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Democracy What‟s so good about it? Our reading (by Nelson) offers one kind of „defense‟ of democracy – and discusses another possible option (by Pateman). a) Democracy is valuable for its „legislative effects‟ – it tends to produce JUST legislation (Nelson) b) Democracy is valuable „in itself‟ – because it produces certain kinds of responsible, mature citizens, for example. a) Nelson “I shall argue that democracy is desirable largely because of its good effects – because it tends to produce good laws and policies, or, at least, to prevent bad ones.” (p.158) • In particular, Nelson adopts a Rawlsian position – that “justice is the first virtue of institutions”. • So, his claim is that democracy “tends to produce specific laws and policies that are just” (161). • “The general idea is this: the tests that a law has to pass to be adopted in a constitutional democracy are analogous to the tests that a moral principle must pass in order to be an acceptable moral principle” (161). • In other words, the procedures of democracy ensure the best outcomes in terms of just legislation. • Nelson closely follows Mill‟s defense of representative government – • According to Mill, “the ideally best form of government” is Representative Government. • This is not the best for all societies, but is the best for a society which is sufficiently developed. • For example, it will not be the best form of government if the citizens do not have sufficient will to take an active role in government – it depends on the participation of the citizens. • What is the form of this government? • According to Nelson, there are two criteria of good government – which tend to bring about the desirable outcome. Two Criteria: 1.good government tends to promote the “virtue” and intelligence of its citizens; 2. The “machinery” of good government makes full use of the good qualities of all its citizens. • Thus, the good effect is produced: Government produces good decisions and good legislation – it promotes “the aggregate interests of society”. • The crucial point to note is the idea that good, democratic government depends upon a certain kind of citizen – there are „democratic virtues‟ which must be inculcated in order to make democracy work. • It‟s not automatic. Note: • US Presidential Elections – Voter Participation: Dropped from a 63% turn- out rate in 1960, to 51% in 2000, and back up to 59% in 2004. • LegCo Elections in HK – 43% in 2000, up to 53% in 2004. • In countries such as Australia, voting is compulsory. • If Mill, and Nelson, argue that democracy is the best form of government it‟s NOT necessarily because it will produce the best legislation all the time, or because it will protect everybody‟s rights and interests all the time, but primarily because of the kind of participation and open debate which it encourages. • “The important thing about democratic government…is that the processes of decision-making and administration are carried out in the open…whatever is done will be done in public. Administrators and legislators will be forced to defend their actions in public.” (p.169) • This may seem like a mere „ideal‟ – of course we know governments, administrators and parliamentary representatives are imperfect – they regularly deceive the public and try to cover up their actions; they regularly make arbitrary or unjustifiable decisions. • So, it is an „ideal‟, yes, but: • Once again, for Nelson (and Mill), democracy has within itself the means for bringing us closer to this ideal – “a major advantage of democracy is that it improves the character of its citizens.” (p.170) • And the closer we get to this ideal – of open, participatory government – the more likely we are to get the desired results. • “The very process of open discussion leads people to adopt reasonable moral principles.” • It leads to this both directly and indirectly – “to the extent that citizens already have good character, public discussion…results in good policy. To the extent that citizens lack good character, public discussion and debate tends to improve their character…” (p.170) • Nelson concludes that this will tend to lead to morally justifiable policy/legislation – because the process of rational debate about public policy is similar to the process of rational debate about adequate moral principles. • He concludes that this is the best way to arrive at something like Rawls‟ idea of a “well-ordered society” – one which is governed by commonly accepted principles of justice. Conclusion: • Note that this democratic theory, like Marx‟s theory, is not just a matter of designing a society which would suit our needs – but a matter of changing us at the same time as providing a particular form of government. • One could say that many moral and political theories in the Western tradition are „perfectionist‟ in the sense that they include (more or less explicitly) plans and projects for changing (improving) people. • Is this also true of Rawls? Or Marx? Or Plato? Or Aristotle?...
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