Monday, December 05, 2005

How do we "generate" democracy? PART ONE

I have been thinking about the issue of democracy for the entire semester; most notably, I am interested in the communitarian and Marxist answers to liberalism, which remains a valuable source for criticism and formulating responses to liberalism if only because liberalism remains the reigning cultural, political, and religious norm...

By liberalism I mean the form of government that follows specifically from Hobbes' notion of freedom and introduction to the modern social contract theory, which Locke then moves beyond and thus formulates arguably one of the most effective formats of liberal government. To this day, Hobbes' formulation of freedom as the absence of external impediments remains the dominant idea of the masses about what freedom is--most people wouldn't say it in such precise terms, but we are indeed ruled by the idea that freedom is in fact outlined by the "ability to do what I want to do." Moral and physical impediments become very serious problems for this type of liberalism, and as such it is not surprising that vague and generally meaningless concepts such as "individual rights" emerge (in order to preserve this notion that I have a "space," a space which is defined by the absence of your impeding my "freedom"--next time you're in a debate with someone that uses the word "right," ask them to define it, and I almost guarantee that that person will have no idea about how to define a "right"--it really is ingrained that deeply in our social psyches).

Thus, by the time we are contracted out of Locke's state of nature (which suspiciously looks a lot like civil society) into civil society (it is a relationship that logically follows because we are granted, in nature, the law of nature (reason), which is a gift of God if we so choose to use it; this same gift is used to consent to liberal government--thus it is entirely "reasonable" that persons should form a liberal government)...the liberal state acquires a very specific function: to preserve and protect private property, which is defined as "life, liberty, and estate."

What is interesting about Locke is that he initially appears to be a philosopher that is concerned with his fellow man, who may be starving, or who may be slighted by my grand accumulation of private property...this is present in the idea of spoilage, which holds that I cannot accumulate more than I can use without the goods spoiling---it is convenient to think of "apples" in this sense...I can only pick as many apples off the tree for my own use, provided that I don't take so many that they spoil. This is a waste of the land that God has provided. But, Locke saves himself with the idea of money: money is developed because of the demands of spoilage, and mainly as an answer to spoilage: after all, money keeps for as long as it is a valid form of currency, without "spoiling," as apples tend towards. What's more interesting, is that Locke posits that through money, man consents to his own inequality...

This is the fullest definition of private property, and it is the task of the liberal state to preserve this.

What's this got to do with democracy? Well, somewhere along the line, this formulation of state, albeit with a little bit of tweaking (see J.S. Mill, specifically), became friendly to the notion of representative government, and although most philosophers throughout the history of philosophy were anti-democratic (including the Founding Fathers in the Federalist Papers!), representative government eventually became equal to "democracy," which is where our use of the term stands today...thus, when your average American (or your average American president) uses the term "democracy," he or she really means "liberal representative government."

What's wrong with that?, you ask...After all, isn't it convenient that you have things called rights protecting you, civil liberties that are created and defended, and not only do you have individual space, but you also have the legitimate title to accumulate as much money as you please!


Prelude to Part II

The bulk of my criticism of "democracy" will start at the point of "individual space." I will argue that our notion of freedom that follows from "individual space" is ultimately flawwed, because it creates an idea of "freedom apart from one another," rather than "freedom towards one another." Essentially, this criticism will be communitarian and "organic." What do I mean by that?

True democracy will be found in the strength of truthful communities. As we find ourselves today, we have fairly weak communities. There are "instances" of community that come and go, but ultimately it is our idea of "individual space" that keeps us from giving ourself to the community, which ultimately provides for a more meaningful form of freedom and democracy (and I mean "meaningful" in the truest sense of the word, that of "having meaning;" for with our conceptions of individual space, our freedom and rights are actually meaning-less, or entirely void of meaning, because there is nothing positive for which they can be defined against---our definition of rights and freedoms are entirely negative in this sense.

Through "organic" I mean to introduce a somewhat tricky concept: I mean to imply that democracy is more than a procedural theory of state, which liberalism is (liberalism and representative government generally outline nothing more than protective measures, which are nothing more than structural and procedural, and involve very little participation on the part of persons/citizens). Rather, alongside the idea of truly communitarian democracy, the notion is that structures such as 'representative government' can be abolished because a more meaningful and absolutely/totally direct "form of association" (I stole this term from Rousseau) will take its place...instead of electing a legislator, you yourself are legislator...but (and this is where the true community, the idea of the general will, comes in) you are legislator of what is common, which includes yourself, because you have given yourself entirely over to the community...which is ultimately the most ironic paradox of communitarianism: you become the ultimate ruler and legislator of yourself (you write the laws), but only through giving yourself to everyone else (you write the laws, but only in tandem). This form of association cannot be "procedural," it cannot be "bureaucratic," and it cannot be "totalitarian" (although it is "total"...more on that coming later)...

In the next entry, let's "generate" some democracy...


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