Roslyn Fuller educates Andrew Sullivan

It used to be a mainstream, respectable occupation to theorize about the horrors of popular rule. Socrates and other Athenian aristocrats have been upfront about the fact that the average person should not be trusted with power. This clear-headedness and frankness has been maintained over many centuries. The water began to muddy as the aristocrats were being challenged by the up-and-coming bourgeoisie. Now there had to be some rational criteria explaining why it was not the aristocrats who should be holding power. Talk about natural aristocracy became fashionable, but outright rejection of democracy was still part of the mainstream discourse.

Then, in the 19th century, the term “democracy” was rehabilitated and the ideological water became so thick it was impossible to know where one was heading. In the middle of the 20th century Schumpeter and the elite theorists tried to clear the water by explicitly redefining the term not to refer to popular power after all but simply to a competition between elites for popular vote.

This moment of clarity passed when the 1970’s saw the ideological victory of the Civil Rights movement. At that point popular rule became the only defensible meaning of “democracy”, and since then theorists are in the unpleasant situation of having to reconcile an oligarchical practice with a democratic ideology.

This brief history is presented as an introduction to a recent exchange between Andrew Sullivan, a British author, editor, blogger, conservative political commentator, former editor of The New Republic, and the author or editor of six books, and prof. Roslyn Fuller, an Irish academic, legal expert, columnist, electoral candidate, author of the book Beasts and Gods, and an Equality-by-Lot contributor.
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