Limits Continued

Limits: Some Concluding Remarks

Eric says that he doesn't like the talk of limiting the franchise; he's not the first to say so.

We started with a similar exploratory thought experiment, in Plato: and it was far more tyrannical than anything as mild as 'perhaps the franchise should be earned in some fashion.' The dialogues are still very useful even though no one would ever want to live in such a republic. The good of them is in getting you to teach yourself how to think about the questions of politics. We certainly want a state that is well managed, which executes its functions wisely, and which is able to defend itself (because living in wars, losing wars, or being subject to anarchy is miserable). We certainly don't want a state that goes so far as Plato's in controlling our lives. The one we have now seems to be both overly coercive (as Eric notes) and destabilizing due to ruinous spending programs and internal factional friction.

Now, if the effect of limiting the franchise were to increase government power and decrease citizen ability to restrain the government, then it would be a bad idea. I agree with that prospect, and if I were certain that would be the effect, I'd agree with Eric's remarks entirely.

The counterargument: It's possible that by concentrating the power of the vote among those who have an interest in maintaining the small-r republican character of the nation, you could increase rather than decrease the effect of the vote in restraining government coercion. Hamilton was interested in limits in principle because he thought that was the best way to preserve the newly free character of the nation. His idea was that the government would otherwise naturally fall into the hands of the rich and powerful, who could sway the poor. In this, he was drawing on lessons from England, and fairly old traditions.

Now, that said, this exploration -- as interesting and profitable as it's been to look back at the source of the franchise, to note that the arguments for expanding it were based on virtue, and otherwise to examine how we got to where we are -- hasn't really brought forth useful results. Elise said that her chief objection was that she couldn't think of a way to limit the franchise that would ensure that all and only the right people got to vote. So far, I haven't been able to think of one either.

All I came up with as good examples of qualities that would demonstrate virtue were honorable military service, and faithful parenthood. That's inadequate: I can think of lots of people I know who don't fall in either category, but who are certainly not folks who should be disqualified from voting. And I can't think of any quality or union of qualities that would be a good proxy for virtue: neither education, nor income level (Hamilton notwithstanding, I don't think either wealth or payment of taxes is a good model), nor much of anything else that comes to mind is really useful in this regard.

I doubt that limiting the franchise is the answer. The lesson of the Norman expansion of the franchise is that it's worked better than the systems that did not expand it. I don't think there are good moral reasons to believe that the franchise should be universal and unearned, but I also can't think of a good model for earning it that allows all and only (or mostly) the right people to have access.

Finally, it really does have to be virtue that we have a good way of measuring, and not what Elise calls pragmatics. This is because, as we've discussed, conservatives and liberals seem to have different blind spots in things like threat perception. We need both sets of insights; a state that was ruled by either set alone would be missing a crucial part of the picture. It's important to remember that we need each other, so that someone can see the things I can't see, or that you can't see.

Unless there are solid suggestions that seem to answer that question, I propose to conclude the examination.

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