Demarchy and the ways of the world

1. Demarchy assumes that enough people will engage in the complex of serious activities it is supposed to work on to convince people that the outcome of those activities can claim to represent public opinion.

Looking at the way in which public opinion is in fact formed in our society that seems an absurd assumption.

Even if we go back to Habermas’s beloved 18th century coffee house it is utterly unrealistic. Public opinion emerges from a host of conversations in which what is going on or what is proposed is talked about in terms of familiar images. What is prized in conversation in all sorts of social contexts, from groups of labourers on lunch break to elite dinner parties is wit, the remark that encapsulates a way of looking at a subject in a new light that is at least in some respect plausible.

The cardinal sin in conversation is to insist on spelling out in detail just where that slant on the subject is misrepresented. People are not expected to take casual remarks seriously. That is utterly boring and destructive of conversation. Nevertheless there is overwhelming evidence that people are very strongly influenced by the cumulative effects of the caricatures that prevail in representations of ideas and states of affairs and come to be seen as expressing public opinion.

Even very sophisticated people succumb to this sort of conversation, because they are very aware that political affairs are usually so complicated that there is little chance of arriving at a rationally justified analysis and verdict on them. One just despairs or hopes that the obscure processes of social change will tend towards decisions one can live with. But there is no prospect of getting reliable decisions about political matters by discussion. So Demarchy is nonsense.

Reply: I concede there is a great deal of truth in this picture, but as a generalisation it is too sweeping. At the risk of being boring I shall try to explain why. There are several aspects to it.
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