Democracy — Too Much of a Good Thing?


Roslyn Fuller and Andrew Sullivan in the LA Review of Books:

ANDREW SULLIVAN’S RECENT New York magazine essay,Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic, rattled many a reader and provoked a heated debate that spilled over to the pages of The New York Times, among other publications (seehere). Sullivan’s provocative thesis is that the United States, in this election year of the Trump candidacy, may be perilously close to a collapse into tyranny precisely because it is too democratic — drawing on Plato’s critique of the instability of a “government by the people.” To the exact contrary is the view of LARB contributor Roslyn Fuller, whose recent book Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed Its Meaning and Lost Its Purpose takes the American system to task for modeling itself on the Roman Republic instead of the Athenian democracy; that is, for not being democratic enough. We invited Roslyn Fuller to offer a riposte to Sullivan’s views, and gave Andrew Sullivan an opportunity to reply — which he embraced. What follows is Fuller’s all-out attack on the notion that we may be suffering from a surfeit of democracy and Sullivan’s reply.

Don Franzen, Los Angeles Review of Books‘s Law Editor


America Needs More Democracy, Not Less
by Roslyn Fuller

It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and nowhere was this more apparent to me than when reading Andrew Sullivan’s recent article inNew York magazine. In it, Sullivan uses a smattering of knowledge about ancient Greece to declare that the United States is falling apart because it has too much democracy. In Sullivan’s view, just like the ancient Greeks, we have become a permissive and disorganized society, incapable of passing any judgment on ourselves and decaying from within. The final proof: Donald Trump.

It would be a much more convincing argument if ancient Greek democracy had decayed from within or if it had looked anything like what passes for democracy in the United States of America. But while Sullivan complains about others’ lack of judgment, he falls into the opposite category — judging in ignorance.

More here.