“Are the wrong people voting?”

Negotiating the tension between “rational” policy choices and “irrational” preferences and anxieties–between the desirability of more productivity and the desire to preserve a way of life–is what democratic politics is all about. It is a messy negotiation. Having the franchise be universal makes it even messier. If all policy decisions were straightforward economic calculations, it might be simpler and better for everyone if only people who had a grasp of economics participated in the political process. But many policy decisions don’t have an optimal answer. They involve values that are deeply contested: when life begins, whether liberty is more important than equality, how racial integration is best achieved (and what would count as genuine integration).

In the end, the group that loses these contests must abide by the outcome, must regard the wishes of the majority as legitimate. The only way it can be expected to do so is if it has been made to feel that it had a voice in the process, even if that voice is, in practical terms, symbolic. A great virtue of democratic polities is stability. The toleration of silly opinions is (to speak like an economist) a small price to pay for it.

Fractured Franchise: Are the wrong people voting?” by Louis Menand, The New Yorker, July 9, 2007

More

. . . . . . . . .

Posted in: Caught Our Eye

Post a Comment