[Marxism] Fwd: Is democracy dying?

Michael Meeropol mameerop at gmail.com
Tue Sep 18 10:27:35 MDT 2018


SO what do we think of this navel-gazing by intelletuals about our "almost
perfect" union ....

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic <
theatlantic at subscription.theatlantic.com>
Date: Tue, Sep 18, 2018 at 12:21 PM
Subject: Is democracy dying?
To: <mameerop at gmail.com>


A letter from The Atlantic’s editor in chief about our October issue |

*The October issue of The Atlantic is dedicated to a single, urgent
question: Does democracy have a future
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=12&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>?
*

*Below you will find an essay introducing this special issue
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=15&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>
from The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg. *
------------------------------
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=20&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>
------------------------------

The National Constitution Center
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=21&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,
in Philadelphia, is a monument to the benefits of pessimism. The center,
which is situated across an open expanse from Independence Hall, is a
superior educational institution, but, understood correctly, it is also a
warning about the fragility of the American experiment. The 42 Founding
Fathers who are celebrated there, life-size and in bronze—the 39 who signed
the Constitution, and three who refused—did not believe that men were good.
Quite the opposite. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,”
“Federalist No. 51
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=14&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>”
states.

The system of government delineated in the Constitution is a concession to
the idea that humans are deficient in the science of rational
self-governance. Today, during a moment in which truths that seemed
self-evident are in doubt—including the idea that liberal democracy is the
inevitable end state of human ideological development—a tour of the
Constitution Center reminds us that the Founders did not necessarily
believe they were bringing about the end of history.

I recently visited the center in the company of its president, Jeffrey
Rosen, the legal scholar and an Atlantic contributing editor. Rosen has
committed to memory great stretches of *The Federalist Papers*
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=16&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,
and he recited passages as we toured the center’s collection. (Particularly
moving, especially in light of our current president’s anti-press frenzy,
is the full text of the Constitution as published, two days after it was
signed, in *The Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser*
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=22&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>
.)

“The goal in America today,” Rosen said on our walk, “is to resurrect the
primacy of reason over passion—what we are watching now is the struggle
between logos and pathos. The central question in our democratic age is
this: Is it possible to slow down the direct expression of popular passion?
The answer to this question is not obvious.”

In some ways, the Constitution Center is the antipode of Facebook’s
headquarters, some 3,000 miles away. The leaders of Facebook and its
Silicon Valley cousins argue that instantaneous, universal communication is
a boon to democracy and freedom. Constitutional scholars such as Rosen
argue that the rapid diffusion of all manner of information—the false and
the decontextualized, especially—can just as easily expedite the formation
of mobs.

Last year, as Donald Trump (who is undeniably talented in the dark art of
mob formation) launched his assault on the norms that undergird American
democracy, Rosen and I fell into a discussion about James Madison, the
fourth president. I asked Rosen to imagine what Madison, the main proponent
among the Founders of indirect democracy, would have made of Trump, of
Trumpism, and of our coarse and frenzied political age. Rosen’s eloquent
answer is contained in his essay, “Madison vs. the Mob
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=17&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,”
which is an anchor article in this special issue
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=11&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>
on democracy in peril.

“Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have accelerated public discourse
to warp speed, creating virtual versions of the mob. Inflammatory posts
based on passion travel farther and faster than arguments based on reason,”
Rosen writes. “We are living, in short, in a Madisonian nightmare.”

Madison, Rosen goes on to argue, would have found the populist reforms of
the Progressive era, and gerrymandering, and political self-sorting all to
be significant dangers as well. And then there is the matter of the
out-of-control presidency. “Madison feared that Congress would be the most
dangerous branch of the federal government, sucking power into its
‘impetuous vortex.’ But today he would shudder at the power of the
executive branch,” Rosen writes. “The rise of what the presidential
historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. called the ‘imperial presidency’ has
unbalanced the equilibrium among the three branches.”

This special issue grew in part out of my conversations with Rosen, but it
is also rooted in the traditions and mission of The Atlantic, whose
founders wanted this magazine to “endeavor to be the exponent of what its
conductors believe to be the American idea.” In a manifesto published in
the first issue, in 1857, the founders did not define for the reader, or
for subsequent generations of editors, what exactly the American idea is;
either it was too obvious for them to bother outlining (they were all
abolitionists, and they held the ideals of equality and the right to pursue
happiness in highest regard), or they wanted each generation of Atlantic
editors and writers to reason for themselves the nature of the idea.

The writers in this issue are unified in their understanding that democracy
faces acute challenges today. Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court justice,
writes in his essay, “America’s Courts Can’t Ignore the World
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=2&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>
”:

We must convince ordinary citizens … that they sometimes must accept
decisions that affect them adversely, and that may well be wrong. If they
are willing to do so, the rule of law has a chance. And as soon as one
considers the alternatives, the need to work within the rule of law is
obvious. The rule of law is the opposite of the arbitrary, which, as the
dictionary specifies, includes the unreasonable, the capricious, the
authoritarian, the despotic, and the tyrannical.

Because the stories in this issue concern the fate of democracy, by
necessity they also concern technology. We find ourselves in the middle of
a vast, unregulated, and insufficiently examined experiment to determine
whether liberal democracy will be able to survive social media,
biotechnology, and artificial intelligence. The historian Yuval Noah
Harari—who is not an optimist on this question—argues in his article, “Why
Technology Favors Tyranny
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=4&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,”
that “together, infotech and biotech will create unprecedented upheavals in
human society, eroding human agency and, possibly, subverting human
desires. Under such conditions, liberal democracy and free-market economics
might become obsolete.”

We have tried, with this issue, to give the reader a sense that the
problems afflicting America are not America’s alone to bear. We asked Anne
Applebaum, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of *Gulag: A History*, to take
us to Europe
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=3&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,
where the arc of history is bending away from liberalism.

Tribalism is another of our concerns, and so we also asked the Yale Law
professors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld to examine the threat
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=8&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>
to what could be called American creedal nationalism—the notion that we are
bound not by blood, ethnicity, race, or religion, but by respect for a
common set of beliefs as articulated in the founding documents. “Americans
on both the left and the right now view their political opponents not as
fellow Americans with differing views, but as enemies to be vanquished,”
Chua and Rubenfeld write. “And they have come to view the Constitution not
as an aspirational statement of shared principles and a bulwark against
tribalism, but as a cudgel with which to attack those enemies.”

Rosen and many of the other contributors to this issue also explore ways to
repair the damage that’s been done. Our ideas editor, Yoni Appelbaum,
writes in his article, “Losing the Democratic Habit
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=7&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,”
that American polarization is partly a by-product of social atomization,
and suggests how the customs and language of democracy might be
reintroduced into local culture. “The American system of government
functions properly only when embedded in a culture deeply committed to
democracy; that culture sustains the Constitution, not the other way
around,” he says.

In a powerful essay, “The Bullet in My Arm
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=6&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,”
the Atlantic staff writer Elaina Plott tells us what she learned about
American politics after getting shot.

And, as ever, we examine the gap between American ideals and American
reality. Ibram X. Kendi, a professor of history and international relations
at American University and the author of the National Book
Award–winning *Stamped
>From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America*,
argues that racism today is the equivalent of the slavery of yesteryear
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=13&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,
which is to say, the issue that keeps America from becoming the more
perfect union of our collective hope.

We have tried to make this issue more than just an inquiry into the Trump
presidency. Trump is a cause of our democratic deterioration, but he is
also a symptom. Nevertheless, we felt it necessary to call upon our staff
writer David Frum to assess the recent activities of the 45th president.
Last year, we published Frum’s cover story “How to Build an Autocracy
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=5&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>,”
and here he provides an update
<http://links.e.theatlantic.com/ctt?kn=9&ms=MjAyNDQ5OTgS1&r=MzEwMTU3Mzg4NjQ5S0&b=0&j=MTM0MTA4OTMzMgS2&mt=1&rt=0>.
Trump, he writes, “has scored a dismaying sequence of successes in his war
on U.S. institutions. In this, Trump is not acting alone. He is enabled by
his party in Congress and its many supporters throughout the country.”

This issue represents the latest in a series of attempts by The Atlantic to
understand the trajectory of democracy and the American idea. Our hope is
that you find this a useful guide to a perilous moment.
------------------------------

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