Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Category Error

When you begin to despair about a representative government’s capacity to resolve pressing political problems, it’s always tempting to repair to the cliché that the people get the government they deserve. Contemplating the fiasco that passes for state government in California, Kevin Drum doesn’t resist the temptation:
“California is broken and there's no political will to fix it. And by "political will," I don't mean that politicians are unwilling to fix it (though they are). I mean that the people of California are unwilling to fix it. Blaming things on our politicians feels good, but we the people are every bit as fractured.”
I know I sound like a pedant for saying so, but Drum isn’t making sense. Individual people have wills. A people or a citizen body has a collective will only by virtue of the operation of some institutional mechanism for public decision-making. Californians can change their government and even their constitution, but they only exist as a People through the operation of the decision-making institutions already in place.  So even if it's a disaster that every single Californian deplores, the output of California state government is still the embodiment of the only collective will that Californians can have.

It’s the job of politicians in a representative democracy to come up with an effective governing agenda that can win a democratic mandate. It can’t be the People’s fault that they're not doing it.

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