Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement

By Ben Berger | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
CONCLUSION
TOCQUEVILLE VS. THE FULL MONTY

It is the political theorist’s business to trace out that pattern … of thought
and feeling which will enable the citizen to approach a new problem in
some useful fashion. In that task he must not assume that the mass has
political genius, but that men, even if they had genius, would give only a
little time and attention to public affairs.
—Walter Lippmann, The Phantom Public

THUS FAR I HAVE BLOWN the whistle on the hopelessly confusing uses of civic engagement that fail to distinguish between political, social, and moral attention and energy. Civic engagement should cede the stage to its political, social, and moral cousins. I have also chided idealistic conceptions of participatory democracy for insisting that citizens invest much or most of their limited attention and energy in politics. Idealistic conceptions of participatory democracy concern themselves not with how citizens act now, nor with the choices that citizens express at present, but with how citizens might act and choose under thoroughly altered conditions. They glimpse one kind of good—political engagement—that seems inadequately supplied, and instead of attempting to fill the most distressing gaps, they aim for what I call the Full Monty: high and widespread political engagement among all citizens, all (or much) of the time, in spite of citizens’ long-standing inclinations toward the opposite.1 The Full Monty approach can play a valuable role in certain scholarly disquisitions but not in this book. I have considered democracy as it appears today with hopes of making it work better rather than ideally. I have taken seriously citizens’ commitments, capabilities, and limitations as expressed by citizens themselves. The goal has been to diagnose our political pitfalls and potential in a manner that most citizens can recognize and endorse. But if the diagno-

1 The “Full Monty,” a British expression that gained currency in the 1990s, means “com-
plete, the whole thing,” or “everything included.” It came to international attention with the
eponymous movie, released in 1997. In that context “the Full Monty” meant a burlesque
show with full frontal male nudity.

-144-

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