Re: What is democracy?
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He has taught at Yale since 1982. Carter is known for his legal and social policy writings, which include Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, The Culture of Disbelief, and God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics. He has also written novels, including New England White and The Emperor of Ocean Park. Carter's areas of expertise include constitutional law, contracts, intellectual property law, secrets and lying, and law and religion. He clerked for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III of the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals for and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was educated at Stanford University and Yale, where he earned his law degree.
Question: What is democracy?
Stephen Carter: Democracy can mean a lot of different things; but at minimum to be a democracy, we have to have a system that involves ultimately the judgment of the people; and to make that judgment worthwhile, it has to be a judgment where people actually consult with one another. I think to have a democracy . . . To call something a democracy where people don’t have a respect across their differences for the co-equal people on the other side of issues, I don’t think that’s democracy, whatever else it may be. And I think that whatever form your voting is – whether you have direct representation; whether you have indirect representation; whether you have proportional representation; whether you elect by districts; whether you elect by “winner take all”; whatever it may be, whatever your voting system is, democracy is mainly what proceeds the voting. Democracy is the liberation among citizens. And it involves citizens’ beliefs that what we have to think matters, and should matter to each other; and our ability and our comfort level with sitting, and talking, and also listening, trying to persuade others, but first allowing them to try to persuade us and really allowing the opportunity to really listen to what they have to say instead of dismissing it out of hand. That, to me, is democracy. It’s difficult. It’s rough and tumble. It doesn’t always get quick and efficient answers; but it is the only thing I think we can really do in which people actually participate in governing themselves.
Recorded on: 7/25/07
Democracy precedes voting, Carter says.