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21 August 2011

Avoiding Anarchy through Illusion

Winston Churchill famously said that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." I think he was right. If there is a lesson to learn from the recent debt-ceiling fight in D.C., I think that it is that democracy--at least our unique form of democracy--is often ineffective, to say the least. Reading Bartlett this morning and Rojas last night, I've really been thinking about this. What Churchill, I think, was hinting at is rather profound. We tend to think of government, like the law, as a rational pursuit, but I think that it is becoming more obvious that the opposite is true, that government is decidedly irrational. That doesn't, however, mean that it still isn't the best of the worst. One of the recurring themes of this blog is that irrationality is sometimes necessary for functionality (read: Durkheim). Think about what your reaction would be if you woke up tomorrow to find that President Obama had dismissed Congress and the SCotUS, declaring the U.S. a dictatorship. You'd be quite angry, right? But, why? It's entirely possible that Dictator Obama could lead the nation out of economic hardship; indeed, it's hard to imagine that a dictator could land us in any more dire circumstances than we already find ourselves. We would all be indignant over the idea of a dictatorship regardless of the material results. So, it's not that democracy leads to better outcomes per se. What democracy does well is maintaining the illusion of individual agency. Give a person the vote, and s/he is a lot less likely to pick up a gun in anger.

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