Use with Caution: Democracy without Solidarity

Saturday, April 16, 2016
Symphony Ballroom (DoubleTree by Hilton Philadelphia Center City)
Erik Jones , Johns Hopkins University SAIS
The institutional safeguards in procedural democracy strike a balance between the empowerment of the majority and the protection of individuals and minorities. By implication, these same safeguards reveal the tension between decisiveness and inclusiveness, on the one hand, and representativeness and compliance, on the other. Quick decisions are less likely to take all interests into account; consensual decision-making is likely to be less timely. Nevertheless, time spent on decision-making may facilitate implementation and acceptance even as time saved is lost in confrontation or enforcement. Hence good procedures balance practice as well as principle and result in democratic governance that is effective as well as just. That assumes, of course, that just and effective government is what the people want or that ‘the people’ regard themselves as inclusive of the democratic system as a whole. What if ‘the people’ – or a substantial chunk of the electorate – want something more exclusive even if more inequitable? When solidarity breaks down, the same safeguards that protect minorities and individuals can be wielded to undermine the system. The result is a pattern of governance that is neither effective nor representative. It may even be self-destructive. This is particularly true in cases of divided government, as can be shown using illustrations from Belgium, Italy, the United States, and the European Union. In such cases, politicians face a choice between reinforcing the power of the majority, rejuvenating wider faith in the system, or watching the polity splinter into smaller organizations.