Stealth Democracy

Here are some contrarian thoughts from a provocative book: Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs about How Government Should Work by John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse.

The thesis explored in Stealth Democracy explains a lot about our society and the average guy’s lack of concern for what is and isn’t happening in our own country’s Parliaments. Even though we often say we want to have more say in the direction our country is heading, the reality is most of the population wants nothing to do with policy decision making and the politics of the nation. The only time politics registers with the general public is when there is a commonly held belief that some mischief is at play and the politician has his hand too far into the public purse – or has become gluttonous at the public trough. So, we can tolerate an average government, run by weak, visionless leaders, as long as we don’t feel that we are being taken advantage of or taken for granted.

Here are a few telling excerpts from this insightful book, Stealth Democracy.

“Contrary to the prevailing view that people want greater involvement in politics, most citizens do not care about most policies and therefore are content to turn over decision-making authority to someone else. People’s most intense desire for the political system is that decisions makers be empathetic and, especially, non-self-interested, not that they be responsive and accountable to the people’s largely nonexistent policy preferences or, even worse, that the people be obligated to participate directly in decision-making.” (preface)

“…the kind of government people want is one in which ordinary people do not have to get involved. People want to distance themselves from government not because of a system defect but because many people are simply averse to political conflict and many others believe political conflict is unnecessary and an indication that something is wrong with governmental procedures. People believe that Americans all have the same basic goals, and they are consequently turned off by political debate and deal making that presuppose an absence of consensus. People believe these activities would be unnecessary if decision makers were in tune with the (consensual) public interest rather than with cacophonous special interests. Add to this the perceived lack of importance of most policies and people tend to view political procedures as a complete waste of time. The processes people really want would not be provided by the populist reform agenda they often embrace; it would be provided by a stealth democratic arrangement in which decisions are made by neutral decision makers who do not require sustained input from the people in order to function.” (p 7)

“…. The people are not always sure what decisions they want, but they are sure they want those decisions to be made for something other than self-serving reasons. Ironically, the more the public trusts elected officials to make unbiased decisions, the less the public participates in politics. The ideal form of government, in the opinion of many people, is one in which they can defer virtually all political decisions to government officials but at the same time trust those officials to be in touch with the American people and to act in the interest of those people and not themselves.” (p 159)

 

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