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June 28, 2006

it takes all kinds

I'm trying to meet a deadline on a big project, but meanwhile experiencing various subcultures. The Supreme Court, which I visited on Monday, was one. It offers a striking combination of grand and lush architecture, palpable power and respect, and a professorial style epitomized by Justice Breyer, who acted as if he were teaching smart law students.

That same afternoon, I taught a three-hour class on leadership for young Naval, Marine, and Coast Guard officers. They are different in superficial ways from their civilian counterparts. (For instance, they call professors "Sir"). But they are also different in more important respects. Almost all of them thought that voting was a duty, a moral obligation created by sacrifices in previous wars. In contrast, when we surveyed a national sample of youth in 2002, 34 percent said that voting was a choice; 20 percent called it a responsibility; and only 9 percent said it was a duty. For better and worse, the broad US society has moved from citizenship-as-duty to citizenship-as-choice. The military remains different in that respect.

Finally, I had an intense conversation yesterday with an Egyptian, a proponent of liberal democracy and civic education. He was passionately pro-Western and hostile to political Islam. He had come to get my advice, but I kept resisting, doubting that I have ideas relevant to Mubarak's Egypt. As I told him, there's nothing worse than advice that begins "In my country ...." But he insisted that the US has models and ideals that Egypt should adopt.

Posted by peterlevine at June 28, 2006 01:29 PM

Comments

From David Airth, via email:

I was thinking about your comment "citizenship-as-duty to citizenship-as-choice". Then I recalled my theory that Democracy finds alternatives to remain democratic just in case citizens do not preform their duty and vote.

Voting is the first frontier of Democracy. However, I have asked, What happens if nobody votes? Will Democracy last in America? I think America and other nature Democracies have developed for such a possibility, not that it will happen, but just in case. The main ingredient of Democracy is political activism. But it doesn't necessarily just come from the voting booth or is casting a ballet enough. Moreover, sometimes the vote is circumvented by the ruling party, ignored or made meaningless.

Because of growing apathy about voting and it becoming less meaningful, Democracy has found other ways of doing its business. To overcome apathy and meaningless and insure its survival Democracy in its maturity has cultivated other means and alternatives to ensure its continuance. As we see in America, almost every aspect of life is political whether it be cultural or materialistic . As they say, we vote with our feet or our wallets. We have countless choices (choice has perhaps become the new voting). We are vocal in many other ways. There is a strong, independent free press to help keep things transparent and accountable. There is the bifurcation of authority and autonomy. And government know that voting doesn't always give the full message of Democracy or is sufficient enough. It relies on the market place and polls to augment its mandate and remain relevant.

If voting was enough to keep Democracy Democracy we would not have to live in such an agitative churning world. If it was a perfect system and we were perfect and diligent like we should be we wouldn't need all the other aggressive aspects of Democracy, like affirmative action, quotas, self-interest groups and the tussles between the individual and the collective. Emerging Democracies are still learning these lessons.

Posted by: Peter Levine [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 29, 2006 11:51 AM

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