What Democracy Is, and Isn’t

How well do voters control their representatives’ and Presidents’ policy choices? This question has been one of the major objects of scholarship among America’s political scientists recently.  This work always starts from an understanding that voters’ political knowledge is paltry and confused, and yet it mostly argues that elections serve as effective tools of political control thanks to “retrospective voting,” in which voters punish incumbents for deteriorations in their own situations, and various other heuristics allowing low-information voters to make collectively rational choices.

Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, longtime veterans of these debates, released a bombshell in 2016, persuasively arguing that this optimistic assessment of elections cannot survive contact with empirical evidence. Their book Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government offers a bracing corrective to the naïve and sloppy thinking about democracy that has too often served as conventional wisdom among academics and elite commentators. The book renders a tremendous service to political science as a discipline by reconnecting it to deep questions about the nature and purposes of politics. Unfortunately, the authors’ alternative vision of politics (about which more below) suffers from both positive and normative confusion.

Folk Democracy

Let’s start with the good. Princeton’s Achen and Vanderbilt’s Bartels take aim at what they label the “folk theory” of democracy, which at its most idealistic they frame as follows:

The abuses of kings, aristocrats, commissars, and dictators would be eliminated. Democratic norms would be enforced by the shared values of an enlightened populace. Mistakes would occur, of course, but they would be the people’s own mistakes, and thus susceptible to quick recognition and reversal.  Most of the time, democratic government would be very good government indeed.

The strongest parts of the book demolish a number of wrong-headed assumptions embedded in this reassuring outlook.

To begin with, slice the mass data available to us as we would, an “enlightened” populace is not what we have. Most people’s mastery of even the rudiments of American government is very poor.

Second, the voting public shows nowhere near the attentiveness that would be necessary to prevent its elected officials from committing abuses or punish them for poor performance. If we insist on thinking of them as managers, they are lousy at the job.

Third, nothing within democracy lets us collectively identify and correct errors; fights linger and the pressures of the permanent campaign mostly obscure, rather than promote, a culture of truth-seeking.

Consequently, the identification of democratic government with “good” or efficient government comes to seem quite dubious. The core chapters of Democracy for Realists, presenting mountains of evidence supporting this chastened view of the electorate, deserve a prominent place in any discussion of the practice of democracy.

The book’s repudiation of the folk theory of democracy has big implications for the academic sub-discipline of American Politics. Practitioners in the field have made a cottage industry of judging the (un)representativeness of various legislatures, and especially Congress, based on comparisons between roll-call voting and public opinion polling. Taking the lessons of Democracy for Realists seriously requires downgrading the status of this work, which implausibly assumes that poll respondents are each independently in possession of well-formed worldviews and detailed preferences, such that it is easy and sensible to assess whether legislators are doing their bidding.

The authors say their current work ought to serve as “a funeral” for this style of political science, given how much people’s political views seem to be post hoc rationalizations and defenses of their team’s policy positions and actions. It remains to be seen just how much they or other academics are willing to actually shift the foundations of their research strategies, as opposed to pausing for a bit of self-criticism and resuming business as usual. But the gauntlet has been thrown down, along with an invitation to engage long-neglected authors (Arthur Bentley, Graham Wallas, A. Lawrence Lowell, Walter Lippmann, and E.E. Schattschneider, among others), and we can be hopeful that this book will bring real change.

Having congratulated the authors for deflating the pretensions of the folk theory of democracy, I must also observe that they occasionally get carried away. A modest version of their argument is unassailable in light of the evidence: Election outcomes are determined in large part by events beyond the control of politicians. Voters mostly decide how to cast their ballots based on pre-rational considerations. The image we have of democracy as an enactment of the will of the people is mostly a myth.

What Democracy Does Well

Achen and Bartels may be too wedded to a much stronger version, with no qualifiers included. At one point, they simply pronounce elections “essentially a coin toss”; at another, they say that the accountability elections can deliver is akin to “kicking the dog.” If the strong version were taken at face value, it would be hard to justify feeling any attachment at all to democracy.

Luckily, the strong version is not really supported—and as long as elections can justly be regarded as extremely clumsy tools of accountability, rather than actual randomization mechanisms, they remain normatively defensible in ways that Achen and Bartels don’t much explore. They seem positively pained when voters make “mistakes” by punishing politicians for the wrong things or giving credit where it isn’t due.  But the social ritual of assigning credit and blame, and reacting accordingly, can have a value for political cohesion even if its choices diverge sharply from those that “objective observers” (whoever they are) would have made.

Are elections “fair”? No, they’re not, though we generally argue that the ones with outcomes we like are. Are they “rational”? Arguably, but only in some watered-down sense. Are they nevertheless “legitimizing”? Most assuredly, since they give citizens a choice that is not always an echo. Voters do get chances to throw the bastards out, and they will sometimes use that power in ways that make sense (even if those immersed in political life will have a hard time agreeing on which times those are). One might say the authors never succeed in showing that elections aren’t good enough for government work.

To take one example that the authors treat at chapter length, consider the choices the American electorate made over the course of the Great Depression. Overwhelmingly, voters punished whichever party was in power when the Depression arrived and rewarded the party in office as recovery proceeded—especially when those incumbent parties worked to “pay off” voters through redistributive policies. Achen and Bartels take this as clear evidence that voters were acting without any perspicacious understanding of which party’s policies were actually responsible for bringing on the crash or for reversing its effects over the long term.

Surely that’s right—but this way of thinking elides the real achievement of, for example, Franklin Roosevelt’s Democrats, which was to successfully promote a story of shared recovery and hope to a still-hurting electorate in 1936. If that sense of solidarity was strengthened by certain kinds of transfers, perhaps this is better regarded as serious coalition-building than as some kind of political trickery. Politics is often about “rallying” the energies of the public, in both senses of that word, and elections like the one held in 1936 show which side is succeeding.

That is quite a different purpose, to be sure, than “discerning the root cause of the nation’s problems and offering the right prescription to cure them.” If the point is to disabuse people of the notion that democratic politics is like that, then it is an entirely salutary one. But then it’s not clear why we need to be so upset about the capricious elements that clearly weigh heavily in political choice. The polity must stagger through its own messy history, and it is not to be expected that it will be wise in the manner of a wise man. But the rough justice of elections gives it (us) a way of proceeding through leadership changes tolerably well in an age when citizens do expect the government to be fundamentally answerable to them—and that is no mean feat.  Citizens do not therefore achieve “control” of the governing class in a direct sense, but their own sense of real choice is not therefore illusory.

The “Group Theory” of Politics

Once Achen and Bartels have laid waste to the folk theory, they feel obliged to offer an  alternative master theory of democratic politics that might organize popular thinking and scholarly inquiry alike. They argue that “group and partisan loyalties, not policy preferences or ideologies, are fundamental in democratic politics.” Membership in groups is to be understood as pre-political and overwhelmingly inherited rather than chosen, and “identities drive views of the political world” rather than vice versa. Without an entirely clear explanation of how, the authors say that this idea dovetails nicely with various recent workings-out of “identity theory,” including work on the importance of race, ethnicity, social class, religion, and region. They maintain that this style of thinking, which is likely to emphasize the durability of factions rather than the primacy of ideas, is Madisonian.

Well . . . no. At least, not without a great deal more thinking about how groups go about interacting with each other and with political institutions. Of those aspects, Achen and Bartels’ group theory, at least as presented in this book, says almost nothing. What is hammered home is how significant group identities are; any practical political program to be pursued under the group theory has to be inferred. But if certain kinds of identity—especially ethnicity and race— are treated as all-important, that leaves little room for Madisonian balancing of fluid factions. Instead, it offers the specter of Carl Schmitt’s vision of politics, in which us-them enmities thoroughly define what politics is about (and not in peace-promoting ways).

Achen and Bartels do a great deal to show us that normal people do not think about politics in the same way that elites do, but they never get around to exploring how elites and groups are supposed to relate to each other in a properly functioning polity. Much of the authors’ reasoning implies that the choices of the political One Percent (my term, not theirs) will determine whether or not all of society’s various groups manage to cope with their disagreements and constructively act collectively. But they have little to say about how that ought to happen.

In a way, that’s not a surprise. Political scientists have almost no data on elites’ thinking, and so they tend to shy away from asking these questions. (A 2013 paper by Bartels and coauthors on the political preferences of the wealthy is one notable exception, though of course the very wealthy and the intensely politically engaged are not equivalent sets.)

One important question that seems genuinely unaddressed is: Are the politically super-involved just as likely as normal people are to have simply inherited their commitments? It seems likely to me that the people who really do deliberate, consider, and choose—and who in doing so may be abandoning some of their earlier group commitmentswield disproportionate influence in shaping elite opinion. If so, the freedom to choose commitments apart from group identities is more important than mass data would indicate. But that is just a hunch.

It could be Achen and Bartels are reluctant to emphasize the importance of elites because they are both dyed-in-the-wool egalitarians. Bizarrely, they sometimes simply try to derive egalitarian implications from the importance of groups. “In our view,” they write, “more effective democracy would require a greater degree of economic and social equality.” (Emphasis in original.) A fine-sounding sentiment, and their fellow academics are likely to cheer. But what does it mean for a democracy to be “effective”? Are they not here reverting to the standards of the folk theorem—that is, interpreting effectiveness as giving the downtrodden their fair share of control over the political system? It is they who have shown just how empty this formulation is likely to be.

Asking subtler questions about how elites and group leaders act in politics would mean reconnecting with a great deal of earlier political science that tried to make sense of American “pluralism” in ways that mostly obviated the voters. Achen and Bartels do see how the group theory might lead back toward pluralist analysis—but they treat the connection with ambivalence, for they view as Pollyannaish the pluralists’ rather optimistic view of groups’ ability to coexist without serious conflict. The pluralists “had gotten well past the folk theory. But at their weakest, there was a certain 1950s complacency in their thinking.”

When the zeitgeist of the tumultuous 1960s diminished pluralism’s reputation, Achen and Bartels see this as just deserts. I would ask them to reconsider. If political scientists are interested in developing the “group theory,” they’d do well to turn their attention to the pluralist work done a few generations ago. This midcentury group of political scientists, insightfully analyzed by Ira Katznelson in his 2003 Desolation and Enlightenment, grappled forthrightly with the lessons of Europe’s implosion for liberal democracy. They do not come across as a saccharine bunch.

Among the hardest questions that political scientists trying to fashion a sensible group theory must answer is: Where do the most meaningful group attachments come from? My instinct is to reject identity politics as skin deep; multiculturalism has shown itself to be a superficial way of thinking about groups in politics. I would prefer, along with conservatives with debts to Alexis de Tocqueville and Michael Oakeshott, to say that the most meaningful group identities come from particular experiences of acting together for some common purpose—which will create solidarity along standard identity-politics lines if people are separated into distinctly acting groups, but which will create far more complex allegiances if the identity groups intermingle and cooperate. Communities of purpose thus generate groups that act in politics in a manner not wholly dependent on the mere accidents of identities acquired at birth.

But I have to admit that this is an empirical question, and if someone wanted to argue that the predicament of 21st century American politics is precisely that people’s inherited identities have come to shape more of their experiences, while communities of purpose have receded in various ways, I’d seriously entertain that argument. We can hope that some of today’s best political scientists will respond to Achen and Bartels’ challenge by undertaking the kind of political sociology necessary to bear out such a hypothesis.

In sum, if Democracy for Realists suffers from certain confusions, it is because its authors dare to ask big, hard questions at the level of deep fundamentals. They made their professional reputations as quantitative scholars but show remarkable erudition and historical knowledge in mounting their ambitious theoretical arguments. Their project is exciting, and even inspiring, for political scientists. Or at least it should be.

Reader Discussion

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on December 13, 2017 at 08:25:49 am

Luckily for us we live in a REPUBLIC, not a democracy ! The Founder's abhorred democracy and knew it was, as Karl Marx stated, "The Road To Socialism".

Looking at the Webster's 1828 dictionary democracy is defined thus:

"Government by the people; a form of government, in which the supreme power is lodged in the hands of the people collectively, or in which the people exercise the powers of legislation. Such was the government of Athens."

Using the same source, here is the definition of a REPUBLIC:

"A commonwealth; a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people. In modern usage, it differs from a democracy or democratic state, in which the people exercise the powers of sovereignty in person."

You won’t find the word “Democracy” in the Declaration Of Independance, the United States Constitution or any of the 50 State Constitutions.

It's hard to read your article or any article that starts out on a false permise.

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Jim Lewis
on December 13, 2017 at 09:27:27 am

Very well constructed and presented essay / review.

1) "But I have to admit that this is an empirical question, and if someone wanted to argue that the predicament of 21st century American politics is precisely that people’s inherited identities have come to shape more of their experiences, while communities of purpose have receded in various ways, I’d seriously entertain that argument"


2) " It seems likely to me that the people who really do deliberate, consider, and choose—and who in doing so may be abandoning some of their earlier group commitments—wield disproportionate influence in shaping elite opinion"

Could it be that the "demise" of communities of purpose is the result of Comment #2? That is to say, that it would appear that the "purposiveness" of the *deliberators* and their disproportionate influence works to a) reduce the influence of the older (now defunct?) communities of purpose, b) vitiating any vestigial efforts / motivations to exert a similar influence or purposiveness and c) and that this becomes an endless cycle of reinforced helplessness ultimately leading to a simultaneous apathy and a clamor for "payoffs" to assuage the frustration and guilt of the non-purposive segments of the electorate. Something on the order of, "Well, if i can't really affect the polity, at least give me some goodies," - both materially and ideologically (perhaps, inherited policy preference-wise is more apt).

It also calls into question the notion of government by consent. Can one consent to something over which, or about which one has neither control nor sufficient knowledge? another theory of consent posits consent as the consequent outcome of 8just* governance, i.e., that the Laws and Rules provide fair and equal treatment to all and that such government is so perceived by the citizenry. Have we come to a point where this fair and equal posture is replaced by a perception that the outcomes reached (or attempted) via redistributive policies is sufficient in and of themselves to warrant "consent." Thus, we may understand the responses of the Representative class in their continuing promises of more and better RESULTS for their electoral base.

No, we have taken the curse of factions, recognized by Madison and enshrined it as the hallmark, the lodestar of American politics.

Only in this sense ( Mr. Lewis) may we be said to be a democracy with all its inherent faults. The "deliberators" - do they lead the mob ?; or is the mob, in its clamoring for ever more *equal results* leading the deliberators?

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on December 13, 2017 at 14:32:57 pm

Bartels is a closet socialist, if you read some of his other works. No surprise that, even when he stumbles upon an insight or two about the failures of multi-culturalism, the cognitive dissonance is to much to bear, so he reverts to wanting more income redistribution.

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on December 13, 2017 at 15:57:13 pm

Democracy Described:

Mr. Wallach uses, very effectively, what has become a very effective intellectual ploy of taking as a “foil” (in the fencing sense) the ideas of others for the refining thrusts of his own ideas (Shades of George W. Will – the technique, not the ideas).

So, for those of us who have not read the scholarship he refers to, what have we here (in terms of the headnote)?

We appear to have the implication in both sets of ideas that Democracy is a **condition** resulting from particular “inputs” of public participations and from the means and modes of those participations in aspects of **governance** (the U S as an example). Going further, to discuss what *ought to be* the causes of various problems in that implied condition, there are extensive examinations and critique of the “inputs.”

Let us consider that implication may be totally wrong.
Democracy is NOT a condition

Let us consider that the undesirable, deficient, defective, or even damaging “inputs” may NOT be the causes so many assume the “ought to be’ (so assumed because of their negative characteristics?) of the various problems noted.

So, where does that take us in what Democracy IS? Well, it is a word; and that word can be read as a label for various forms of **processes** in those social orders which create and employ them to attain various *kinds and degrees* of DISPERSAL OF POWER to the members of the social order. In short, Democracy is the label given to the facility or instrumentality developed by a social order to disperse power over its members in some particular fashion to meet the “needs” (physical, economic, social) of that order as it develops.

That dispersal of power can be seen as giving rise to the need for other facilities and instrumentalities, requiring interactions, such as cooperation, amongst the members necessary to any required exercises of powers (defense, public order, allocations, etc.). Thus arise the “inputs” noted in the “implied condition.”

The establishment of a public thing, or the establishment of a number of facilities for the operation of a public thing, for the objectives of required exercises of otherwise dispersed powers is part of human social history, our own not excepted.

We may be at a point in Western development where the “dispersed” quality of certain powers is being challenged or denied by those within the facilities and instrumentalities societies have developed to exercise them.

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R Richard Schweitzer
on December 14, 2017 at 10:37:41 am

I agree with you, Mr. Lewis.

Moreover, I have had it with propaganda for democracy and want to do my part to end it. George Bush II spoke of the 21st century as the century of democracy; I think he meant the right to vote. I think Wallach is writing about how to control the vote of the masses.

No matter who is writing phrases like our democracy, democratic norms, liberal democracy, or other popular phrases, I question their 1) understanding of America and 2) acceptance of the American promise.

The American promise has yet to be discovered, these 229 years since it was established by nine states on June 21, 1788 and 228 years since the First Congress, representing ten states, re-instituted governance under a factional, Protestant God. Then, 5% could vote and 99% were factional Protestant: today, 100% in good standing may vote and 14% are traditional factional Protestants. The American promise could have progressed during this time, but seems to have regressed.

Identification of the promise of republicanism could restore the promise that was clear for some seven months in 1788, was obfuscated, and has been neglected since. I think the promise is necessary governance under civic justice in both law and law enforcement. By "civic" I mean public conduct for mutual justice between the acting parties more than conformity to a municipality or doctrine.

The intention of the American promise is offered in the preamble to the constitution for the USA, and those who do not accept it, for whatever reasons, are dissidents to the promise. I am not prepared today to make a case against the right of dissidents to vote but imagine a future serious debate. My argument originates from writing about how political scientists propose to control the vote, like this post by Wallach.

However, I think the American promise is a civic culture, wherein the individual has the opportunity to develop responsible civic freedom so as to privately pursue personal happiness. I include the word "privately" so as to assert that the individual need not explain to anyone the happiness he or she is pursuing. In other words, there is not happiness police that purports to define how it is obtained.

Responsible civic freedom obviously is not chaos. Each civic citizen develops fidelity to the-objective-truth, which can only be discovered. Trust and commitment to the preamble assures that the culture progresses with discovery rather than languishes in the civilization of the past.

A civic people live on the leading edge of civic morality, and religious believers among them never compromise possible hopes for the hereafter.

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Phillip Beaver
on December 15, 2017 at 13:58:16 pm

The only completely successful period of "folk democracy" I know of happened in the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1630-50. It happened under very unusual circumstances. The Winthrop fleet settlers were both a "purposeful group" in that they intended to worship God in the way they thought best and an "identity group" in that they were all consciously asserting what they understood to be their ancient rights and liberties as Englishmen. Further, they were radically egalitarian in that they all ranged from 40 shilling freeholders to gentlemen of trade and the professions. There were no nobles, except for Sir Richard Saltonstall and Lady Arabella Johnson. Lady Arabella, the daughter of Theophilus Clinton, the 4th Earl of Lincoln, died soon after she arrived in 1630 and Sir Richard was something of a class traitor who returned to England in 1643. There were no day laborers, except for a very few servants, and no indigent or masterless men. The colony freely rejected anyone likely to cause trouble.

Between 1630-50, these settlers established the form of local and state government we know today. However, rather than make the franchise to vote in colony wide elections based on property they limited the franchise to members of a recognized congregation that enforced Presbyterian theology. This was of little consequence in local matters because: the towns had exclusive jurisdiction over matters that related to the town and all matters where the liquidated damages was 20 shillings or less; all lawful residents of the town had an equal vote at the town meetings; the authority of the central government in Boston was sharply curtailed as it related to the towns; and the towns retained control over their militia companies. It was of great consequence in external matters because the Presbyterian divines sided with the English grandee Whigs in 1690 and surrendered the old Charter to William III and accepted the status of a province rather than that of a free state.

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on December 15, 2017 at 17:26:23 pm

There has to be a way you can reword that whole comment so it doesn't sound like a tautological postmodernist graduate essay. Good point though, in that last sentence. At least I think.

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on December 15, 2017 at 18:54:39 pm

Please. do not refer to Richard as "postmodernist" - it may cause him to suffer intestinal discomfort from laughing!

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on December 22, 2017 at 10:23:08 am


More democracy? Careful. We may be tripping and flirting with a political prat fall from which it may take long, if ever, to recover. Give up direct democracy, that is, of the people, by the people, for the people? The way it is evolving, it is showing signs of overreaching, and plunging to earth, like Icarus, flying with wings of wax, and getting to close to the sun. Democracy, that is direct democracy, has lent itself to becoming a mechanism to empower mob rule. Check the news, and history.

Am I being too harsh? Well, let's look for performance in our own democracy. Our " leaders" chosen more and more by "the people" are demonstrably inept, fashioning 2,000 page laws reflecting good intentions on a superhighway to higher costs, excessive regulatory intrusion, and, ultimately, unaffordable. I mean, can anyone really believe that these leaders, chosen by the people, understand the consequences of their actions? How can 535 of the "best and the brightest" in the country be so inept and legislatively clumsy such that they demonstrably cannot rationally "walk and chew gum" at the same time. They are tied up in their own regulatory underwear, falling like clowns down the steps of the Capitol in their rush to please special interests, while responding to the emotions of the people, unhinged from reality, and the practical.

And the Presidency? It is enraptured in a narcissistic exercise of Executive excesses, less restrained, and made unpredictable by its imaginative and selective interpretation and implementation of the laws of the land. The "Occupant" is aided and abetted by a supine bureaucracy incapable of limiting executive actions to the plain meaning of their own oath of office, which is to the Constitution, and to see that the law are faithfully executed. The "Occupant" elected by the people, is prisoner to his own imagination, and the satraps that brung him. To hold on to power, the "Occupant" wallows in the emotional mud-holes of the electoral, drawing on their racial, religious, sexual, and class sense of victim-hood and entitlements. Like parasites living in the gut of the county, executive actions, net-net, weaken the economic potential of the country on which all possibilities depend.

In our democracy, the government is the distillate of the wisdom that voters elect, exercising their franchise. And, who are these voters? Us, by definition of average intelligence. We by-and-large rely on instinct, and habit in choosing our representatives. Little, if anything, is decided based on real individual rights, security, freedom, or achievement. Elections are manipulated using "red herrings" dragged across the media to distract and mislead voters like the packs of yelping hounds following their noses in search of a false prey. Democracy here, at least the model popular these days, is largely a failure, still searching for a better way of governance. I mean, come on! Reproductive rights? Sexual co-habitation? The "N" word? Meanwhile, the economy is caught in the vortex of a toilet, and Armageddon lingers between Scylla and Charybdis, or North Korea and Iran, or Pakistan and India. And then a nutcase like Snowden, and a dysfunctional bureaucracy, like the GSA and IRS, grab our attention. Hysterics seize the day. Hopeless.

And the record of democracy in most other lands? Take Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Venezuela, Ecuador, Myanmar, Thailand, etc. How is the system working out? Who is in charge? The people? No, it is the mob. Choose your mob. The military, the Mafia, crony government/labor/management, and the street that supports them. For what? Their illusions. Their mistaken and conditioned expectations. Not small ones. Big ones. Like stability and employment. Like being fed. Making one's way in reality. No. The people have become dependent on subsidized everything, bread, gas, education, housing, even foreign aid, for security and material well being. Take from Abdul, and pay Mohammed! Or visa-versa. If not, riot, kill, and Occupy. It is the way of the jungle, the "reset" option of failed states in history.

There are alternatives to the democratic formula, many overlooked, or discarded, in the past, and others in the process of being born, or recycled. Without ranking, and at the risk of being immediately disregarded, here are some that come to mind.

The Catholic Church - Leadership is by election of "elders" appointed by previous leaders. A benefit from the system is that elections are not imposed by the calendar, requiring leadership to be pulled up, - say, every four years - like a carrot, still growing and incomplete, to see whether it should be returned to the earth, or discarded. Also, "elders" are a collective of those judged to be wise in the past (Socratic?) leaders based on their performance, experience, and discipline with respect to the values and purpose of the institution.

Maybe Hongkong - While still evolving, this government is largely an economic engine responding to market forces. Governance reflects a gradual empowerment of citizens, edging toward a larger, and more participatory, self-disciplined, system. The power of a centralized authority, e.g., like the prior colonial government, or China - is diluted periodically in response to perceived popular expectations, within accepted limits of peaceful forms of assembly. This democratization can occur in the midst of other conditions affecting governance, namely, an adherence to existing law, a respect for individual freedom of thought, a system respectful of individual merit, private property, and a competitive system of production.

Although I could be mistaken. In Hongkong, the "Occupy" movement in its planned peaceful and surgical application of the brakes on the economy to resist the contagion of Main China "Soul" may turn into a suicidal move to cut of its nose off to spite its face. That seems to be consistent with the wisdom of the masses. The choice ought not be to "live standing up or die on your knees." There are alternatives, and a chance to dodge the bullet of direct democratic - zealotry.

Switzerland - The characteristics of governance of this landlocked country function under a national leadership with a more or less rotating chairmanship of a governing board; deference to market forces and external political pressure; and defense system that discourages internal and external disruption - a "don't tread on me" proposition.

Scandinavia - Some of these countries seem to have a unified sense of the governed and governance that seeks the common good by empowering individual choice in program implementation, e.g., publicly funded vouchers for socially approved services. In addition, they share similar characteristics with the Swiss, e.g., internal cohesion, openness in trade, independence, and national confidence.

These thumbnail descriptions are probably more imaginary than real, imprecise and error prone. Nevertheless, they are hopeful and suggestive of directions and possibilities for more durable and satisfactory forms of governance.

Jaime L. Manzano
Federal Senior Executive and Foreign Service Officer
7904 Park Overlook Drive
Bethesda, MD 20817

301 365 4781

An afterthought

I appreciate suggestions to improve the rule of law. The functioning of our government, however, has been subject to "jury nullification" for some time, that is, the rule of the masses, responding to instincts linked to race, sex, religion, and envy, rather than the constitution. The structural limitations on mob rule through the indirect democracy initially prescribed has been on a losing trajectory. Direct democracy is in the ascendance.

If the voter is to be recognized as the ultimate authority over governance and the use of public power, perhaps it is time to promote weighting votes by factors other than birth, age, race, and sex. Dr. Li, the founder and leader of Singapore, before his death, suggested that the franchise could be weighted differently by age, education, marital status, and other factors. Participation in the electoral process could thus be reasonably expanded, reducing the impact of instincts, and emotions.

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Jaime Manzano

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