Note: The Monday Taki post is up. It is somewhat relate to the theme of this post, bit from the perspective of the mass media. For those supporting the efforts here, there is a new podcast up behind the green door.
From the middle of the last century until the current age, the choice presented to Americans is the party of more central government versus the party of less central government. State and local government tends to be left out of the discussion, as there is no money in debating it. Regardless, even local elections tend to revolve around the central question of how much government. Team Blue is more, and Team Red is less or not quite as much.
This is one of the central contradictions of liberal democracy. The claim is that democratic systems are inclusive, which means all members of society are able to participate in the process. The political theorist Robert Dahl listed inclusiveness as one of his prerequisites of democracy. Not only are all people included in the process, but all ideas are given a chance to reach the public square. A requirement of democracy is that all ideas are fully heard and fully considered.
The composition of the two parties in America, Team Red and Team Blue, makes it clear that the choices are narrow and exclusive. Despite the fact that both parties preach about the need to get everyone involved, both work to make sure the choices on offer never change. You can have more involvement by the central government in your life or you can have less of it. Put another way, you can have more of what you don’t want, or you can have less of what you need.
A good example is in this American Thinker piece on taxes. The site is fairly representative of Team Red. The claim of the post is that two thirds of Americans paid no federal income taxes. The source is a government sponsored think tank called Tax Policy Center, which publishes this sort of stuff every year. They play the role of Team Red, demanding lower tax rates for rich people. The post concludes that the 60% not paying taxes are being mean to the nation’s rich people.
Interestingly, this sort of rhetoric is not aimed at rich people but aimed at the middle and working class. Rich people are not reading the American Thinker or any of these sites from Conservative Inc. The closest they come is the upper-middle-class person who imagines himself as rich. Otherwise, these sites cater to the people who take orders in exchange for a salary. Many of whom are in that two-thirds the author thinks are selfish jerks for not paying taxes.
Of course, there is another side to this. The mass media is full of opinion writers who make mid-six-figure salaries. Their audience is often the middling members of the managerial class who make similar salaries. The demand here is for the rich to pay their fair share of income taxes, despite the fact that the genuinely rich make their money from things other than salary. In other words, in the name of fairness, the servants of the rich need to pay more tax.
The paradox of modern liberal democracy is that despite its constant exhortations in favor of inclusion, it systematically excludes most options. It is a tails the rich people win or heads the rest of the people lose. There is no option for the guy making $250K per year to get more of what he wants from government at a better rate. The people not paying income tax do not have an option that promises to do some of things they want at a reasonable cost in taxes to them.
The fact is, most of the people who vote Republican want the government to defend cultural norms so they can live their lives in peace. They don’t mind paying taxes and they do not resent rich people for being rich. The people voting Democrat want the government to do a better job looking after the poor and to provide useful services to the middle-class. The people running both parties hate all of that and spend their time pitting the two sides against one another.
That American Thinker post is a good example of how it is done. The claim itself is implausible, which is why the sourcing is so convoluted. Even dishwashers pay some income taxes, so how are two-thirds of households managing to pay their bills if they have no taxable income? The devil lies in the definitions, but the people who churn this stuff out know that no one digs into the details. Instead, it is fed to Team Red with an executive summary they can use in their posts.
In other words, the point of the exercise is to maintain the false choice between the two factions in politics. One side promises that you will get more of what you do not want from government and the other side promises to make sure the government never does any of the things you want from government. Both sides invest a lot of time telling you the other side is to blame for this. Democracy is a false choice in which both sides blame the other for outcomes neither side wanted.
This is why there is no correlation between voting patterns, public opinion, and the final policy results. The more you participate within the parameters of the system, the less you get of the things you want from the system. With each election, this paradox becomes more evident. Voter participation goes up, while voter frustration with the results goes up as well. This illusion of choice logically must lead to some untenable point where the frustration exceeds the capacity of the system.
One of the implications of Robert Dahl’s thinking was that democracy was impossible in a society of any size. Instead, he proposed that what we get from popular government is something he called polyarchy, “a form of government in which power is invested in multiple people”. The state follows certain procedures in order to maintain “the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals”.
Clearly, modern liberal democracy is not responsive to the preferences of the citizens and the people at the top do not see the citizens as equals. Not only is the system not democratic by definition, it is not even the compromise imagined by Dahl. In other words, the real contradiction of liberal democracy is that in its full flowering it is neither liberal nor democratic. It is a collection of false choices and deceptions to mask the realty of a ruling elite impervious to the popular will.
The great irony of liberal democratic politics is that to make it more democratic, more responsive to the will of the people, means abandoning the system entirely. This leads to another contradiction in that the people in it, knowing the choices are not what they desire, insist on picking from the options presented, thinking this will change the options at some future date. Liberal democracy is a madhouse of contradictions that slowly drives the victims of it insane.
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