Communitarianism at bay
“How would you have reacted in 2008 if any Republican ran promising to do the following?
"(1) Codify indefinite detention into law; (2) draw up a secret kill list of people, including American citizens, to assassinate without due process; (3) proceed with warrantless spying on American citizens; (4) prosecute Bush-era whistle-blowers for violating state secrets; (5) reinterpret the War Powers Resolution such that entering a war of choice without a Congressional declaration is permissible; (6) enter and prosecute such a war; (7) institutionalize naked scanners and intrusive full body pat-downs in major American airports; (8) oversee a planned expansion of TSA so that its agents are already beginning to patrol American highways, train stations, and bus depots; (9) wage an undeclared drone war on numerous Muslim countries that delegates to the CIA the final call about some strikes that put civilians in jeopardy; (10) invoke the state-secrets privilege to dismiss lawsuits brought by civil-liberties organizations on dubious technicalities rather than litigating them on the merits; (11) preside over federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries; (12) attempt to negotiate an extension of American troops in Iraq beyond 2011 (an effort that thankfully failed); (13) reauthorize the Patriot Act; (14) and select an economic team mostly made up of former and future financial executives from Wall Street firms that played major roles in the financial crisis.”
It seems that whoever you vote for, you get the same policies. As far as I can remember, this problem goes back at least to 1964 when we were told that a vote for Barry Goldwater would lead to an escalation of the Vietnam War, while a vote for Lyndon Johnson would not. Johnson won the election, overwhelmingly--and proceeded to increase the American military commitment in Southeast Asia.
The sense that everything is rigged serves to undercut an article of faith among the Good Government crowd, and that is the precept that an “informed citizenry” is essential to the maintenance of democracy. Such maintenance calls for active participation at various levels--attending meetings, writing letters, buttonholing colleagues--not just voting.
Well, this year I am going to follow a practice that one is not suppose to talk about: I am not going to vote because I can’t see how it will make much of a difference in matters that are important to me.
Historians have shown that the tradition of political activism and responsibility has a distinguished pedigree, going back to the Civic Humanism advocated by Leonardo Bruni and other Florentine thinkers of the early Renaissance. The American Founders were the inheritors of this legacy. More recently it has taken the form of communitarianism, which appeals to a sense of group altruism.
Today, this tradition seems pretty frayed.
A case in point is discontent with serving on juries. Here is a somewhat self-serving defense of this aspect of communitarianism (an involuntary one) by an anonymous lawyer:
"I got to serve on two juries - one civil, one criminal - when I was 21 years old. Loved every second of it. I subsequently became a trial attorney and love talking in front of juries - the smarter and more interested the better. The system is far from perfect. There are problems in presentation, payment and the like, it’s long, and it’s boring. And there are legitimate reasons to avoid it - illness, disability, and child care chief among them. But the reality is that at the end of the day, most people want to avoid it because it’s inconvenient - it disrupts our schedules, it requires some extra time and some extra work. Sort of like voting; something a large number of people like to avoid as well because, well, you know, it doesn't mean anything and it's inconvenient.
"They should be ashamed. Americans live a life of advantage in what has been one of the wealthiest countries in the world. People fight and die and protest for rights such as a jury trial. Yet many look their noses down at the right as if it were a used Kleenex. Give something back to your country, your community. Go. Participate."
Well, we don't have much choice, do we?
Labels: Political theory