28 August 2016

What Do Conservatives Fear Most?

There has been a reemergence of a deeply rooted conservative fear—something close to an ideology—that giving full voting rights to the masses will dangerously destabilize society and usher in rad­ical change.

By Zachary Roth

The following is an excerpt from the new book The Great Suppression by Zachary Roth (Crown Publishers, 2016):

Conservatives just don’t think about voting the way most other Americans do. Liberals, even at the Founding, have seen voting straight­forwardly as a right and as our foremost guarantee of equality. Central to this idea is the need to represent everyone’s interests. Most people don’t really believe that elections have a right an­swer. Instead, we think different candidates will benefit differ­ent groups of voters, and that most people can figure out which candidate is on their side: parents of young children might sup­port a candidate who promises to invest in education, seniors might prefer the one who promises to protect Social Security, and so on. More people participating means more interests are represented, which leads to a more legitimate result and a stron­ger democracy.

But as the election law scholar Rick Hasen has written, many conservatives have never really bought into that way of think­ing. To them, voting is much more instrumental, with the goal of making a sensible collective choice that will produce effec­tive government and promote the common good. That’s how the eighteenth-century New Englanders who gathered on vil­lage greens to vote in public conceived of what they were doing. And that means an informed, independent electorate is crucial. After all, how else can voters be expected to choose wisely? It’s not hard to see how, under this logic, reducing the number of uninformed voters—or less motivated voters, or voters with less of a long-term stake in their community—isn’t antidemocratic, it’s civic-minded.

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