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 Not Quite Right, but
      Still Good:
The Democratic Ideal
  in Modern Politics
           Arrow’s Theorem
• All democracies are fraught with problems.
• Economist Kenneth Arrow demonstrated that
  even free and fair elections do not ensure that
  the majority’s preference will be selected
• Whenever there are more than two choices in an
  election, the method used to add up the votes
  has a tremendous impact on who wins
• Further, one can never be certain that any one
  method of counting votes will lead to the
  majority’s single preferred option
               Arrow’s Theorem
• There are many types of elections that are possible, e.g.,
  winner-take-all, winner-take-all with a runoff to ensure a
  majority, multiple rounds of voting eliminating those with the
  lowest vote first, ranked votes, the use of open primaries, or
  an electoral college
• These methods are all fair but could provide different results
• The example also assumes that the process of conducting the
  election was perfect
• However, in the real world problems come up, e.g., hanging
  chads, misprinted ballots, voting machine failures, etc.
• Arrow’s Theorem shows us that elections cannot be the
  perfect means of making decisions because part of the
  process, the way you tally the votes, can significantly alter the
  outcome, even when it is done perfectly and fairly
• What is it?
• A method of governing in which the
  people rule directly or through
• Examples of Pure (Direct) Democracy?
• Athenian Democracy, New England town meetings,
  CA ballot propositions (referenda and initiatives)
• What’s wrong with Direct Democracy?
• Matter of Scale
• People have neither the expertise or the interest
  What does Democracy Mean to You?
• What does
  Democracy Mean
  to you?
• Take a few
  moments and write
  down a definition of
        What is Democracy?
• Joseph Schumpeter defines
  Democracy as, “the democratic
  method is that institutional
  arrangement for arriving at political
  decisions in which individuals acquire
  the power to decide by means of a
  competitive struggle for the people’s
• Is Democracy just casting votes or
  does it mean something more?
       The Ideals of Liberal Democracy
1. Popular Control of Government
• Government does what the
   people want, not vice versa
• Representative government
• Responsible government
• General welfare government
2. Rule of Law
• Constitutional government
• Limits and restraints on rulers
• Rights-respecting government
• Prevent tyranny of the majority
3. Contestation
• Genuine alternatives who do
   gain power
Liberal Democracy: A Working Definition

• Constitutional
  characterized by popular
• protection of basic rights,
• and political and
  economic competition.
     In Defense of Liberal Democracy
• Guiding vision and ideals have led to greater
  measure of civilized life, healthy growth, and
  creative fulfillment as evidenced in the American
• Has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to
  changing circumstances.
• Has been able to effectively respond to the worst
  examples of the abuse of power and tyranny.
• Is realistic about politics, and this creates a
  stable regime.
   The Attack on Liberal Democracy from
                  the Left
• American liberal
  democracy has failed to
  fulfill its own promise.
• Individuals are not free;
  they are confined in an
  exploitive economic and
  social system of
  inequality, racism, and
  The Attack on Liberal Democracy from
                the Right
• Liberal democracy has
  degenerated into mobocracy,
  serfdom, and socialism.
• The dangers of participatory
  democracy threatened
  representative democracy and
  equality of opportunity.
• The political right is fearful of the
  state’s growing bureaucratic power
  to regulate economic affairs and
  undermine private property and
  Variations on the Liberal Democratic

                                    Government Intervention
                                    in Economic Affairs

                                              For                 Against

Expansion of              For             Liberal         Libertarian
Personal                  ______________________________________
                          Against             Populist            Conservative


Source: William S. Maddox and Stuart A. Little, Beyond Liberal and Conservative:
Reassessing the Political Spectrum (Washington, D.C.: Cato Institute, 1984), 5.
       Contemporary American
•Seek to expand popular power
•In general, they favor a greater concern
for the least free and the least powerful in
• Markets can also limit freedoms, how?
• Advocate employing government to
help people overcome obstacles –
poverty, illness, ignorance, prejudice –
allowing fair play for society’s most
•Concern that free markets do not do
these things
•They are also more favorably disposed
to political, economic, and social change.
  Contemporary American Conservatives
While they are genuinely concerned
  about the most needy in society, they
  are deeply skeptical of the ability of
  government to solve the problems
  associated with poverty.
They generally endorse a laissez-faire
  position and are opposed to adverse
  government interference in their
  economic, political, and social affairs.
Seek to maintain the existing economic,
  political, and social scheme of things.
     Contemporary American
• Uneasy Alliance:
• Free-Market Conservatives: Government should
  not interfere with markets (sound familiar?)
• Social Conservatives: need government to
  protect “traditional” morality and passions
  (sound familiar?)
• Also, Neoconservatives: Disillusioned with
  unintended consequences of liberal social
  programs and Willingness to use force abroad
  Democracy and the Liberal Ideal
• Plato believed that simply because a
  majority of people had an opinion, it did
  not make them correct
• Aristotle believed that democracies self-
  interested factions fighting for their own
  selfish interests without concern for the
  public good
• The framers of the U.S. constitution
  shared these negative views of democracy
 Democracy and the Liberal Ideal
• The Framers created a republic in which
  decisions are made by representatives of
  the citizens rather than by the citizens
• Think of the many undemocratic features
  of the Constitution, e.g.:
  – the Supreme Court
  – the Senate
  – the Electoral College
• Despite its flaws, democracy remains a
  powerful ideal
   Representative Democracy
• The framers of the U.S. Constitution consciously and
  rationally designed it from nearly a blank slate
• Four factors are critical to the effectiveness and the
  remarkable endurance of the U.S. system:
• First, the Constitution uses representatives to create a
  democratic government of specialists
• Second, it institutionalizes revolt through frequent
  elections of representatives
• Third, the Constitution recognizes the potential downside
  of democracy by specifically limiting the power of
• Fourth, it recognizes democracy’s limits by adding a few
  undemocratic features.

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