Democratic Vistas.

AuthorLeanza, Emilio
PositionBOOKS

Two Cheers for Politics: Why Democracy Is Flawed, Frightening-and Our Best Hope By Jedediah Purdy Basic Books, 304 pages Publication date: August 30,2022

It's difficult these days to fight the urge to tune out. Amid a slew of unpopular U.S. Supreme Court rulings on guns, abortion rights, the environment, and prayer in public schools, it seems like the majority of people in this country don't really have much of a say in what goes on here. If our collective futures are going to be determined by a conservative supermajority of judges interpreting centuries-old laws, why bother paying attention to politics at all?

For Jedediah Purdy, a Constitutional, environmental, and property law professor at Columbia University and a prolific writer for outlets like The New Yorker and The New Republic, our undemocratic democracy is at the root of the problem.

In Two Cheers for Politics, Purdy begins by outlining four different versions of a U.S. history textbook that might be written in 2050; each describes competing views of what democracy means in the present, and how we solved--or failed to solve--the crises of our times. In the first version, strongmen of the Trump variety exert minoritarian rule on behalf of a narrow base. In the second, technocrats step in to fix climate change when politicians could not. The third is a fractured future where no single group is able to pass substantive legislation due to barriers like the Senate filibuster. The fourth, which Purdy sees as the most difficult to forecast, tells of a democratic revival where "we saved ourselves" through collective political action.

Throughout Two Cheers, Purdy challenges readers to take that final possibility seriously--that democracy, in its most literal terms, can live up to its promise as a system in which shared decisions are made by a majority vote among equals. While this might sound like a generally positive scenario, it is, as Purdy notes in the book's subtitle, also frightening, because living by majority rule must entail a willingness to abide by decisions--and elections--that we disagree with. The elite fear of majoritarianism, and particularly populist uprisings, was what led to the Constitutions separation of powers being designed to limit popular sovereignty.

In Purdy s view, the issue of majority oppression is not an inevitable...

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