Democracy (Fetishism) in America

The debate over whether to initiate new primaries in Florida and Michigan demonstrates, once again, the almost sacred status bestowed on arguments from democracy, elections and the principle of majority-rule. In recent American politics arguments anchored in these institutions have often functioned as trump cards - once they are drawn all debate must end. After all, who among us is against democracy?

Lately this dynamic is found not only in the commonly held view that Senator Barack Obama simply cannot oppose the inclusion of Florida and Michigan in the delegates tally or resist the alternative of a new vote, but also in the notion that the super delegates to the Democratic Party's convention must not cast their votes in defiance of the sanctity of the majority's vote; even though the very reason for having super delegates is to supplement and at times even override the outcome of the majority.

This fetishism with voting, elections and "democracy" has characterized the administration of George W. Bush from its unexpected dawn to its currently fading dusk: the obsessive counting and recounting of hanging chads; the insistence on the recent elections in the Palestinian territories, which led to the rise to power of Hamas; the calamity of "bringing democracy" to Iraq; the continuing dogmatic insistence on free elections in Cuba as a precondition for recognition and the obsessive hostility to "judicial activism."

Democracy, elections and majority rule are obviously important and valuable principles and institutions. But their value is not absolute. Arguments from democracy should not be used to silence or delegitimize arguments from other principles, such as efficiency, finality, stability, rationality, welfare and autonomy that often override the benefits of holding a popular vote. One would hope that the currently prevalent discourse of change would shed the often disastrous fetishism and religious-like devotion to the institutions of voting and elections – after all, "The Greatest Danger to the American Republics Comes from the Omnipotence of the Majority."

Posted by Ori Herstein