Schumpeter’s Classical Doctrine of Democracy
Schumpeter’s Classical Doctrine of Democracy
Schumpeter’s assertion on the brevity of the term “will of the people” offers room for interrogation into the meaning of democracy. He argues that proclaiming public will as an absolute reflection of the common good is a protracted agenda of the bourgeoisie advanced by the utilitarianists to preserve the interests of the bourgeoisie to the exclusion of people. This paper summarily analyses Schumpeter’s averments on public will and common good alongside the exercise of that will through voting. It then critiques the submission that public will is as distorted as a consumer’s desire for a manufacturer’s while advancing the essence of voting as the only possible means of achieving the true will of the people. This paper concludes by demonstrating that whereas Schumpeter recognizes the limitations of the so-called “will of the people,” his entire venture of finding true public will is an exercise in futility.
The common good as the will of the people
The entire thesis is premised on the theory that collecting individual will from the members of the society on even the simplest of issues would yield an extremely diverse and indifferent result that it would be impossible to generate a homogenous ‘good’ based on the grassroots view of the community (Schumpeter). As such, he asserts that owing to the foundation of the concept of the common good in the eighteenth century, deriving the public will is a mere con perpetrated by the utilitarianists as a means of keeping members of the lower cadre of the society in check and subservient to the bourgeoise class which is either scared of change or wishes to enjoy their exploits to the exclusion of others (Schumpeter, 251).
Indeed, the very foundation of American parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, is not to represent the interests of the society as politicians tend to represent (Bawn, Cohen and Karol). It is clear from the many times that new governments have come to power that political parties are a clique of interest groups and lobbyists who use the parties to advance their selfish agenda by deceiving the electorate to deliver on issues they do exactly the opposite once in power. Obama’s administration did little for the black community. Trump’s Reaganomics policies enriched the rich while increasing the gap between the rich and the poor and so forth.
From the foregoing construct, Schumpeter (252) suggests that it becomes essential to totally reject the theory of democracy as currently constituted and develop a more inclusive society based on a theory that is truly reflective of people’s will regardless of form. Indeed, it suffices that Schumpeter’s assertions are evident in modern political systems overshadowed by populist leaders. The emerging non-conformist crop of populist leaders suggests that States run by politicians have failed to address the needs of the people, yet the alternative they offer is a delegation of people’s direct authority to themselves as custodians of people’s desires (Caramani, 57). This does not offer the solution needed to achieve the will of the people as it falls within the scope of the factors mediating the inability to derive the universal will of the people. As alleged, people’s pure will is hampered by propaganda and political groups that spread information on issues based on the politician’s personal opinion rather than collation from the individual members of the society.
The difficulty of attaining pure common good from the society is evident in the classic example of Dan Glickman’s defeat in Kansas’ fourth district by a low-level Republican, Todd Tiahrt. Whereas Dan Glickman’s track-record demonstrates that he represented the best economic interests of Wichita’s residents, Tiahrt’s agenda of anti-abortion somehow led to Glickman’s defeat. This demonstrates that the society may have different issues, and even if they agree on all of them, democratically elected governments may suffer ridicule as their priorities do not reflect all of the society’s priorities.
Voting and volitions
Further substantial submission is that whereas external influences may hinder the realization of a true will of the people, individual volition is its primary factor (Schumpeter, 258). This (Schumpeter, 62) manifests through subconscious assessment of critical issues affecting one’s life. Indeed, he observes that most people focus on their personal interests and successes while underestimating the nature of politics in shaping their very future that they work tirelessly on, which means they give less attention to collective problems that require political solutions (Schumpeter, 262). Therefore, he posits, most individuals, even on simple democratic issues such as voting, end up making known their decisions under the heavy influence of political propaganda similar to the manufacturer’s shaping of a consumer’s mentality on the product (Schumpeter, 258).
The alternative theory of democracy
Therefore he suggests an alternative theory of democracy, one where the people’s vote in an election is not a rendering of the will of the people but an exclusive selection of representatives to form a government and decide the contents of the common good (Schumpeter, 269). Schumpeter attempts to leave little room for criticism as he responds to a self-determined question of assuring that those elected do not personalize power, thus birthing authoritarians and despots by suggesting that attempting to address this concern would be to return to the utilitarian perception of an ideal and unrealistic society (Schumpeter, 272). His theory essentially reflects the Bush Jr campaigns in the Republican primaries, which was essentially not popularly driven but involved brokerage amongst politicians and alignment of powerful and popular individuals around Bush’s candidacy (Cohen, Karol and Noel). This is the basis of the criticisms of Schumpeter’s theory.
However, Kahan’s research pre-empts Schumpeter’s theory to offer a proper representation of society’s priorities (Klein). Kahan’s research finds that politicians are unlikely to move away from their ideologies despite having enough accurate information on society’s real issues (Klein). Therefore, even if politicians were to be left to decide on the common good, their fear of losing positions of power through popular vote would mean that they disapprove of any finding on society’s real problems. It also means that the people are also not necessarily influenced by propaganda and misinformation but because they refuse to accept any alternative ideology that threatens their political beliefs.
The James Gee recording demonstrates that leaving politicians to decide the common good for the people is problematic since the campaigns themselves are elitist. Politicians may not have the will, energy, or the resonate agenda, but those around them manipulate their popularity and resort to elitist mechanisms of power bargaining with interest groups to win the elective seats. Schumpeter’s theory does not dispel the problem of elites infiltrating the electoral system. The Grisby interview, for instance, reveals that interest groups support candidates with finances that even if they are assured of a win because of the popular support of the agenda, politicians will still do the interest groups bidding because of the campaign money and therefore the interests of the people take a backbench even in the alternative theory of democracy.
In conclusion, Schumpeter takes issue with the current model of direct democracy as one that gives those in power leverage to misuse the common good to enrich themselves while failing to achieve the good for all. Yet his opinion of the common good is flawed as it fails to comprehend the visionary ambition of the people to build a better than just society. Schumpeter blames the electorate for being shallow-minded while interrogating political issues by failing to impact the real issues affecting them. His alternative democracy is, ironically, an advancement of the bourgeoisie interests as it seeks to remove the direct power of the people on policy issues and confers on the elite politicians all power to choose and create the common good for the people. Thus, it suffices to say that his theory is untenable and incomplete and inconsistent anti-thesis with his preceding thesis.
Bawn, Kathleen, et al. “A Theory of Political Parties: Groups, Policy Demands, and Nominations in American Politics.” Perspectives on Politics (2012).
Caramani, Daniele. “Will vs. Reason: The Populist and Technocratic Forms of Political Representation and Their Critique to Party Government.” American Political Science Review 111.1 (2017): 54-67.
Cohen, Marty, et al. The Party decides: presidential nominations before and after reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press Books, 2008.
Klein, Ezra. How politics makes us stupid. 6 April 2014. 25 March 2021.
Schumpeter, Joseph. “The Classical Doctrine of Democracy.” Schumpeter, Joseph. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. USA: Routledge, 1942. 250-283.