Primary Power to the People

John Fonte’s review of The New Road to Serfdom, by Daniel Hannan, focuses mainly on international policy — and avoiding Europeanization and submission to anti-democratic supranational bodies. However, given periodic discussion around here about the structure of government and of elections, this is the passage that most caught my eye:

Hannan is particularly impressed with the American system of primary elections. He points out that in Britain and Europe, candidates for parliament are chosen by the political parties. This leads to the perpetuation of a closed political class and the exclusion of issue positions favored by the public but frowned upon by elites. In the U.S., by contrast, an outsider can defeat the party leaders’ choice in a primary; this fosters a more democratic process, and brings into the open issues that elites prefer not to discuss.

Some readers are impressed with European parliamentary systems that allow votes among multiple parties, which must then form coalitions for governance, but as the quotation above states, voters are reduced to electing parties, rather than people. It’s not quite so simple, of course; it’s in the interest of the parties to find and promote politically attractive candidates, for one thing. But as the Tea Party movement has illustrated, even in our more-individualistic system, establishment partisans will only take popular appeal so far, unless forced.
Beneath the talk of voter choices, one surmises that those who admire European governments rather like “the perpetuation of a closed political class” — mainly because they do not trust the unguided masses to elect wisely. Better, they think, to let voters choose from a slate of general principles and leave the actual exercise of power to people who know how to use it.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
13 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“those who admire European governments…”
Like who for example? That you can’t cite even one actual person leads me to believe this is convenient fiction.
Granted, I’d say neither of the two major parties is interested in change. You just don’t want to admit that the Republicans are as bad or worse.

brassband
brassband
10 years ago

I heartily recommend Hannan’s book. It’s quite an eye-opener.
I, too, was quite impressed with his comments about the open primary system in the U.S. vs. the closed party-controlled system that prevails in the U.K.
Also, he is quite critical of the prevalence of QUANGO’s (Quasi-Non-Govenment Organizations) to which much administrative power is, apparently delegated in Britain. These commissions/committees/boards, etc., appear to be quite a method for frustrating democracy.
Read the book, you won’t regret it.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Posted by Russ
“those who admire European governments…”
Like who for example? That you can’t cite even one actual person leads me to believe this is convenient fiction. ”
While there may not be many who are sophisticated, or knowlefgable, enough to endorse a European system in toto, there are many who admire them in portions.
How often have you heard admiration for the British system of 30 day elections? How about admiring comments regarding European health care systems?

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

No, no, heck I admire aspects of the European system. What I want to know which ones of those folks “do not trust the unguided masses to elect wisely.” That’s the stawman part of the argument.
I should note that the Founders of this country held the masses in contempt. Here’s Jefferson, for instance…
“The mobs of the great cities add just so much to the support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body.” Notes on Virginia

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Russ writes:
“I should note that the Founders of this country held the masses in contempt. Here’s Jefferson, for instance…”
One has to be careful with quoting Jefferson. Particularly when the source is “Notes on Virginia”, there is much there that offends modern readers. Particularly his “notes” on the physical aspects of the natural superiority of Whites.
Still, it worth remembering that the “rebels” at the Tiananmen square massacre chose to quote Jefferson. Presumably because his thoughts had never been expressed in Chinese (perhaps the language does not permit it). Educated Europeans are all aware that America is the only country based on an idea. This compared to European democracies which are outgrowths of steadily weakening monarchies. Interestingly, as late as the 20th century Spain decided that they couldn’t do without a king. To make up for this lack, after extensive genealogical research for someone of the “blood royal”, they imported a Swede to be king. I some how doubt this is an idea that would have legs with the American public.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
10 years ago

Russ,
I had in mind the conversation here, but affection for “aspects of the European system” suffices, and in fact, based on your canon of commentary on this site, I’ll admit that I suspect you of being not but so averse to “the perpetuation of a closed political class.”

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

Interestingly, as late as the 20th century Spain decided that they couldn’t do without a king. To make up for this lack, after extensive genealogical research for someone of the “blood royal”, they imported a Swede to be king. I some how doubt this is an idea that would have legs with the American public.
Posted by Warrington Faust at January 13, 2011 4:40 PM
I don’t know where you get some of your information from but the Spainards have been under the House Of Bourbon for centuries. The current King is the grandson of the King deposed by the Communist government in 1931. There is no Swede involved.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
10 years ago

Tommy Cranston writes:
“I don’t know where you get some of your information from but the Spainards have been under the House Of Bourbon for centuries.”
Well, that was from memory. I guess I am wrong for the second time this decade. I thought Franco had extinquished the monarchy, while in fact it was in exile. The current king recently created a stink by shooting a drunken, but tame, bear.
I will have to spend some time on this. I am fairly certain that a European country voted to restore the monarchy and ended up selecting a Swede as a “true” Hapsburg. It sounded like a Spanish idea.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“based on your canon of commentary on this site…”
Ah, so I’m the culprit! So it’s those who agree with Justin are for democracy; those who don’t hate democracy. Got it.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Question for Justin: who did you vote for in the last Presidential election? Let me guess, a member of one of the two major parties… because you advocate for a closed political system, right? If not, I say you’re just blowing smoke.
My apologies if you had the courage of your convictions to vote Ron Paul (who I voted for btw in ’88 when he ran on the Libertarian ticket).

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
10 years ago

Alright, Russ: For whom would you have voted for Prime Minister in the United Kingdom? The answer: nobody. The parties pick the Prime Minister, not the people.
Any race for a single person to fill a single office is ultimately going to come down to a limited number of people.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
10 years ago

The unlamented Stusrt used to go on and on about the superiority of everything European and so does the odious “klaus”at Kmareka.He says Europeans know how to “dine”while we plebeians just “eat”as one example.
The one thing I found that the Europeans do better than us is public transportation.They would laugh themselves sick at Chafee maling a big deal over the inermodal train station.They are as common as paparclips over there.
Guess what[we had a great network of railroads/public local transit,and interurban electric lines here in the uS and we dismantled it because of a conspiracy between the automakers,tire companies,and oil companies.General Motors was the main culprit-yes a conspiracy,and I don’t need a tinfoil hat to believe it.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Q: Who did you vote for in the last Presidential election?
A: I did as I was told. Sheep unite!

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.