The Constitution: great for a politics of intending, but bad for a politics of tending – Ratification and the transition from participant, to specatator democracy

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/31/2013

Presence of the Past by Sheldon Wolin – Book Review by Scott London

…After a brief introduction, Wolin looks at what he considers “the main paradox at the center of the American Constitution”: the dual principles of restrained and divided power, on the one hand, and the sovereign power of “the people,” on the other…”Tending and Intending a Constitution” outlines the distinction between what Wolin conceives as two fundamentally different forms of politics, the “politics of tendance” and the “politics of intendance,” the former associated with a decentralized and diverse democratic political vision nurtured by actively caring citizens, the latter characterized by a centralized and homogenized administrative authoritarian vision controlled by expert professionals, which the Framers dressed up as republicanism.

At bottom, these essays all express a deep concern about the “anti-democratic thrust” and “the steady de-democratization of American society.” Wolin traces this trend to the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 which he says betrayed the spirit of the Revolution. He presents the issue in terms of the loss of democracy (as it was embodied in the Declaration of Independence) as a result of the rise of the state (following the ratification of the Constitution). The American contribution of 1787 was that the Framers chose a state and a Constitution both at the same moment. This act laid the groundwork for the development of the “megastate” by subordinating the local power structures necessary for a genuinely democratic politics. The Constitution, in other words, was a modernizing, centralizing document designed to suppress decentralized, popular forms of politics. Its essential purpose was not to limit power but to generate it — to unlock “access to power, making it available to the state.” The Founders’ determination to reduce popular influence in government and to avoid the “weakness inherent in democratic states” also had the effect of creating a new role for citizens as “watchers of how their powers are being used rather than as participants in those uses.” In this way, “the citizenry was conceived in terms that allowed the American political animal to evolve into the domesticated creature of media politics” — a passive, depoliticized spectator of politics as carried out by technocratic elitists, bureaucrats, and ideologues. Today, with the rise of “a postmodern politics in which democracy serves primarily a rhetorical function with little or no correlative in official institutions and practices,” we have “virtually ceased to think of ourselves as a political people.”

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