Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Saturday, January 30, 2010

IS DEMOCRACY POSSIBLE

There are times when I wonder, seriously, whether this country is ready for self-rule. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted a poll. Here are two results: Twenty-six percent of those polled knew that it takes sixty votes to break a filibuster in the Senate. Thirty-two percent knew that no Republican Senators had voted for the health care reform bill [estimates by those polled ranged from five or ten to twenty and more].

Now, it is popular on the left to claim that the mass media are in the pocket of conservative corporate interests dedicated to keeping the truth from the American people, who, it is imagined, would rise up and demand immediate change if only they knew the facts. But let us be serious. For almost a year now, the dominant story in the mass media has been one variant or another of the struggle by the Democrats to find and hold that sixtieth vote so that the health care bill could not be filibustered. The endless stories about the Al Franken Norm Coleman election, the countless Olympia Snowe stories, the Lieberman fiasco. This was not just a secret well-kept by Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, for God's sake! Fox News was full of it. I don't care what slant they put on it -- whether the Republicans were mindless obstructionists or fearless defenders of the faith. All of those stories were built on the simple fact, endlessly repeated, that it takes sixty votes to break a filibuster in the Senate. And the net result of all of that newsprint and air time is that three-fourths of Americans DON'T KNOW THAT IT TAKES SIXTY VOTES TO BREAK A FILIBUSTER.

Under these conditions, democracy as political philosophers analyze it is simply not possible. It is pointless to cavil about the slant of Rahm Emmanuel or the nuances of Obama's tactics.

Here is a factoid to send shivers up your spine: Only forty-five percent of college graduates knew that it takes sixty votes to break a filibuster. MORE THAN HALF OF THOSE WHO HAVE SOMEHOW SURVIVED FOUR YEARS OF COLLEGE DO NOT KNOW THAT SIMPLE FACT.

I have spent most of my life defending the philosophical doctrine known as anarchism. But I am beginning to understand, for the first time, the great appeal in Communist circles of something known as Democratic Centralism, which means, more or less, Politbureaucracy [i.e., rule by the Politburo].

8 comments:

Scott said...

I highly recommend you read Bryan Caplan's *The Myth of the Rational Voter* In the book, he first documents just how uninformed voters really are on a number of issues (it's bound to shock you) and proceeds to explain the phenomenon using the model of "rational irrationality". You may not agree with everything he says but it's a provocative and fascinating read nonetheless.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thanks for the reference. I do not know the book, but I will have a look at it.

d said...

Mr. Wolff,

I recently discovered your writing after Amazon.com recommended your book In Defense of Anarchism.

As an anarchist, this post struck home. I want to believe in the informed participation of our country's citizens, but hardly anyone seems informed. This past year has been difficult for me. I find myself more dismayed everyday. It's nice to know that other anarchists are struggling with similar feelings.

I look forward to catching up on your older blog posts. Your writing style is very engaging.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Welcome to the blog, d. One of the odd things about human beings is that when they are depressed, it makes us feel better to know that other people are depressed for the same reasons. Not rational, but there it is!

Scott said...

well as long as we're all getting collectively depressed I may as well throw this one out there: http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/2008/summary_summary.html

As ominous as the data may seem, I nevertheless feel we should be asking ourselves the oft-forgotten but ever-important question: compared to what? Can anyone point me to similar studies done for other countries (especially democracies)?

Scott said...

Ok last post, I promise.

This is Professor Michael Huemer's explanation for irrationality in politics: http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/irrationality.htm

I recommend reading Caplan's book in tandem with this essay.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thanks for the posts, Scott. I will try to follow up. My blog site is so lame that when I click on the URLs nothing happens, so I have to type them in to the command line. aaarrrggghh!

Scott said...

Highlight, copy and paste would be more efficient :)