Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Too much division of labor causes a dearth of democracy?

John Dunn in his book Democracy. A History quotes the French revolutionary theorist, the Abbe Sieyes,

The more a society advances in the arts of trade and production, the moore we see the work connected to public functions should, like private employments, be carried out less expensively and more effectively by men who make it their exclusive occupation.


For one thing, the quote illustrates that Marx was not the first theorist of capitalism to influence and inspire revolutionary thought. Dunn points out that Sieyes' determination that public offices should be held by career public officials in an advanced society comes directly from Adam Smith and his theories of the division of labor.

And today, public functions are often carried out by men and women who exclusively occupy them. Our vision of modern democracy is deeply intertwined with this vision of divided labor throughout society. This vision contrasts sharply with democracy's first fans. In ancient Athens, each citizen (of course, those citizens were only upper class wealthy males) had a responsibility to participate in public life. Today many people shy away from participating in public roles that reach outside of their job description.

What does it mean for a state with democratic aspirations to nurture a culture which tells people to butt out of public affairs unless they are professionals? Do we have a duty to play a role in governing our community?

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