Democracy’s Burden

Robert B. Talisse in Culturico:

Democracy imposes a substantial moral burden on citizens. They must regard one another as political equals, even when they disagree deeply about justice. Each side is likely to see the opposition as not only wrong about the issue, but on the side of injustice. How can citizens both stand up for justice and yet embrace a political arrangement that gives injustice an equal say? Political sympathy, a disposition to recognize in our opposition an attempt to live according to their conception of value, is proposed as a way to lighten democracy’s burden.

The frustrations of democracy are familiar. Politicians pander, surrogates spin, opponents object, and citizens pick sides much in the way that they attach themselves to sports teams. Meanwhile, the spectacle of democracy seems to obstruct its point, which is competent and representative government. Careful reflection on the common good tends to get lost amidst the politicking. Yet as citizens we have a responsibility to try to sort through all of the noise so that we can inform ourselves of the issues of the day and exercise our political power wisely. We typically cannot count on our fellow citizens to satisfy this duty. Accordingly, the task of collective self-government exposes us to a great deal of irritation.

What’s more, when our side loses at the polls, democracy’s only consolation is that we may continue working on behalf of our political convictions. We mustn’t resign or withdraw, but instead turn the page and begin anew. Democratic citizenship takes persistence. In both emotional and practical terms, democracy is not only frustrating, it’s also exhausting.

Yet democracy is demanding in another way as well.

More here.