There is one event happening this week that will, barring something unexpected, override every other news story. The 2016 election has been one for the record books, in more ways than one. Among other records set by this election season, this year featured the largest group of presidential candidates ever to run for office, and two of the most disliked finalists in recent memory. Many commentators have mentioned that this election season may lead to a sea change in political dynamics (though some are more skeptical).
What has interested me throughout the election is how we’ve seen an inversion in the traditional relationship between elections and democracy. As traditionally framed, elections serve the purpose of democracy by letting the people have a say in the people who will be creating their society’s laws (how well that has worked is another matter). More and more, though, democracy serves the purpose of elections. That is, elections are taken for granted as something to be done, but we have disregarded their original purpose of creating equality and serving the common good. Rather than maintain a fidelity to a common democratic framework which encourages elections, we maintain a fidelity to party or ideology and invoke democracy to justify our partisan stance. This is, I believe, one reason why so many Republicans say they will refuse to accept the election result if Clinton wins.
In the midst of this turmoil and antagonism, it is important to remind ourselves of the democratic purpose elections serve, and why our society chose to implement them. Here are a number of papers which each discuss one of the democratic virtues that are, ideally, served by elections.
- Hearing the opinions of the people: Robert Northcott, “Opinion Polling and Election Predictions,”Philosophy of Science, December 2015.
- Acoountability and Transparency: Jane Mansbridge, “A ‘Selection Model’ of Political Representation,” Journal of Political Philosophy, December 2009.
- Creating Change: Max Kaase, “On the Meaning of Electoral Change in Democratic Polities,” Political Studies, September 1987.
- Developing Global Community: Sarah Starkweather, “Watching the US Election from Abroad: Normative Theory and the Publics of American Politics,” Antipode, March 2010.
- Legitimating Government: Anthony Laden, “Democratic Legitimacy and the 2000 Election,” Law and Philosophy, March 2002.
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