Thursday, May 13, 2010

Oh Those Pesky People Who Just Can't Be Governed

Synchronicity? Or perhaps a careful watch placed on the walls at any given moment? For whatever reason, there is a more-than-curious appearance of this seemingly off-the-cuff comment by Henry at Crooked Timber:
First: ungovernability. Or, rather, “ungovernability.” Chris got a lot of flak in comments for suggesting that centrists and center-right people in the media were going to come out with suggestions that a bit of dictatorship might not be a bad idea.

He goes on to give his opinion that, in fact, such talk really isn't going to rear its ugly head. Never mind that, just a few short years ago, Thomas Sowell, apropos of nothing in particular offered the opinion that a military dictatorship would be good for America. In any event, the question of "governability" or its lack is one that addresses itself from China and India to Africa to our own country. In the 1970's, one heard it about the city of New York as it faced fiscal collapse; one sees it in criticisms of the United States Senate and its odd tradition of necessary super-majorities to act on some pieces of legislation.

Lo and behold, the New York Review of Books features an article my Mark Lilla, entitled "The Tea Party Jacobins", which has this as a closing note:
Representative democracy is a tricky system; it must first give citizens voice as individuals, and then echo their collective voice back to them in policies they approve of. That is getting harder today because the mediating ideas and institutions we have traditionally relied on to make this work are collapsing.

Are technologies that eclipse previous institutions that governed civic life rendering large democratic practices impossible? Are nations as large and diverse as China, India, the United States, Nigeria, and others unable to manage their public affairs via emerging institutions? Is the insistence that the emergence of hostility to state action a sign of ungovernability correct? Or is it, perhaps, that our state actors, both personal and institutional, have not grasped the variety of changes through which we all have lived over the past two decades?

I lean toward the latter general explanation, but otherwise am more curious about responses to these questions from others than setting out my own views (for the moment).

Virtual Tin Cup

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