Skip to main content

View Diary: Unrepresentative Democracy − The House of Representatives and the American Vote Not Represented (147 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  That's a somewhat misleading reading of Madison (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MPociask

    When he speaks of a Democracy, he is generally referring to the theoretical "direct democracy," of which there is not a single example anywhere in the world. However, when talking about a republic, his argument boils down to the idea that it is a representative democracy vs. a direct democracy. So, I would submit to you that the distinction is not quite as big as some people would lead you to believe, based on one selective quotation or another. In fact, for all practical purposes, the way we use the term democracy today is pretty much synonymous with what Madison meant by a republic. If you don't believe me, argue with this guy: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/...

    Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

    by tekno2600 on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07:44 AM PST

    [ Parent ]

    •  If I am faced with a choice of believing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fuzzyguy

      anyone living today or believing the entire generation of Founders then the choice is simple.

      Of course, you very nimbly changed the subject, didn't you? You introduced the term representative democracy which is not mentioned anywhere at all in any of the Federalist essays.

      My reading of Madison's words is definitely not misleading. He is very clear, and no one at the time objected. Everyone agreed with what he said.

      You, are guilty of a common human failing: when one is wrong, one will not admit the error, but one will instead try to change the discussion, or, and you are trying this defense as well, one will try to make the rest of the world conform to one's erroneous understanding of the issue.

      My quotation is not "one selective." it is one of many and it is one which serves as the basis for Madison's explanation of why he chose a republic rather than a democracy.

      So, you have insulted me by shooting from the lip and accusing me of being misleading, being misled, and of using quotations selectively.

      As for how we use democracy today, I don't know just how you arrived at that conclusion. I certainly don't use the term "democracy" in the way you assert and many scholars understand the difference between democracy and republic.

      But there are no doubt people who agree with you, but that does not change the fact that our nation is not a democracy, but is rather a republic, and there is no doubt that the distinction between the two is enormous. And there is no doubt that the republic has failed to control the harmful effects of faction. Otherwise this diary would have been completely unnecessary.

      And finally, you are also guilty of another human failing. When you read this reply to your snide remarks you will feel an overpowering urge to lash out at me. Go ahead, I know that you have to have the last word. Take your best shot. I promise to read it and not reply.

      Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

      by hestal on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 10:31:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're missing the point. I'm not attacking. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MPociask, nominalize

        I respectfully disagreed and you said I was making "snide remarks" to "lash out" at you. That was never the intention.

        I am just saying in a short, clear, unaccusatory way that the argument you are making, whether it is based on your reading of Madison or someone else's, is misleading. Clearly a republic involves some type of democracy. It is just a representative democracy instead of a direct democracy. Direct democracy is more of a theoretical concept that a real one. Even Greek Democracy probably did not live up to the standard of asking all citizens to vote on all decisions all the time. So, Madison was railing against a semi-mythical concept and proposing that representative democracy was more practical. I think the overwhelming majority of people today would agree, though perhaps you would not.

        But, unless we want to write many pages of text arguing about semantics, the bottom line is that the distinction between a democracy and a republic that Madison made is virtually meaningless today. We are a democratic republic, a republican-style democracy, a representative democracy, or whatever fine point people want to put on it. The terms are not mutually exclusive as they are used today, and outside of rarefied theoretically debates, there never really was a practical difference either.

        Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

        by tekno2600 on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 11:27:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think your interpretation simply ignores (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pee dee fire ant

          state sovereignty.  The Republic that Madison and other founders envisioned, IMHO, was one in which the states retained most powers and a few powers were granted to the federal government.

          There was no concept of a strong central federal government.

          The discussion above about the "unrepresentative" nature of the Senate reflects this.  We have simply lost that state-centric view over the centuries.

    •  Founding Fathers fetishism (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tekno2600, a2nite

      is mainly a feature of the Republican right.

      Madison's views may be interesting; and certainly whatever those who wrote the Constitution thought sheds light on that document.

      But their thought is not the last word in defining any term or concept in political life.

      •  I know it stings when the facts (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        fuzzyguy, pee dee fire ant

        disagree with you, and I am only presenting the facts. You have presented nothing but anger.

        Remember, it is well known that facts have a liberal bias. In other words facts are not usually on the Republican side.

        But it is true that Republicans often quote authorities and then misrepresent what those authorities said, that is what happens very often with the Founders.

        But I misrepresented nothing. Show me where I did.

        Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

        by hestal on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 10:39:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'd encourage you not to worry so much about who (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          verso2, MPociask

          is right and engaging in attack or counter-attack, but to focus instead on the big picture. We are Democratic Republic. We've always been a Democratic Republic. We probably always will be. Direct Democracy is just a theoretical concept. It has never really existed. It probably never will. Our form of Democracy is the most successful type of Constitutional Democracy to date. There is nothing wrong with calling our country a Democracy. Eminent scholars do it all the time. All the other back and forth arguments and talk about hurt feelings serve no purpose.

          Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

          by tekno2600 on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 11:45:21 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  No misrepresentation involved (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MPociask, tekno2600

          nor did I charge you with misrepresenting Madison's views.

          "Democracy" to an 18th-century classically educated gentleman meant popular rule on the Athenian model--and therefore any state whose institutions did not correspond to that model (as they understood it 200+ years ago) was not a democracy.

          That was Madison's view. It's also not very interesting--being rather like the phlogiston theory of burning. Human thought has advanced since the 18th century. (Though other ideas of Madison's are, not least to set the historical context for the text of the Constitution.)

          The Far Right uses this argument to dismiss democracy tout court: in their eyes, the US was not intended to be a democracy--and therefore any argument that something isn't "democratic" is irrelevant because it isn't supposed to be.

          So ... basically, I am not a "whateverist": "Whatever the Founding Fathers said was right. Whatever the Founding Fathers did was correct." (To paraphrase the catchphrase that Maoists used to use during the Cultural Revolution.)

          •  What is important is to understand why (0+ / 0-)

            Madison rejected the Athenian model and chose the republican model. This choice is at the core of the problems that we face today. Our thinking has not advanced because if it had we would have solved our government's problems long before now.

            One of the barriers to solving problems is that people like you are obviously very satisfied that you know all there is to know about everything.

            So, tell me, what problem was Madison trying to solve when he rejected the Athenian model? Did he understand how the Athenian model worked? What was the historical consensus about ancient Athens at the time?

            Just like you, the Framers thought they knew all they needed to know about everything, but, just like you, they didn't. And because of that error Madison chose a form of government that has not served us well and certainly is not democratic, even in the sense you insist on using.

            I am trying to solve an important problem. You, not so much. But don't worry, I will continue to work on it, and when I solve it, with others, you will get the benefit of it.

            Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

            by hestal on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 12:25:46 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Do I understand you rightly (0+ / 0-)

              if I conclude that you're trying to figure out a way to apply the Athenian model of direct democracy to the contemporary United States?

              •  Well, there is something that you don't know! (0+ / 0-)

                It is not unusual for people who do not know the answer to a question to try to change the subject by asking their own question.

                You first.

                Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

                by hestal on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 01:19:48 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Are you more interested in what (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  MPociask

                  Madison thought, or didn't think; or in your own project, which seems to turn on the error you ascribe to Madison in structuring the US government as a representative democracy?

                  I actually would be interested in hearing about what project you might have for addressing the defects in the "representative" part of representative democracy. As I've said, I do not believe that Madison has the last word, either in terms of his definitions, or in the answers to political questions as he framed them. If you are on track to developing better answers, either in Madison's own terms, or in others, why, fine: let's hear about it.

                  But your comment about "changing the subject" suggests to me that you're more interest in playing games. (And I would be happy to be wrong in this supposition.)

                  •  Then all you have to do is answer the (0+ / 0-)

                    questions I asked.

                    But your second refusal to answer is clear evidence that you are not sincere. All you want to do is pick a fight. You are just itching for me to say something that you can attack. So why would I want to waste more time talking with someone who just plays "gotcha" games.

                    I was very upfront and clear in everything I said, but all I got from you and others is the usual smart-ass remarks. And that is your right, but it doesn't solve problems, it only creates them.

                    I doubt that you would have anything to contribute anyway. Your ego would get in the way.

                    Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

                    by hestal on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 02:22:06 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I am not interested in attacking you (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      MPociask

                      nor in playing games. I am not a first-class expert on Madison, and I do not expect to call you out on your interpretation of his thought. I asked the question in the hopes of moving off Madison per se to address the actual problems we face, since I do not find the Madison to provide the framework we need to do so.

                      So, tell me, what problem was Madison trying to solve when he rejected the Athenian model? Did he understand how the Athenian model worked? What was the historical consensus about ancient Athens at the time?
                      Off the top: Madison's objective was to limit the role of average Americans (most of them farmers, many of them rather independent types on the frontier; and other unruly sorts) in government because he and other elites feared they posed a threat to their dominance. (David Graeber and others have recently pointed up the role of struggles over debt in 18-century America, comparing them to similar struggles in other preindustrial societies, including ancient ones, in ways Madison might have recognized.) The famous comparison of the Athenian city-state was brought in as a straw man (no one had actually proposed modeling the US after Athens) to point up the need for representation over a huge area rather than a small city-state; but the actual problems with his solutions certainly included a nonrepresenative Senate (malportioned and elected by legislatures); plus the recognition of slavery and the 3/5ths clause, altogether entrenching southern domination of the Republic until the Civil War.

                      How did he understand the Athenian model? Probably well by the standards of the day, and not well by the standards of a classical scholar of today. But I don't think that that understanding was in fact key; rather the reference to Athens was shorthand for a defense of elite interests; there's a very interesting discussion in Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution.

                      Daniel Lazare has a very interesting take on the Constitution in The Frozen Republic. (I don't agree with all his analysis, but I find grappling with it to be a bracing challenge, and useful.)

                      •  Good answer. There is one other use for the (0+ / 0-)

                        disparagement of the Greek democracies.

                        No, I am not trying to apply the Athenian model of "direct democracy" to the contemporary United States.

                        But, by trying to understand the differences between a "pure" democracy and a republic as Madison saw them, one can see why our system has failed to control the harmful effects of faction.

                        To analyze how the Athenians managed to control the harmful effects of faction serves as a check of the former analysis.

                        And in so doing, it becomes apparent that the Athenians had nine features of their democracy that enabled them to succeed in controlling the effects of faction.

                        We have none of those nine features.

                        The question now becomes, what does one do with that information?

                        If one believes in the possibility that the Internet can be a powerful tool for developing complex ideas then one might try to launch these ideas here on DKos.

                        One could pursue other ways, more traditional ways.

                        Have a nice life.

                        Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

                        by hestal on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 03:29:30 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Interesting (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          tekno2600

                          And I will check out the nine features.

                          It occurs to me to note that Madison would not have made the distinction we do between direct and representative democracy because the only democracy he was aware of was Athenian. Other states were either oligarchic republics (Rome, Venice), kingdoms with or without estates of some kind representing lords and propertied elites; or the hybrid English Commonwealth, basically the latter without a king. He would have associated the idea of popular rule with the Levellers, Fifth Monarchy Men, or Muntzer's peasant rebels, and I don't think those examples would have aroused any enthusiasm on his part.

                          However, I think our differences start with the question of faction, as 18-century American elites saw it (while, of course, failing to see that they were themselves a interest group--doing so would have threatened their core identity as politically interested gentlemen).

                          In fact, oddly enough, the US system fails to be responsive precisely because it tries to avoid the political, and in that evasion, fails to produce responsive and responsible government.

                          Good luck and best wishes!

                          •  Geez. Talking with hestal is like giving yourself (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:
                            verso2

                            a root canal. No matter what you do, you're screwed. If you agree or disagree with him, he attacks and then while he's doing it he accuses you of attacking him. However, it sounds an awful lot like he thinks Athenian Democracy was better. Personally, I don't think that a Republican form of government has served us that poor, especially since we have been getting more and more representative such as the direct election of Senators. Until recently, there were also limits to money in politics. I think, over time, the money will be removed from politics again, the power of the Senate will be reigned in, as well as that of the runaway Supreme Court. Perhaps we will even move to some kind of electoral college reform and national voting standards. Overall, we are moving toward more reprentativeness. But, I doubt we'll get there by abolishing the present system and trying to set up some form of direct democracy.

                            Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

                            by tekno2600 on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 07:37:08 PM PST

                            [ Parent ]

    •  town meetings in New England (0+ / 0-)

      are still direct democracy.   Just as an example

      Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

      by nominalize on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 06:06:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think that works best when a town of 10 people (0+ / 0-)

        decides to make some fairly simple, routine decisions. When there are a lot more people and the decisions are highly complex, I'm not sure the old models are scalable.

        Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

        by tekno2600 on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 07:40:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  They're not scalable (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tekno2600

          Above 10,000 residents or so, most towns become cities and adopt republican democracy.   I just wanted to point out that direct democracy does exist in places.  

          I used to live in a MA town that found a middle ground between city government and town meetings--- a representative town meeting.  256 representatives for 12,000 permanent residents (it was a college town).  Not quite direct, but quite a bit more so than the House of Representatives.

          Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

          by nominalize on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 08:59:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Scalable? (0+ / 0-)

            If you mean a government in which the People are able to put forward ideas to each other for improving society, and they are then able to discuss these ideas and decide, by vote of the People, which of these ideas they want to convert to government policy, and they are then able to put the ideas into the proper format, and they are then able to vote again on the law and thereby actually put it into force, then the answer is that we certainly can do that. In fact, we do it very often. We do it many times a year.

            In many ways we emulate Athenian democracy all the time.

            And now, for something different.

            As you can see by this thread, I have been hammered for insisting that there is no such thing as "republican democracy." By democracy I mean the government that I described above. As you said, when the population reaches a certain size we tend to switch to elected representatives. When we do that we are no longer a democracy, because it is impossible for any human being to reconcile the disparate goals and beliefs of his/her constituents. In Federalist 10 Madison pointed this out and he was right to do so. He hoped that his system would overcome this problem but he failed. This failure is confirmed by every public opinion poll about the performance of Congress. But we, the People, seem willing to accept it. Yes, from time to time, we are able to get in some officials who try to deal with our most pressing issues, but during that time many people suffer unnecessarily. I wonder if we will ever grow weary of being told to take an old, cold tater and wait.

            However, there is a problem with waiting. We are running out of time. Global warming is coming on like a freight train and we do nothing.

            I cannot overemphasize the danger we face, and we do nothing.

            But, to get back to scale. We have the technologies to emulate, with high fidelity, the features of Athenian democracy. These technologies are proven, we use them comfortably and confidently all of the time. It would be Peter Rabbit simple to transform our government and our lives.

            I am an old man. I was born before WWII. I have seen lots of ideas come and go. I have seen lots of events that were of national importance. None of it surprised me. But I have been surprised at the unwillingness to think about change that I have seen here on DKos. I have been watching things here since 2004 and I have never seen a greater collection of closed minds, except when I visit some Republican sites. Each side is calcified, and it won't matter much to me, because I will be dead pretty soon. But it will matter to billions of people when their food supplies drop in nutrition and safety, and it will matter when their water supplies dry up and become unsafe, and it will matter when their electricity becomes unreliable, and gasoline goes to $10.00 per gallon, and...

            All I can do is warn people in this feeble way, and try to get them to lift up their eyes.

            We, as a People, know what to do. Hell, even I know what to do. But I won't waste what little time I have left. I am looking for a way to get the story out, and DKos looks less and less like the way forward. I am very disappointed about that. I have long hoped that the thing would change from a college dorm room environment in which all of the participants are eager to show how smart they are, and who listen only to their own voices, but it hasn't.

            I know I sound like an old fool, but can y'all afford to ignore me or someone like me? Do you have the answers? Should I listen to you? I think I have an answer, but nobody will listen. But, don't worry, I am not through trying. Somehow, someway I will find a way.

            Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

            by hestal on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:39:03 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Scalable, (0+ / 0-)
              If you mean a government in which the People are able to put forward ideas to each other for improving society, and they are then able to discuss these ideas and decide, by vote of the People, which of these ideas they want to convert to government policy, and they are then able to put the ideas into the proper format, and they are then able to vote again on the law and thereby actually put it into force, then the answer is that we certainly can do that. In fact, we do it very often. We do it many times a year.
              I do not.

              Town meetings are a form of direct democracy.  They are the main form of government in these towns (there is no mayor or city council).  Town meetings are open to every voting-age citizen in the town.  Every person can have their say, every person can vote on the legislation.  All the legislation, not just the occasional referendum.

              Towns generally manage open meetings when their population is under 10K, because of participation rates.   But then they  move to city government because of its practicality.  

              This model is not scalable once you get to thousands of people, because it would take forever, and because most of us have things like jobs and families that use up most of our waking time. Besides, finding a meeting space would be impossible in most small towns.  

              As for new tech, making virtual meeting spaces is really expensive.  Most places can't even afford setting up public wifi; they can't set up a virtual legislative assembly.  Not to mention all the trolls, spammers, and hackers that can interfere on a lark.  

              In essence, the switch to representative democracy is one of practicality, as it should be.

              Looking around the world, we see many different attempts to address the problems that arise from representative democracy.  Proportional representation is one--- almost no votes are squandered in such a system.  Maybe that would work better than the first-past-the-post system we have now, I don't know.

              (Note: around the world, "republic" generally means "representative democracy with no monarch"; Canada is not a republic, for instance, while France is.  One more way the meaning of the term has shifted)  

              Conservatives need to realize that their Silent Moral Majority is neither silent, nor moral, nor a majority.

              by nominalize on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:07:04 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yes it is scalable, and we make good use (0+ / 0-)

                of it very often in our society.

                But there is no use to go on. You did not ask me one question about what I am talking about. You had no curiosity at all. You are so sure of yourself. But, you are wrong.

                Might and Right are always fighting, in our youth it seems exciting. Right is always nearly winning, Might can hardly keep from grinning. -- Clarence Day

                by hestal on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:59:31 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  You have little to say but you do it with hundreds (0+ / 0-)

              of words and lots of angry outbursts. That's why, as you admit, "nobody will listen" to you.  Learn to be brief and polite. Have a good life.

              Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

              by tekno2600 on Sat Jan 12, 2013 at 11:30:30 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site