<< The Body Politic

An engaged–not enraged–citizenry

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In this morning’s Defining Ideas, Claremont McKenna College political theory professor Mark Blitz has an interesting article discussing the proper role that citizens have to play in their governance. Worrying that “we have let our powers of self-government be usurped by bureaucrats, experts, private interests, unaccountable representatives, and mysterious and uncontrollable social forces,” Blitz calls for public debate to be centered around common-sense ideas that everyone can understand and grapple with. These ideas, he argues, are broad enough to carry real policy implications, but are not so couched in the rhetoric of bureaucracy that lay citizens cannot actively enter the discussion. For example, Blitz writes:

Understanding our ends requires correctly grasping our broad aims of freedom, virtue, and excellence, and our more concrete or immediate goals such as security and health. Much vigorous public debate is about the meaning, rank, and relationship of these ends to each other. How much security of what sort should be risked by how much freedom of speech, care in trials, privacy in activity, and so on. How much health is worth how much funding? How much equality is worth how much excellence? How much safety is worth how much local control? How much military might is worth how much money? How much short-term economic difficulty is worth how much long-term fiscal stability?

These are questions that both technical experts and lay citizens can answer. These are not mere matters of arbitrary speculation; they can be discussed reasonably by all people. Yet, for such discussion we need a thoughtful public characterized by intelligent opinion and virtuous practices. We need a public that seeks to conserve our founding liberties.

The whole thing, well worth reading, can be found here.