Notes From Babel

Democracy, Meta-Choices, and Taking the Long View

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Julian Sanchez makes an interesting point about “meta-choices,” how we force ourselves to eschew snap decisions and to take the long view, and how this relates to democracy:

A polity can establish broad and general principles specifying the conditions under which government may or should act, or it can vote on individual policies and programs on a case-by-case basis (with many gradations in between, of course). Both are clearly in some sense “democratic”; the proper balance between them will depend in part on one’s theory about how democratic deliberation confers legitimacy, just as the weight an individual gives to different types of “choices” will turn on a view about the nature of rational autonomy. Limited government is sometimes painted as constraint on democracy—an obstacle to what a majority might favor at a particular time. But political elites, like marketers, understand how the frame and scope of a choice may radically affect what the very same person or polity would choose—and claims by either that only one counts as true “choice” or “democracy” ought to be viewed with due skepticism.

This prompted me to amend my list of political paradoxes, as follows:

Liberals tend to favor restrictions on supposed lesser, short-term liberties if they perceive the restrictions will promote greater, long-term liberties; at the same time, however, liberals tend to eschew rigid adherence to the Constitution’s restrictions on government power designed for the very purpose of securing greater, long-term liberties.


Written by Tim Kowal

March 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm

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