Saturday, November 12, 2005

Against a 'Managerial' Conception of Democracy

Though the phrase "the quality of life" trips easily from so many lips these days, it tends to be one of those cliches with many trivial meanings and no large, serious one. Sometimes it merely refers to some externals as the enjoyment of cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner streets. At other times it refers to the merely private enjoyment of music, painting and literature. Rarely does it have anything to do with the way the citizen in a democracy views himself -- his obligations, his intentions, his ultimate self-definition.

Instead, what I would call the "managerial" conception of democracy is the predominant opinion among political scientists, socialogists, economists, and has, through the untiring efforts of these scholars, become the conventional journalistic opinion as well. The root idea behind this managerial conception of democracy is 'a political system' (as they say) which can be adequately defined in terms of -- can be fully reduced to -- its mechanical arrangements. Democracy is then seen as a set of rules or procedures, and nothing but a set of rules and procedures, whereby majority rule and minority rights are reconciled in a state of equilibrium. If everyone follows these rules and procedures, then democracy is in good working order. I think this is a fair description of the democratic idea that currently prevails in academia. One can now say that it is the liberal idea of democracy par excellence.

I cannot help but feel there is something ridiculous about being this kind of a democrat, and I must confess to having a sneaking sympathy for those young radicals who also find it ridiculous. The absurdity is the absurdity of idolatry -- of taking the symbolic for the real, the means for the end. The purpose of democracy cannot possibly be the endless functioning of its own political machinery. The purpose of any political regime is to achieve some version of the good life and the good society. It is not at all difficult to imagine a perfectly functioning democracy which answers all questions except one -- namely, why should anyone of intelligence and spirit care a fig for it?

Irving Kristol, from: "Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship" The Neocon Reader pp. 175-176. (Grove Press, 2005)


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