Mandatory voting?

President Obama appeared to endorse mandatory voting as a way to get money out of politics.  In countries that have mandatory voting laws, if you don’t cast a ballot, you have to have to pay fines or other penalties.  American polls show that most people who don’t vote support Democrats, which, of course, doesn’t do Democrats much good.  I’ve read that in Australia, which punishes non-voters, the effect is a kind of stasis, since so many of those who cast a ballot really don’t care, cancelling out the votes of partisan true believers.  What’s the problem with compulsory voting?  I believe it was Sartre who said that the essence of freedom is the ability to say “no,” and saying “no” to all of the candidates would seem to be essential to democracy.  But what do you think? [Read more...]

Is democracy for everybody?

American political theory tends to believe that democracy is based on universal human values and is the right form of government for everyone.  But, as columnist Richard Cohen says, after rehearsing the fiascos of “the Arab Spring” and other seemingly democratic movements that ended in even more despotism, “For the United States, trying to spread democracy is like love for a teenager — it has gotten us into no end of trouble.” [Read more...]

Are freedom and democracy obsolete?

The Prime Minister of Hungary has said what many people around the world have been thinking:  That freedom and democracy are obsolete.  With today’s complex economic and social problems, the democratic process is always checking and balancing itself, making it just too slow and polarizing, as evidenced by the political paralysis in the United States.  The most successful models that nations should be emulating, he says, are the authoritarian systems of Russia, China, Turkey, and Singapore. [Read more...]

The Civic Sacrament

Today is election day.  Mostly up for grabs are local and state races.  Voting has been called a “civic sacrament.”  The analogy is an imperfect one, and it applies only to democratic systems.  Some say that voting “doesn’t do any good,” which even if it were true is not the point.  We have a vocation of citizenship.  For those of us blessed enough to have been called to citizenship in a country in which we govern ourselves by choosing our own leaders, voting is one of the duties of our vocation.

What to do about gerrymandered elections?

An issue for election day:  One of the problems in our political system today is that Congressional districts have been drawn up to ensure that each one is a “safe seat” for the incumbent and a particular political party.  That means that voters almost never have competitive elections with genuine choices–unless, that is, the incumbent has a primary rival from the same party.  This makes for ideological polarization, say many observers, as well as thwarting the basic processes of democracy. [Read more...]

The Bible and Liberty

In the course of recounting an online argument, novelist Lars Walker gives an excellent account of how the Bible gave ordinary men and women the conceptual ability to question their rulers, thus, in his words, turning them “from subjects to citizens.” [Read more...]


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