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Four contradictions in government

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But. Klein does not and indeed cannot give a solution to these problems. Why is that?

There are four contradictions in American government (and the 3rd and 4th are true of all Western democracies).

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The first contradiction is between constituted and constituting power. Or in less legalese terms, between the constitution as a written document and the government which must enforce that document in ever-changing circumstances. We have amendments in theory, but given our polarization they are impossible. How can we continue to hold to this document with so few modifications even though everything has changed? The uniquely American legal theory of Constitutional Literalism, which is so clearly bankrupt at its core, cannot help us if there are no modifications to the text. For example, that we have the Senate is the result of the Great Compromise which got small states to sign the new constitution; but the founders ideally did not want some small states to have more representation. They wanted the elite ruling class to ignore everyone equally, and make decisions independent of the popular policy will. But we cannot change this part of the Constitution to accommodate our new needs or values. The tension here can be summarized as Constitutional Literalism + no new amendments = a broken and forever breaking system.

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The second contradiction is between local representation and the whole will of the democracy. If we want local representation, then we need individual politicians, but to have individual politicians requires FPTP voting (apparently, I guess, because America). Here we find the root of the 2 party system which is always a poor caricature of the actual will of the people. Here we also find the difference between American legislatures and the European parliamentary model. However, if we want to have their more broadly representational model, we have to leave localism and conceive of ourselves strictly as one nation, which is the opposite of our current direction. We cannot make this move as long as our poor political representation model is in place, because it itself reinforces these localistic tendencies. So, since neither will budge first, this remains a contradiction.

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The third contradiction is between the values we hold dear as Americans, and the goals we have for our government in realizing those values. According to David Labaree, and he is talking about education here, we want “1. democratic equality (“education as a mechanism for producing capable citizens”), 2. social efficiency (“education as a mechanism for developing productive workers”), and 3. social mobility (“education as a way for individuals to reinforce or improve their social position”)”. However, these goals are immediately in tension, and nobody has yet to devise a political philosophy that achieves all three. This is why our dismal education system always resembles our equally dismal political system: they reflect the same value trade-offs, which are always a lose-lose. This is even the title of Labaree’s book, “Somebody Has to Lose,” which seems to be permanently true in all Western democracies.

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The fourth contradiction is between our nation as a biopolitical body and as one that “recognizes” “all people’s” equal status under the authority of the State. While we pride ourselves on multiculturalism and the inclusion of minorities, these are only included insofar as they assimilate (which the majority gets to decide). For example even though African Americans are 15th or whatever generation Americans, they are treated as equal to or less than 1st generation immigrants by the biopolitcal majority. This is also true of all immigrants. We paper over this reality with stock phrases like “all men are created equal” or “We the people” but we cannot define who the “all men” or the “We” are. Per Agamben, this is because the basic function of national sovereignty is the production of biopolitical life, and so homogeneity is required. To constantly add to the racial diversity of the nation is to undermine the idea of a nation, which requires racial differentiation. If you are only an American insofar as you are not Mexican, then what happens when Mexicans become a part of America? etc. for all nationalities. Thus the problem of nationalism is unsolved and indeed unsolvable.

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These four reasons are why Klein does not provide an answer to the issues he points out.. We can tinker with the current arrangement all day long (e.g., for #2, state-grouped parliamentary representation). But until we re-conceive of what we want from government, and so then create a new politics from scratch, we will never solve these problems.

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