Voting is both praised and damned in this election. Our criteria for judging elections are derived implicitly from the works of political philosophy. Philosophers have considered, approved, and condemned elections. In “The Ballot in Political Theory”, political theorists of all eras have considered the functions of elections both in the choice of leadership and the determination of governmental action. They differed, however, in their relative stress on the direct and indirect effects of the vote.
Few philosophers have seen wise public action as the direct result of the electoral process, Machiavelli was an exception, believing the electorate competent to choose able leaders. Comparing popular vote and despotic governments, Rousseau was even more optimistic and emphasized policy decisions. Under suitable conditions, he wrote “The general will is always right and tends to be public advantage.” Most theorists who emphasize direct effects of elections are hostile to the ballot. They stress the need for skilled leaders in the government and for wise policy decisions. Elections are judged on their ability to meet such goals and are found inadequate. Those who concentrate on these direct effects, therefore, become opponents of elections and fearful of their results.
As quoted in “The Ballot Theory ” by Lederman, Plato states, “Unless either philosophers become kings in their countries or those who are now called kings in their countries or those who are now called kings are rulers come to be sufficiently inspired a genuine desire for wisdom; unless, that is to say, political power and philosophy meet together, while the many natures who now for their several ways in the one or other distraction forcibly debarred from doing so, there can be no rest from trouble, my dear Glaucon, for states, nor yet, as I believe, for all mankind.” Plato, among other political theorist criticized ballot due to the lack of political knowledge of the general public. He firmly believed in “philosopher kings” who tested into positions of leadership due to their wisdom and ability to form political knowledge. The criticism against the ballot is founded on an elitist premise. Plato believes that there are certain discoverable abilities are needed to participate in the government, that only a severely limited number of persons have these skills, and that all others should be excluded from politics.
As the presidential election comes to a close, it can be interpreted various ways. With no political background, President-elect Donald Trump has won the presidency with, as some may argue, a racist ill-informed platform. This essentially proves the dangers of a democracy that Plato had warned. His elitist theory of philosopher kings would essentially weed out those who are ill prepared and lack in political capabilities such as President-elect Donald Trump. The “Political Ballot Theory” sheds light in flaws in our electoral system through the eyes of these political theorists.
Reina Cassandra Rosales is a fourth year political science major at Cal Poly Pomona. She enjoys finding new places to hike, volunteering at her church, and spending time with family. She plans on pursuing a law degree following graduation.