By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections

By John Gastil | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Exit and Public Voice in
Representative Democracy

Under any economic, social, or political system, individuals, business firms, and organizations in general are subject to lapses from efficient, rational, law-abiding, virtuous, or otherwise functional behavior.

Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

Democracy doesn't exist. It never has and never will. The distance between the democratic ideal and any actual government, past or present, is so vast that some theorists don't even use the term democracy to describe real political systems. 1 Given this gulf, one might question the value of examining alternative models of how democracy is supposed to work and, instead, ask to move directly to the practical matter of improving existing political systems. If the reader shares this skepticism, I beg indulgence, because it is difficult to assess and overhaul a system without first understanding how it is supposed to function in theory.

Examining different models of democracy is also worthwhile because this brief review reveals that every model of democracy gives at least some emphasis to electoral accountability and public expression. Competitive elections and the expression of political dissent are two ideas central to this book—the real threat of “exit” (in this case, rejecting an unresponsive public official) and the use of a public's “voice. ” Later in this chapter, I present a novel application of exit and voice to elections for public office. The present task is simply to demonstrate their general relevance to democratic theory. Readers may disagree about which democratic model America should or does, in fact, follow. If the central concepts examined in this book fit into diverse conceptions of the democratic ideal, then the insights in subsequent chapters should prove useful to a wide range of readers.

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