Authoritarian envy?

The dictator of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, died recently, to nearly universal praise in the West for the way he built his country into an economic powerhouse.  Columnist Richard Cohen thinks that we have “authoritarian envy” because “too much democracy” keeps government from being able to do what it needs to do.

Mr. Cohen, a liberal, decries Lee’s harsh rule and his running roughshod over any kind of human rights, but he seems to share that envy, expressing frustration over our government’s inability to get things done, due to all of these political conflicts and checks and balances.

Conservatives, I would think, would be glad of the limits on government and would especially dislike an authoritarian like Lee, even though he did promote free markets and economic growth.  But as the presidential election season gets under way, I worry that all sides may be investing too much hope that what we need is a powerful leader and are expressing frustration with our constitutional system that, by design, checks and balances an activist government.  Might America be getting more and more open to authoritarianism?  [Read more...]

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...]


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