Apr 24, 2011

What is democratic culture?

This is the first in a series of three posts sketching my preliminary understanding of democratic, sacred, and profane culture.

Understanding a culture in a particular period involves identifying not only the elements of that culture, but their interrelationships too. Are there patterns among the cultural elements? Which of the elements are causes and which are the effects?[1] This post is a sketch of one pattern among many in the overall culture of America today.

ORIGIN. The democratic movement is the movement of individuals who are striving to establish and expand a democratic society.[2] The term "democracy," for these individuals, names a concept that covers far more than only a particular form of government. One democratic activist, Yale University professor of constitutional law Jack M. Balkin, explains his view of democracy and identifies the root of the democratic movement:

The ultimate goal of our constitutional order is not merely to produce democratic procedures but a democratic culture: a culture in which all citizens can participate and feel that they have a stake, a culture in which unjust social privileges and status hierarchies have been disestablished. . . . Democracy inheres not only in procedural mechanisms like universal suffrage but in cultural modes like dress, language, manners, and behavior. Political egalitarianism must be nourished by cultural egalitarianism.[3]

Democratic advocate Randy Fullerton Sardis, an admirer of Balkin, elaborates:

Democratic culture is about individual liberty as well as collective self-governance; it concerns each individual's ability to participate in the production and distribution of culture. Removing the political, economical, and cultural elitists from their thrones and allowing everyone a chance to participate in the production of culture, sounds like a wonderful idea in my opinion.[4]

Culture, in its broadest meaning, refers to all those artifacts which can be produced by individuals in one generation and bequeathed to later generations. Democratic culture is the set of cultural elements produced by members of the democratic movement as part of their effort to create democracy.

EXAMPLES. Examples of democratic culture include: magazine articles calling for "net neutrality"; rap music lyrics berating the "elite"; Harvard philosophy professor John Rawls's book Theory of Justice (1971); a progressive income tax used to fund redistribution of income from the most productive to the least productive; "stakeholder" organizations who try, in corporate stockholders' meetings, to influence business policies and products to benefit "the people"; tax-funded "public" libraries that give everyone equal access to information; and support for folk art or the "everyday art" of "the people."

PHILOSOPHICAL ROOTS. Certain institutions are also examples of democratic culture. An institution is an organization designed to continue operating even after the resignation, retirement, or death of the founding members. For instance, consider one particular institution, The Center for Democratic Culture, which is housed in the Sociology Department of the University of Nevada. Its CDC Mission Statement reveals the institution's underlying philosophy:

The Center for Democratic Culture ... derives its philosophy from American pragmatism, which regards democracy as an ongoing experiment in collective living and institution building. Democracy, according to [philosopher of Pragmatism] John Dewey [1859-1952], begins at home in a neighborly community, and is first and foremost a quality of experience.[5]

"Quality of experience" is a euphemism for life in an all-encompassing culture and society of egalitarian collectivism. And that is what democratic culture is: the culture of egalitarian collectivism.

Next post in this series: "What does 'sacred' mean?"

Burgess Laughlin, author, The Power and the Glory:The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith

[1] For a brief explanation of the principle of cultural detection: Leonard Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, hardcover, pp. 143-144, the first one and a half pages of Ch. 7. [2] For the nature of a movement: "What is a movement?," July 5, 2008, on Making Progress, at aristotleadventure.blogspot.com/2008/07/what-is-movement.html. For an objective definition of political "democracy," as a dictatorship by the majority of a society, see: aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/democracy.html. [3] Jack M. Balkin, "The Declaration and the Promise of a Democratic Culture," 1999, pp. 6-7 of my printout, www.yale.edu/lawweb/jbalkin/articles/declar1.htm. (Caution: The text duplicates some paragraphs.) [4] Randy Fullerton Sardis, "What is a Democratic Culture?," Feb. 3, 2009, p. 3 of my printout, on the weblog at atuuschaaw.blogspot.com/2009/02/what-is-democratic-culture.html. [5] For the CDC's mission: www.unlv.edu/centers/cdclv/mission/index2.html under Mission/Statement in the upper left corner.

1 comment:

Jim said...

I am reminded by this post of Aristotle's writings on the degeneration of democracy into tyranny through government stealing wealth from the few and giving it to the many. The historical consequences of such official theft is either oligarchy or monarchy (for recent example, see Venezuela). If our President was actually a constitutional scholar, he would know and honestly communicate that.