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Unpublished Paper
  • David Barnhizer, Cleveland State University
  • Daniel D. Barnhizer, Michigan State University College of Law
In using the term pseudo-democracy we are bringing to the surface the idea that Americans often use the language of democracy too loosely in arguing about the political system they think, or at least assert, exists in the United States.  The reality of what Aristotle meant when using that term bears no resemblance to the system under which we operate in America, a system roughly one thousand times larger than that of Athens and far more complex, diverse and territorially vast than Aristotle could have imagined. 

We frequently hear that we are one nation, one group, and one community of interest linked in compassion, justice and sharing.  This sounds wonderfully utopian but such proclamations have nothing to do with human nature, the reality of tribalism, and the subcultures we have created.  Rather than growing together into a living, loving, caring and cooperating community, we are tearing things apart.   US Representative Steve Israel indicated after a recent campaign that people are angry about everything, that respect for our basic institutions has largely disappeared and that, as local jobs on which they counted for decades evaporated, people feel helpless, frightened and outraged at what they see as their leaders’ betrayal.US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently admitted he had fears about whether there were any longer strong enough core values to hold us together as a political community. 
To compel ourselves to be realistic about the immense gap between what was originally intended by the idea of democracy we only need to contrast Aristotle’s concept of the limited scale of a workable democratic system with the conditions existing in an America of 330 million citizens and residents spread over thousands of miles, with an array of multilayered political forms, numerous religious and anti-religious sects, and a mixture of ethnicities drawn from nations throughout the world whose citizens represent radically diverse values and beliefs. 

The United States has separated into fanatical and outraged identity groups. As we see almost daily, unity, compromise and healing have become impossible. The situation is getting worse. We are in a situation of the kind C. G. Jung warned in asserting that intelligent discourse cannot exist in societies filled with anger and bitterness.  Jung explained:

"Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree.  If the affective [emotional] temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason’s having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies."

Aristotle warned that even though democracy was the best and fairest political form humans were likely to achieve, it had fundamental flaws.  One of the most critical flaws is that once the majority understands it has the power to make laws that award its constituency the bulk of social goods at the expense of those who create those goods, it cannot resist using that power at the expense of other members of the society.  The nearly inevitable outcome is that the majority in a democracy become “takers” using and feeding on the efforts of others while creating rationalizations why it is necessary and fair to do so.  An example of this is found in the rhetoric attacking the Electoral College system in presidential elections following the election of Donald Trump in 2016.  This attack on the diversity represented by a significant core of citizens is a cynical attempt to ensure that a majority based almost solely on the nation’s East and West coasts dominates the political system to the disadvantage of  “Middle America”.

  • Democracy,
  • identity groups,
  • Rule of Law,
  • Aristotle,
  • democracy and rational argument
Publication Date
Citation Information
David Barnhizer and Daniel D. Barnhizer. "PSEUDO-DEMOCRACY IN A POST-RULE OF LAW ERA" (2019)
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