"I am aware that many of my contemporaries maintain that nations are never their own masters here below, and that they necessarily obey some insurmountable and unintelligent power, arising from anterior events, from their race, or from the soil and climate of their country. Such principles are false and cowardly; such principles can never produce aught but feeble men and pusillanimous nations. Providence has not created mankind entirely independent or entirely free. It is true that around every man a fatal circle is traced beyond which he cannot pass; but within the wide verge of that circle he is powerful and free; as it is with man, so with communities. The nations of our time cannot prevent the conditions of men from becoming equal, but it depends upon themselves whether the principle of equality is to lead them to servitude or freedom, to knowledge or barbarism, to prosperity or wretchedness." Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1839) [conclusion]
"The New Economy is the intersection of technology, trade, and the decentralizing power of information. It has just begun to transform our lives in ways we are just beginning to understand. Yet this much is clear -- it is putting more individual power into the hands of more individual workers and consumers than ever before in human history." Andrei Cherny, "The Fall and Rise of the Individual," in The Next Deal (2001)
Introduction: What is/was Democracy?
For more than a decade, the Internet has been discussed as a force that can and will revolutionize politics and government, with some writers claiming it makes possible/necessary a new kind of participatory democracy in the United States. In Part Three of CS009, we begin with such a claim in the form of Andrei Cherny's The Next Deal. Just as Part One forced us to think about what we regarded as essential to our humanity (or post-humanity), this set of readings asks us to consider the most important qualities of democracy, and whether the nature of democracy is being, or should be, transformed by new technologies.
Before we begin our discussions of Cherny's book, however, we might consider the following questions:
Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.
By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience. I do not deny, however, that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms that democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst.
What do you think of this analysis, and how might computer technology create a more satisfactory political situation than the one de Tocqueville found in the 1830s?
The Next Deal, Introductions and Part I
Cherny's book includes two introductions, an uncommon rhetorical technique. Which of the two did you prefer, and what (if anything) did you think the combination of the two accomplished (rhetorically)? Similarly, which of the (many) quotations used by Cherny did you find most stimulating/provocative/surprising?
Cherny published this book in 2000, when he was 24, and a good place to start our discussion might be with questions about the ways you think he does/doesn't "speak for his generation" (which is yours too, non?). For example:
The Next Deal, Part II
Cherny sets up a juxtaposition between Hamilton and one of "Jeffersonian ends by Hamiltonian means," he argues that the "Next Deal" must pursue "Hamiltonian ends by Jeffersonian means." (102) What do you make of the different values he attributes to Hamilton and Jefferson, and the degree to which these "ends" and "means" promote the most important qualities of democratic politics?
For Next Time:: Finish Andrei Cherny's The Next Deal. Remember that Wednesday is the deadline for paper draft, and the final version is due by next Monday.
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