The readings we were given to prepare for this week’s workshop sessions may very well make the entire cost (I’m thinking of the quite-affordable program fee mainly here, but you could include the investment of time and opportunity costs therein) of this experience worthwhile.
Put simply, they serve to confirm the elitism I detected in my previous readings of much of 20th-century political theory — especially in Arendt and among the members of the neoliberal thought collective (Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan, et al.)1. It’s the same elitism I detected among members of The Market Urbanism Report and #atxurbanists Facebook groups, which is especially disappointing in ostensibly “liberal” members of the latter. (Of course, this requires us to accurately define “liberal,” which we might find ourselves no longer using in positive references if we do so, though the opposite is still no better.) Essentially, it’s the claim that “Yeah, I believe in democracy, but really important matters should be left to the experts.”
This is best illustrated by the example of mass transit in Austin. In 2000, a reasonable light-rail plan was barely defeated at the polls. Since then, a half-assed rail system has been approved and built out. In discussions for future build-outs, you’ll often hear self-professed liberals claiming the decisions on public transportation should be made by urban planners and other experts rather than facing a vote. They justify this anti-democratic stance — just like the neoliberal architects and liberal democratic theorists like Arendt — on everyone but them being morons. Because the majority (or even just a sliver more of the electorate than the “losing” side) disagreed with them at that moment in time when the vote was taken, they decree most people should no longer be allowed to actually decide the course a government body takes in pursuing particular ends. Rather than actually take part in the political process (which they try to divorce from every other aspect of life to the point that it has no real bearing beyond trading “opinions”) to achieve their ends (which, in the case of the neoliberals, they know would be rejected by the basic common-sense of most people), they focus on changing the rules of the game.
It is the rules of the game that the neoliberals (and their German counterparts the ordoliberals) care about. Constitutionalism is at base a method for prescribing the acceptable and proscribing the unacceptable political practices and delineating who exactly gets to practice politics.
In a chapter from a forthcoming book, Larry Busk notes that those on the left often assume no right-wing members in their perfect democracies-to-be. I’ve never had that problem. Living in Texas, I’ve always assumed an active rightwing component to politics. Thus my need to find a common ground for all beings (note that I use “beings” rather than “human” here as even some of the leftist theorists we’re reading in the workshop still view the world through an anthropocentric lens that may not be the most up-to-date and just) without reliance on some transcendental universal that ultimately falls back on false and arguable metaphysical beliefs. That’s why I, so far, like vulnerability as that commonality that speaks to the need for collective responsibility and attention.
Questions about why certain thought forms emerge or reemerge when they do, or what historical determinants generate certain political horizons, or underline, sanction, and mediate them, are central to [my] approach . . .