Lecture: Democracy and Majority Rule, part II

Ian Shapiro - Yale

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Lecture Description

Majority rule and democratic competition serve as the focus of this second lecture on the democratic tradition. What is it about majority rule that confers legitimacy on collective decisions? Is there any validity to a utilitarian justification, that catering to the wishes of the majority maximizes the happiness of the greatest number? Does majority rule reflect what Rousseau called the general will? What is the general will? Does Arrow's paradox indicate that the results of voting are arbitrary? Is majority rule just an exercise in realpolitik? Professor Shapiro makes the point that crosscutting cleavages discussed in an earlier lecture are the key to unlocking majority rule and limiting the possibility of domination. Although one may be in the majority today, the possibility of being in the minority tomorrow prevents tyranny. Several models of democracy are discussed: the public choice model of Buchanan and Tullock, Rae and Barry's critique of this model, Schumpeter's marketplace model, the Hotelling-Downs median voter theorem, and Huntington's two turnover test.

Course Description

This course explores main answers to the question "when do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.

from course: The Moral Foundations of Politics


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