We’ve been criticized in the past for arguing against a straw-man; after all, surely no one really wants to get rid of democracy! And yet, there is a post on The Stone blog on the New York Times website, which is exactly the kind of argument that Danny and I had been seeing more and more of, and which helped to inspire the book. In it, Prof. Gary Gutting, a philosopher at Notre Dame, argues that it is increasingly clear that “the people” upon whose wisdom democracy supposedly rests are completely incapable of making informed, intelligent decisions–and that furthermore, our political system doesn’t seem to foster legitimate debate or legitimate understanding of the incredibly complex world in which we live. It’s a persuasive argument, in part because it’s true. And so, Gutting suggests that maybe it’s time to scrap this whole democratic experiment altogether.
If you’ve read our book, then you would know that we believe that is the exact wrong conclusion, because Prof. Gutting is only arguing from half of the facts. It is true that democracy shouldn’t work, and that there is plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. But it is also true that democracy does work–which means that their is even more reason to be optimistic.
Scrapping democracy is the wrong answer. There are plenty of ways we can make it better, certainly; but democracy has proven itself incredibly resilient and successful, and to get rid of it because things “seem” to be going poorly would be a huge mistake.