When we speak of "democratic values," to what, exactly, are we referring? In his new book Democracy Rules, Princeton political philosopher Jan-Werner Müller argues that losing -- or, more specifically, uncertainty about the outcome of any election -- is central to democracy. Müller also introduces the potentially useful term "info-feces" to the philosophy lexicon. :-) The New York Times recently ran a review of Democracy Rules:
"Müller begins by acknowledging the widespread fear that 'democracy is in crisis' before pointing out that few people who aren’t political philosophers have given any sustained thought to what democracy actually is. He doesn’t want us to fixate so much on democratic 'norms' — those informal rules that beguile and bedevil political scientists — as he wants to talk about the democratic principles that animate those norms in the first place. In other words, if we’re fretting about the degradation of democracy, what exactly is it that we think we’re in danger of losing? Müller says that losing is, in fact, a central part of it: In addition to the more familiar principles of liberty and equality, he encourages us to see uncertainty — including the possibility that an incumbent may lose — as essential to any truly democratic system. Winners cannot be enshrined, and losers cannot be destroyed. ... Preserving uncertainty means that democracy is inherently dynamic and fluid. 'Individuals remain at liberty to decide what matters to them most,' Müller writes, but holding onto democratic commitments also means that freedom has to be contained by what he identifies as two 'hard borders.' People cannot undermine the political standing of their fellow citizens (the growing spate of voting restrictions is a glaring case in point); and people cannot refuse to be 'constrained by what we can plausibly call facts.' Müller takes care to situate the United States in an international context, using examples from other countries to illuminating effect. Writing about political institutions in a way that makes them sound vital is a challenge for any writer, and Müller’s method is to leaven abstract ideas with concrete examples of bad behavior — even if, as he himself says early on, we have a tendency to get caught up in outrageous stories about individuals instead of training our gaze on the less spectacular mechanisms of the system itself."
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