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Joseph Schumpeter is one of the greatest thinkers in the areas of economics and democracy. His views on democracy shaped the way people interact in a democratic society. The common good forms a basis of the Schumpeter’s argument in the book titled, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Furthermore, it is also presents some of his greatest thoughts in a chapter named Classical Theory of Democracy, which depicts the interaction between the elected officials and the citizens in the society.However, his opinion was contrary to the views of utilitarianism. One of the things that Schumpeter did not agree with was the fact that a common will and common good are critical to the establishment of a democratic rule. Democracy is seen as a way of getting the intrinsic value. It allows the selection of leaders to provide the much needed representation and participate in the creation of policies. This paper is an analysis of the Schumpeter’s views on democracy in comparison to utilitarian views.
Schumpeter was one of the greatest thinkers of the 19th century in areas of democracy and economics. The Austrian-born American economist is known for his concept of democracy that was revealed in Classical Theory of Democracy. Schumpeter considered democracy to be a process of decision-making, where people had the opportunity to make decisions about the political issues in their jurisdictions. A part of the process involved electing people of integrity who are subsequently given the mandate to act on behalf of the people. This opinion contradicted the views of that time, when many critical thinkers believed that leaders, as opposed to the people who were the ultimate decision makers in matters of politics and people, had little influence on the decisions made. The basic idea that Schumpeter advances in Classical Theory of Democracy is that there was a common good, which everyone accepted without questioning. This idea was key in terms of shaping the Schumpeter’s view of the democratic space and how democracy ought to be exercised. This paper is an analysis of the views expressed in Classical Theory of Democracy by Schumpeter and how these views compare with those of Plato.
In the classical theory of democracy, Schumpeter notes that “The democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will" (Schumpeter, 1978, p. 247). The views of Schumpeter on what constitutes a common good are subjective in the sense that it depends on other prevailing factors. There are a lot of people with very good intentions who are not able to agree on what the concept of a common good means. Thus, Schumpeter argues in his writing that it may not be easy to find a commonly agreeable consensus on what the characteristics of a common good are. In a democratic society, people are likely to agree on the need of the universal provision of health to everyone in that society. However, they will disagree on the methods of achieving that particular health care service. This is an illustration that Schumpeter uses in the chapter to explain the difficulty of building a consensus in the democratic space.
Due to the conflict of interest, Schumpeter argues that people are not able to make rational decisions as a way of expressing their political will, yet they are expected to make political choices that are not only focused on personal issues, but also on general ones affecting the society. In a sense, people are expected to develop a general attitude that reflects the mood in the society during voting. For this reason, Schumpeter observes that people should drop the idea of making direct political decisions, when it comes to electing whom to vote for. Rather than being expected to use general observations to make decisions, people should be empowered to make decisions by voting for political parties or individual politicians who are willing to represent their interests. On the other side, it is the responsibility of politicians to sell their ideas to people by pledging to solve their issues and satisfy their needs. For this reason, the role of voters and politicians is defined more realistically in Classical Theory of Democracy that Schumpeter advances in his writings.
While Schumpeter discusses how to understand the basic and fundamental issues in the society, it some critics argue on the basis of the rationality of knowing the “common good”. The notion that voters enforce the common good by electing their representatives does not translate into the same voters taking part in the political decisions made by their representatives. In fact, the normal practice is where politicians abandon the voters and only come back when they need another mandate to represent them (Schumpeter, 1978). To Schumpeter, democracy can be viewed as a free market, where parties offer voters the best policy only as a way of winning their votes. The concept of a democratic choice comes in only where the voters are free to make the decision regarding whom to elect. This is the point where their role in democratic choices ends, and whatever happens thereafter can be viewed either as the autocratic democracy or any other form of democracy.
While there are excellent ideas that Schumpeter develops from the concept of democracy, such as the idea of common good, a number of claims cannot be defended with the help of a rational argument. As a result, the author’s view is set on a false premise that the society does not really have a way of attaining the common good. In essence, this is the factual case in the society, where citizens have no way of determining what is good to all the people. Nonetheless, Plato had noted that liberal democratic societies were led by a small range of policies and rules that did not capture the whole political spectrum in an average society. However, that does not imply a vague common good, because a good percentage of the members of the society agree on them. As a result, governments around the world should establish a public service in areas that are less controversial in terms of them being a common good to the people. For example, the rule of law, national defense, liberal guarantees, freedoms and rights of people, prohibition of slavery and drug abuse, religious tolerance, anti-racism policies, among many other practices ought to be adopted even though they might be controversial in some cases.
In more advanced social democracies as those perceived by Plato, the government has the mandate to function on behalf of people in areas of the education, labor market, health, and security. Even though in most parts of the world, the exact implementation of such policies is likely to be highly disputable, they serve a common good in the eyes of many people. As noted, some concepts are likely to be more useful, even though they might be vague as opposed to being precise. In the same manner, some policies are likely to serve the public as a common good, even though some citizens might disagree about the idea. Schumpeter also notes that the rational argument may not reconcile the values that are in conflict with one another. However, in an ideal society, conflicting values are easily adjusted through the rational argument which results in individuals agreeing to pursue their own values without interfering the freedoms or liberties of other people. In a sense, Schumpeter is opposed to utilitarianism which is based on the view that utilitarian principles call for the common good to be agreed upon by the majority of people.
However, there is another side of the conceptualization of democracy that Schumpeter also notes. In terms of relegating the responsibility of making decisions about the common good to elected representatives, there is a reduced sense of responsibility on the part of citizens. Thus, the ordinary citizens become ignorant of their responsibility and abandon their legal requirement to express their views or opinions in matters that concern them. They are simply related to the bottom of the discussion where foreign and domestic policies do not address their interests (Schumpeter, 1978). In addition, they are more likely to become inactive and non-political in their interaction and engagement with the public. Even though the information about the role and responsibilities of citizens in the political and democratic discourses has become readily available, the apathy with which people are likely to relegate their responsibilities ensures that they do not have the access to the said information.
Therefore, the availability of information does not guarantee that people will be involved in the democratic issues as they are required by the theory of democracy. In this regard, Schumpeter argues, “We need only compare a lawyer’s attitude to his brief and the same lawyer’s attitude to the statements of political fact presented in his newspaper in order to see what the matter is” (Schumpeter, 1978, p. 32). The initiative that comes with a sense of responsibility is critical in ensuring that citizens do not take issues with ignorance but instead are able to act using the information that they possess. The case of meritocracy does not eliminate the burden of participating in making political decisions affecting the community. The fact, however, remains that people can only be taught how to act, when it comes to their participation in the democratic process. They cannot be pushed to take their rightful position in the community and be a part of processes that involve decision making and policy formation.
In fact, according to Schumpeter, it is common and typical for the average citizen to lose interest in the political issues as they grow old and their mental performance decreases. Schumpeter notes that this phenomenon can be easily recognized from the way people’s interests shift from the democratic basis to self interests as their mental performance wanes. At this point, it is easier for an average voter to become more primitive and negligence of their political role in the society so that their thinking becomes dissociative and sentimental in terms of their participation in political discourses. This understanding has several implications on the way democratic space is occupied and presented to the people in a nation. The first implication is that democracy does not always mean that people are ruling, even though that is what has been made to appear. In fact, politicians rule the nations in a competitive vote through people. As a result, politics is seen as a career, where one can simply enter for own selfish interests and not serving people.
The consequences of this is that dealing in votes, just like businessmen deal with merchandize, is a common and acceptable notion of democracy. The results are that politicians are forced to focus on short-term interests as opposed to having long-term plans for the people who elected them. The level of caution with which they approach the issues that affect people shows that they are not ready to lose the confidence of people and would rather tread cautiously. The third implication is that democracy is only seen as a way of putting selfish and inward looking people in power. In fact, records show that most people, who enter politics with good intentions and a desire to realize a common good, are quickly corrupted soon after they enter into the office. The fact that someone has won the popular vote and has been given the mandate to lead does not mean that they have a good intention for the public. However, the interesting part that will require a further exploration is how same or similar people are voted into the office time and again only to revert back to their selfish interest.
The utilitarianism talked about by Plato comes into play to include all the people with the knowledge to make laws and policies for the society. This function, however, should not amount to the attempt to control or regulate the way independent institutions might want to act. Moreover, Schumpeter argued that governments are built by loyal, well-trained and knowledgeable people who know what needs to be done in the right manner. The bureaucrats are responsible for controlling key government functions such as promoting, hiring, and motivating people working in the government departments. In terms of what he calls the democratic self-control, Schumpeter observes that people who are living in a democratic society must accept the laws that have been created by those who are elected. The power to legislate should be exercised by those in power, and anyone opposed to this wait for the right time to be elected, so they can make different laws. According to Schumpeter, it is critical that politicians avoid “the temptation to upset or embarrass the government each time they could do so". Voters should also realize that the politician's actions are meant to serve the interests of the politician; therefore, they should stop giving instructions on what needs to be done. The author notes that such a perspective is in contrast with the popularly known understanding of the doctrines of democracy. As a result, people are likely to abandon such ideas. Lastly, people must learn to be “tolerant for the difference of opinion” as well as respect those in power (Schumpeter, 1978, p. 245).
In order to establish a democratic space that is well equipped to serve the interests of people, several conditions must exist. According to Schumpeter, the conditions apply only to nations and societies that have industrialized their activities. The first is that there is a need for people with a high quality of moral character who can be entrusted with running the public office. Through politics, the competent and well qualified people are selected from the social stratum. However, in cases, where the experienced people are choosing to stay away from politics, then, it is a signal that there is a problem with the way the society looks at the democratic space. The second condition is that only a limited range of social and economic issues ought to be left for politicians. In this case, the constitution of the nations should specify the limits of the politicians as well as the limits of the parliamentarians. In making the laws for the society, the parliament should seek the advice of professionals and experts who have advanced knowledge in such matters, even though they might not be experts themselves.
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The preceding analysis explores the concept of democracy as discussed by Schumpeter and criticizes it in terms of the practice in the society. The outstanding issue is the common good that forms the basis of contrast with the utilitarian views expressed by Plato. Schumpeter lays the basis, on which the modern practice of democratic principles is founded. An outstanding argument by Schumpeter is the lack of universal definition of utilitarianism arguing that without the greatest good, people cannot assent to an agreeable principle. The citizens are the ones who elect their representatives and must allow them to perform their activities. However, they should not withdraw from demanding for service, because the leaders are elected as the representatives of these people. Combining the individual wills of people can help in creating a common good. The analysis shows the divergent conceptualization of democracy between Schumpeter, on the one hand, and Plato followers, on the other.
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