Against sentimental democracy

Ned Resnikoff writes: “Democracy” is the watchword of the contemporary American Left. It was certainly foremost among the political virtues touted by Bernie Sanders, the left wing’s standard-bearer in the 2016 Democratic primary. Throughout the campaign, Sanders repeatedly positioned himself at the forefront of a “political revolution” that would “restore democracy” through mass action.

When Sanders speaks of democracy, he usually means direct democracy: a mass intervention in the policymaking process conducted by ordinary Americans, whether through voting or other means. His mission, as he told the New York Daily News in April, “is to mobilize the American people to demand that Congress listen to them and their needs rather than just the big-money interests.” This view shares much in common with the underlying philosophy of Occupy Wall Street, where decisions were often made by popular consensus and thousands of protesters marched to the refrain, “This is what democracy looks like!” To both the democratic socialist candidate and the Occupy Wall Street anarchist, true democracy is all about expressing the unalloyed will and wisdom of the people. That’s the source of its value.

If democracy is little more than a conduit for the will of the people (which is good), then anything that obstructs the popular will is anti-democratic (and therefore bad). That’s why Sanders backers have lobbied so aggressively for reforms to the Democratic Party’s nominating process. In Sanders’ view, the superdelegate system is fundamentally anti-democratic because it weights the preferences of Democratic officials over those of the average voter. Similarly, closed primaries are an affront to democracy because they restrict voting based on party membership. [Continue reading…]

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