In Our Name

In Our Name: The Ethics of Democracy

Eric Beerbohm
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    In Our Name
    Book Description:

    When a government in a democracy acts in our name, are we, as citizens, responsible for those acts? What if the government commits a moral crime? The protestor's slogan--"Not in our name!"--testifies to the need to separate ourselves from the wrongs of our leaders. Yet the idea that individual citizens might bear a special responsibility for political wrongdoing is deeply puzzling for ordinary morality and leading theories of democracy.In Our Nameexplains how citizens may be morally exposed to the failures of their representatives and state institutions, and how complicity is the professional hazard of democratic citizenship. Confronting the ethical challenges that citizens are faced with in a self-governing democracy, Eric Beerbohm proposes institutional remedies for dealing with them.

    Beerbohm questions prevailing theories of democracy for failing to account for our dual position as both citizens and subjects. Showing that the obligation to participate in the democratic process is even greater when we risk serving as accomplices to wrongdoing, Beerbohm argues for a distinctive division of labor between citizens and their representatives that charges lawmakers with the responsibility of incorporating their constituents' moral principles into their reasoning about policy. Grappling with the practical issues of democratic decision making,In Our Nameengages with political science, law, and psychology to envision mechanisms for citizens seeking to avoid democratic complicity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4238-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Search for the moment you came to believe that your state was committing a crime. You suspected this for some time. At some point your suspicion hardened into a belief. Then it dawned on you that you live in and have some modicum of control over a democratic, unjust state. Your state tortured individuals. Or it engaged in an unjustified war. Or it failed to insure individuals against severe deprivation. When you arrived at this belief, there is a sense that you hardly learned anything new. You have long known that the world contained an alarming number of instances of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 How to Value Democracy
    (pp. 25-50)

    Our experience of democracy is intensely personal. As individual citizens, we don’t interact with a system of decision making in a wholesale way. We interact with individuals in the retail of ordinary politics—we challenge those individuals on the opposing side at a town meeting, we provide identification to the polling official who directs us to the voting booth, we wonder about the authenticity of the lawmaker seeking our vote. There is nothing impersonal about being unjustly treated by a democratic society. Even regimes as undemocratic as apartheid South Africa and the American South before the Civil War relied on...

    (pp. 51-81)

    Voting iscoercive, an exercise ofpowerover one another, animpositionof terms.¹ This refrain has become something of an article of faith. In democratic theory it is almost universally accepted. It can seem too obvious to deserve a sustained defense. From the institutional point of view, verses like “elections have consequences” have intuitive force. In a democracy all power originates from a solitary act in a vestibule. Piles of votes empower unjust interventions, war crimes, and denials of civil rights. If voting isn’t a coercive act, what could possibly be? From the perspective of the individual citizen, the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Philosophers-Citizens
    (pp. 82-104)

    It is tempting to treat citizens as philosophers with a second job. If democracy is to respect us as equally worthy deliberators, how else can we proceed? An ideal of citizenship that involves anything less can seem condescending. A popular way to avoid thereductioof philosopher-rulers is to insist uponphilosopher-citizens. I have in mind the citizen who musters all the cognitive resources necessary to make political judgments that are, as much as possible, perfectly informed. This character draws upon an impressive repertoire of epistemic virtues to acquire, hone, and revise her convictions about justice and its bearing upon...

  8. Chapter 4 Superdeliberators
    (pp. 105-124)

    Characters in novels fall in and out of love. On-screen actors get into an unusual number of car chases. And the imagined citizen of democratic theory deliberates about pressing public issuesa lot.¹ She attends citizen juries, deliberative polls, study circles, town halls, public hearings, and urban tent meetings. We can celebrate this appetite for justification. The idea of ordinary citizens publicly giving and demanding reasons is deeply morally appealing. Other things being equal, a society marked by the claims and counterclaims of debate about public affairs—“government by discussion”²—is one where I would choose to live. But is...

  9. CHAPTER 5 What Is It Like to Be a Citizen?
    (pp. 125-141)

    How does the individual citizen experience the political world from the inside? We don’t view ourselves as mere preference containers for a focus group. We flinch at the idea that we are spectators. Yet we don’t see ourselves as engaging in straightforward self-rule. I think that our self-conception as citizens provides raw but necessary data for a theory of citizenship. For an imperfect analogy, consider the strangely compelling question: “What is it like to be a bat?”¹ You are to imagine not what it would be like foryouto be a bat, but what it is like for the...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Democracy’s Ethics of Belief
    (pp. 142-165)

    The American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce strongly believed in free trade, and he wanted his conviction to stay that way. Fearing that Peirce may give up this conviction, a friend implored him to stop reading the newspaper. “You are not a special student of political economy,” he said; “you might, therefore, easily be deceived by fallacious arguments upon the subject.”¹ His friend’s insistence was not subtle. Exposed to counterarguments, Peirce may change his mind: “You would be led to believe in protection. But you admit that free-trade is the true doctrine; and you do not wish to believe what is...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Division of Democratic Labor
    (pp. 166-192)

    Suppose that you come to form the belief that your elected representative endorses public policies that pass the bar of justice. You recognize that your representative is not your equal on decision making at the intersection of policy and morality. She devotes an enormous amount of time and energy to reasoning about legislation. She can anticipate the consequences of law making that I would invariably miss. Her expertise isn’t supernal. She derives it from her institutional role—the time she is given to reflect on the issue at hand and her access to policy experts. Or maybe you have concluded...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Representing Principles
    (pp. 193-225)

    Aristotle conceived of democracy as a ruling partnership among relative equals.¹ The ancient approach was to look for one, all-purpose epistemic virtue for the political domain. We lack a word in our vocabulary that picks out a distinctive political expertise—atechéfor modern democracy. This is no accident. The model of an agency relationship gets its purchase from its ability to divide up cognitive labor—to permit knowledge specialization by political actors. You could spend all your life informing yourself about any given subdomain of the modern bureaucratic state. To avoid this overload, democratic citizens take out periodic loans....

  13. CHAPTER 9 Democratic Complicity
    (pp. 226-251)

    We often hear blanket liabilities issued for democratic citizens. They are said to rightly have, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “owned” and “authorized” the actions of their government.¹ This view alleges a strict connection between citizens and any injustice downstream from a shared coercive structure. Responsibility for the profile of political acts and underlying ground rules, on this view, attaches to ordinary citizens. Once we find ourselves in any reasonably working democracy—its institutional details will hardly matter—blame flows vicariously. No more information is needed about my relationship with a reticulated political system. There is a grain of truth in...

    (pp. 252-277)

    The democratic polity cannot act in my name by fiat. To earn this moral power, its procedures must be structured in certain ways. I argued that the state has license to act in my name only if I bear partial responsibility for its actions. The reverse of this analysis also holds. It would be a mistake to assume that the citizen can “un-name” herself by mere declaration. Democratic life would be simple if I could assert that an elected official is notmy representative, my president, my prime minister. We are familiar with this refrain. But it is not enough...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 278-286)

    Your favorite theory of justice likely accuses your state of serious wrongdoing. When you reflect on its verdicts—that your institutions are objectionably large or small, unjustly bellicose or pacific—how do things seem, from the inside? Do you think of yourself as a “maker,” as this fictional author charges you? We began with the unexplained thought that there is something special about our reactions to our own state’s wrongs. We are perfectly capable of experiencing blame, self-reproach, and shame when injustice is done in our name. Democratic theorists and reformers alike have tended to treat this attitude as unmysterious....

  16. Notes
    (pp. 287-326)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 327-342)
  18. Index
    (pp. 343-352)