Legitimacy and Efficacy

Joshua Cohen’s emphasis on deliberative democracy stresses the philosophical notion of legitimacy, which he frames in terms of justice, social justice, and equality. What is missing is any notion of efficacy—that is, do the claimed benefits actually obtain, and if they don’t, then why do they not? This kind of efficacy analysis is not usually performed because, for the political left, legitimacy is preeminent over efficacy.

One might be tempted to conclude that efficacy doesn’t matter, which is to say that consequences don’t matter, but that’s not quite true. Consequences do matter, but they’re tailored to be delivered to carefully selected groups, while taxing the one group with resources to tax, the American and British middle classes. So there’s a natural strategy of persuasion build into deliberative democracy, which is the latest in a long line of democracy-based influenced strategies:

I will end this note with an admittedly too-long quote from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters:

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won’t. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

I heard a phrase at the end of the 20th century, “the advertising ethic,” which means, “the truth is that which sells.” Cohen’s deliberative democracy, to the extend that it is based in ethics, is rooted in the advertising ethic because its efficacy or consequences never seem to be evaluated. In the real world, legitimacy is transformed into a strategy for persuasion, a kind of “get out of argument free” card. Causal critics are employed only as a cudgel to bash one’s political opponents. True ethics is based in efficacy, consequences, and results: as Jesus said,  “A tree is known by its fruits.”


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