Introduction to political thought – Module 2 Dicussion

One of the advantages of democracy, according to Dahl (and many others) is that being a citizen in a democracy helps you develop a “democratic personality.” You have to consider your own interests; and, ideally, the interests of the whole community as you prepare to vote. And this act of consideration helps enlarge your understanding, it encourages you to be more knowledgeable, and helps you refine your own preferences and desires according to the needs of others.

Or, so the idea goes. But even Dahl seems skeptical of his own conclusions here, hinting at the idea of (at least) competition among individual preferences through voting being about as good as we can expect.

So does democracy actually improve us? Let’s, for example, reflect on our most recent elections. Does the act of pursuing your own interests through voting (or donating, or writing letters, etc.) discourage your consideration of others? Do you get programmed to think of other citizens as your enemy – those that would sway government into doing things against your interests? Or, in fact, does the practice of democracy actually (or at least potentially) produce more enlightened citizens?

In short: Does participation in modern, democratic governance help you better appreciate your place in a community, or does it produce intensified self-interest and animosity towards others?

If you have personal experience with political participation or you don’t, discuss these questions primarily from a big picture perspective regarding contemporary democracies.