Voter “Suppression” Revisited

[This is in supplementation of my previous post regarding this issue.]

One primary motivating factor behind expanding the electorate — or the ease of exercising the franchise — is the apprehension that “Democracy” is somehow the highest form of government. This type of conception seems unfortunately too much akin to the usual superficial analysis by present society of most questions and subjects.

As we know, classical political theory, first discussed by Aristotle, conceived of three (3) types of government forms — government by the one, by the few and by the many — none of which were considered intrinsically superior to the other; rather they were respectively considered better than the others for a particular community depending upon the type and development thereof.

These classical types were denominated as: Monarchy (or Kingship); Aristocracy; and Democracy. It was conceived however that the proper functioning of these forms could deteriorate and become corrupt. The corrupt forms thereof, respectively were denominated as: Tyranny; Oligarchy; and Ochlocracy (or Mob Rule). Polybius later conceived of these forms as a cycle, with one leading to the other, viz, Kingship -> Tyranny -> Aristocracy -> Oligarchy -> Democracy -> Mob Rule -> Kingship, and ad infinitum.

We no longer of course talk in these terms. We talk in the terms of Bad Government, on one side, and Democracy, on the other. This is unfortunate, for two reasons.

First, a lack of precision yields superficial, and therefore inaccurate, analysis. Vague definitions result in vague thinking. Yet present practice is to subsume too much under the rubric of “Democracy”. It hence has little meaning and less utility as a tool to measure competing policies. If we then want to avoid muddled thinking, we must avoid this muddled definition of Democracy and instead revert to a narrower and delimited sense that is more in keeping with its original meaning. This will yield benefits not only in this specific context but, by training a more rigorous habit of mind and thinking, by replication of this type of analysis in related contexts.

But even more importantly, by failing to recognize the boundaries of legitimate democracy, we stray into a rampant wilderness that our forbears rejected. Studied observation over millennia resulted in a normative conclusion that Democracy is capable of degeneration into a mutated monstrosity. Vigilance in scrutiny, to enable discovery of any aberration from its accepted limits, was as important here as it was for detection of corruption in any of the other forms of government.

Such a perspective then would sanction any form that would partake of the characteristics of or otherwise resemble classical direct democracy. Critical elements of this of course would be presentation of arguments and evidence directly to the citizens of the community and personal approval or rejection by them of the proposed legislation or policy; similar systems are known by us in the original New England Town Meetings setting. Mechanics that would tend to stray beyond such norms would be suspected of likely tending toward or at least laying a foundation for what they characterized as Mob Rule.

Presently though we do not seem to be concerned about such propensities. We seem to think that expansion of what we deem Democracy by ever greater indirect participation tends toward a favorable outcome. [However, this, among other things, confuses the franchise  — and its exercise in elections  — with Democracy; it is not the sine qua non of Democracy much less the definition of it but just a device for the selection of magistrates for a variety of forms of government, since both Kings and Aristocrats occasionally were chosen by election (in one form or another)].

Further, if we are prepared to accede in the “wisdom of the ages”, then we have to be concerned about and seek to avoid departures that might tend toward what could be characterized as extreme democracy. For if we accept these premises of classical theory, then it would seem only those elements that have historical frequency predominance would be deemed appropriate components of Democracy — since they would have developed during the Early and Middle stages of each community and therefore not in the fringe stage most contiguous to Mob Rule; all communities that had the experience of Democracy would have passed through an Early and Middle Stage but not necessarily a Late Stage, and thus measurement of frequency would yield identification of elements more common to the former — and therefore before deterioration and corruption.

I would tender that devices which make it too easy for too many people to indiscriminately elect various partisans are subject to such a characterization. As such, then, they likely would be viewed by the ancients as indicia of entry into the Mob Rule phase and, hence, would be rejected. I then would suggest that we should very critically view:

  • early voting,
  • extended voting periods, and
  • expanded absentee voting,

presuming they are generally dangerous and destructive of the interest of the society. Such a conclusion would proceed from the recognition of these devices as novel, and therefore not inherent in core Democracy. (Again, we must remember that the weight of authority and wisdom rejected erection of any hierarchy of particular governmental forms, which would treat one as usually superior to another, but deemed each as possibly more appropriate for a particular time, conditions and circumstances. Thus, unless experience demonstrated that certain devices or modes were commonly practiced, they would be considered a corruption, being arbitrary and subjective.)

Unfortunately, our present age seems to be afflicted with unparalleled arrogance. Rather than accepting the societal application of the Second Law of Thermodynamics principle, it views change as “progress”, i.e. transformation that is good and positive, rather than of what it most often partakes, viz, deterioration into corruption. Thus study of the old is repudiated and “new ideas” are what are honored; somehow an absence of the “burden” of history is beneficial, enabling the constant pursuit and introduction of new forms.

This rejection of historical restrictions on election procedures in favor of adoption of untried and untrue procedures is but one example. But it is the example, in the writer’s repudiation of the demagogic “voter suppression” diatribe and characterization, that is castigated here.

WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
26 Oct 2014

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