Thursday, May 21, 2009


Many people treat elections as rituals. Like in that Robin Williams' movie "Man of the Year". I think it's Jeff Goldblum's character who tries to play down the illegitimacy of the election results (due to a defective/rigged machine) by claiming that the system worked, because everyone voted. We went through the ritual. Ballots were marked, buttons pressed, levers pulled. That's all that matters, isn't it?

But it isn't, unless we want to say that China has a great democratic system. Everyone shows up and fills in the ballot for the local Communist Party member (or affiliate) who's been selected for the position.

But, we usually think: so what? And we're right to. The point of an election, if it has any point at all, is to legitimize the authority of the government. It's a lousy way to get a good government, after all. (Fuck you, Condorcet.) And the government gets legitimate authority by being a government selected by the governed. I wouldn't say that's the only way for a government to get legitimate authority, but it's the one we're working with. If elections are just rituals, though, where as long as we do the right movements at the right time, then everything's copacetic, we're not actually transferring authority to the government when we vote. We don't really choose them. We don't really appoint them to act on our behalf. In other words, we don't really elect them.

If we treat elections as ritual obligations rather than morally serious exercises in exercising and transferring our own authority, then we end up with nothing but illegitimate government. Which means that ritual elections create a kind of tyranny. That might be what most people want. But is it what we deserve?

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