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Some Thoughts on the Popular Vote

February 7, 2020

An interesting point came to my awareness the other day. An often raised discussion in politics of late is the issue of a popular vote. The conflict is between this notion and between a regional based system. The interesting point is that we have this assumption that in some way democracy is about the free and equal actions of individuals. Yet in many places we have systems based not on the popular vote. The reason for this is that local districts send representatives to represent them.

What this means is that in a key way there is an interesting conflict, dynamic and compromise between notions of communities as the primary sovereign power and individuals. What we tend to have in most cases of democracy is communities who send representatives to voice their concerns for them. And this is a very effective system in a lot of ways, with of course some drawbacks also.

But, on the other side lets say we went for a full popular vote approach across the country. In this way we are specifying individuals as equally sovereign, but at the same time in some way undermining their power and voice by disconnecting it from the community to which they belong and which forms part of their individual identity. A total popular vote or proportional representation system relies on a big assumption of sameness of identity of all the individuals, and tends to enforce such a sameness also.

What this tells us is that countries democracies are often geared towards preserving a bunch of communities within them by giving them all a representation and a voice. To abstract individuals as all equal quantities separate from this democracy either draws on a complete division of everyone into isolated, nuclear individuals or on an assumption that the country is one big community.

The problem with the former is the disempowering effects of treating people in this way, by not letting them draw their individuality from their community identities. While the problem with the latter is it relies on a form of self- deceit, for if the country was really one big community we wouldn’t need to enforce a political order on it, it would have a more harmonious balance based on moral values, rather than based on political strictures and stipulations.

Both of these two extremes are errors made by the left in politics. Because it has no place for tradition, it cannot understand how an individual identity can also be tied up inextricably with a bunch of other things like their community, culture and place of birth. As a result, it thinks it is doing well in making individuals sovereign powers as isolated beings. Forgetting that this abstract notion of individual identity is not rooted in real lived history, but is a theoretical assumption.

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