Democracy: The Elitist Perspective
What are the dynamics of the modern democracy as it relates to the elitist perspective? This essay takes a closer look at this question, incorporating the ideas offered by Joseph Schumpeter and his contemporaries. In doing so, the reader will glean a greater understanding of the elitist debate as it pertains to the modern democratic regime.
Keywords Advantage; Bourgeoisie; Capitalism; Electoral College; Elite; Incumbency; Redistricting
The Austrian-born American economist Joseph Schumpeter was no stranger to duality. Indeed, despite the unstable and fractured Austro-Hungarian Empire under which he lived with political turmoil on the horizon, he was free to explore his personal and academic interests in his early 20th century environs. An outspoken critic of World War I, he would become the Austrian Minister of Finance, a post from which he would be removed when inflation spiraled out of control. Not very long afterward, the rise of Adolf Hitler's fascist regime drove him away from Europe and into the United States.
In light of his experience in service to the Empire, Schumpeter formulated a political ideology that clearly had a distrust of liberal democracies governed by the will of the public citizenry. In fact, he once offered his views of liberal democracy and autocracy in a religious context: "It is not true that democracy will always safeguard freedom of conscience better than autocracy," he said. "Witness the most famous of all trials. Pilate was, from the standpoint of the Jews, certainly the representative of autocracy. Yet he tried to protect freedom. And he yielded to a democracy" (Schumpeter, 1996).
Based on his flight from the Nazi regime and his well-known love of entrepreneurialism and capitalism, Schumpeter was not an adherent of autocratic or totalitarian rule. He simply saw cause for skepticism in the successful allowance by democratic government for consistent infiltration and influence by those ill-qualified to govern. His views were certainly unorthodox, particularly in a time of great political and economic upheaval. However, his contributions to political science as well as economics remain as relevant and important today as they did in the early to mid-20th century.
Since Schumpeter’s time, liberal democratic institutions and free market capitalist economies have not simply outlived socialist and communist trends — they have thrived in the face of these latter systems' decline. In fact, a great many nations formerly under the veil of Soviet-style communism have seen enormous strides toward political stability as well as economic development by looking westward to western Europe and North America for both inspiration and partnerships. Less developed nations in Africa, south Asia, and Latin America have also adopted democratic institutions similar to the representative democracies found in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Then again, there are elements of modern democratic national systems that are less inspirational. Poverty, homelessness, social inequality, and political corruption do exist within most democratic institutions, just as they do in other systems. Indeed, in systems in which socio-economic classes are stratified, there have been consistent concerns about elitism among social and political activists. Among them are Schumpeter, Karl Marx, and Frederick Engels, who were not speaking against any one system as a whole but warning about the dangers of disenfranchising large segments of the population for the sake of economic or political progress.
What are the dynamics of the modern democracy as it relates to the elitist perspective? This essay takes a closer look at this question, incorporating the ideas offered by Schumpeter and his contemporaries. In doing so, the reader will glean a greater understanding of the elitist debate as it pertains to the modern democratic regime.
The Elitist Perspective
Joseph Schumpeter possessed a sharp business acumen as well as a profound appreciation of capitalism and entrepreneurialism, a characteristic that no doubt evolved from his childhood, during which his parents owned and operated a thriving textile factory. The ongoing debate over socialism and its relationship to economics piqued his intellectual curiosity, allowing him to ponder over the links between democracy, capitalism, and socialism. His most famous work, "Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy," explores these three concepts in the aggregate — as socialism was introduced in contrast to capitalism, and democracy developed, in his view, concurrently with capitalism.
This latter argument, that capitalism grew historically in coordination with democracy, suggests that those who created and nurtured the capitalist mentality and therefore developed its institutions also fostered the democratic system to help protect and grow capitalism. Of course, Schumpeter explained, capitalism was introduced and maintained by a bourgeoisie, or elite, class — it only follows, then, that democracy would in turn be developed by and for the purpose of serving the interests of the ruling class — citing the fact that legislative bodies are not composed of ordinary citizens but upper-class citizens delegated to represent them. Schumpeter further asserted that capitalism and democracy, although issuing some socially positive legislation, are ill-prepared to put social laws "for the benefit of the masses" ahead of the perpetuation of capitalist and democratic institutions (Elliott, 1994).
Schumpeter was, of course, not alone in his perspective, nor was he a pioneer on such issues. The notion that Western liberal democracies were dominated not by the people but by a small handful of members of an elite socioeconomic class was, of course, introduced nearly a century earlier by Marx and Engels in their seminal work, "The Manifesto of the Communist Party." To Marx and Engels, democracy sprang from a feudal system that had been in existence long before it. While there was already in place a class system, the introduction of modern industry gave new life and new divisions to that class system, giving greater strength to the elite (who were the chief operators of that industry) and taking away from the lower classes. In fact, Marx and Engels asserted that the fact that this bourgeoisie, which was the product of this continuing trend toward economic development and capitalism, was also responsible for the development of liberal democratic systems. These systems, they suggest, not only serve and entrench the elite socioeconomic class, but help to detach the upper from the lower classes so that they become largely irrelevant (Marx & Engels, 2005).
There is an ongoing debate as to whether the views of Marx and Engel, and later Schumpeter, are verifiable in the present day. This paper next explores this in greater light by examining the system in place within what is perceived to be the icon of liberal democracy: the United States.
The Electoral College
From its beginnings, the United States of America was a nation to be governed by a system that was built for, by and of the people. Every elected legislator, as well as the President, would be responsive to the needs of his or her constituents first and foremost. Then again, the process by which these elections would take place was intended to be far more complex than a simple popular vote.
Under the Second Article of the Constitution, each state is required to appoint a number of individuals who would, in turn, elect a President. The number of Electors each state would have would be equal to the number of Senators and Representatives to which each state is entitled under the election system. The rules under which Electors would be appointed, however, would not be clearly defined in the Constitution — Senators and Representatives themselves would set the criteria. The Elector's vote would be transmitted to the Congress, along with every other Elector's ballot, which would then count the Electoral votes to select the President (Tansill, 1987).
The Electoral College, as it is known, seems superfluous and unnecessary at first glance. In fact, a simple, popular-based vote was suggested at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, but was voted down for an unusual reason. Southern states had received extra representation because slaves (who did not vote) were counted among the population — if a popular vote took place, the advantage southern states (whose economic contributions were considered invaluable) enjoyed would be nullified. In the interests of compromise and...
(The entire section is 3804 words.)