Author Topic: Who Governs? Robert Dahl  (Read 59 times)

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Offline cybercoma

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Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« on: May 04, 2018, 08:49:52 am »
I'm reading an interesting book by Robert A. Dahl called Who Governs?. It's a classic in political theory literature. He analyzes the politics of New Haven, Connecticut in the 1950s. However, the book and his analysis are more broadly relevant to political power and influence.

Wile there are many theories about political power that look at power as a product of voters, interest groups, or parties, few at the time gave much credit to leaders themselves. He, however, points to a theory from Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gassett in his 1930 book The Revolt of the Masses. Dahl explains:

"Essentially, this theory (which has many variants) argues that under certain conditions of development (chiefly industrialization and urbanization) older, stratified, class-based social structures are weakened or destroyed; and in their place arises a mass of individuals with no secure place in the social system, rootless, aimless, lacking strong social ties, ready and indeed eager to attach themselves to any political entrepreneur who will cater to their tastes and desires. Led by unscrupulous and exploitative leaders, these rootless masses have the capacity to destroy whatever stands in their way without the ability to replace it with a stable alternative. Consequently the greater their influence on politics, the more helpless they become; the more they destroy, the more they depend upon strong leaders to create some kind of social, economic, and political organization to replace the old. If we ask, 'Who governs?' the answer is not the mass nor its leaders but both together; the leaders cater to mass tastes and in return use the strength provided by the loyalty and obedience of the masses to weaken and perhaps even annihilate all opposition to their rule."

This seems relevant today, nearly 90 years after it was written by Gassett and almost 60 years after Dahl described it.

Oh, and they're referring to Nazis btw.

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Offline kimmy

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2018, 09:08:01 am »
Quote
industrialization and urbanization

People are more isolated from each other living in big cities than small towns.  They're more isolated from each other living in big apartment blocks than they are in detached houses in the suburbs.   Even though we have more people living closer together, we have less community.  I've lived 30 feet away from a family of 3 for five years, and I've probably only spoken to them a handful of times. I don't even know their names.

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Offline cybercoma

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2018, 09:18:18 am »
People are more isolated from each other living in big cities than small towns.  They're more isolated from each other living in big apartment blocks than they are in detached houses in the suburbs.   Even though we have more people living closer together, we have less community.  I've lived 30 feet away from a family of 3 for five years, and I've probably only spoken to them a handful of times. I don't even know their names.

 -k
Even then, I think rural spaces are still isolated from larger society. That's one of the biggest criticisms rural Republicans have in the United States and it's also one of the biggest criticisms in Canada. "The West Wants In" was the rallying cry, remember? I agree with you though that it's paradoxical to think that people living shoulder-to-shoulder are so isolated from each other. However, I think a large driver of that is the internet. It has broken the spatial and temporal bounds of society. With no spatio-temporal relation anymore, there is no place. We're more connected by being disconnected from the here and now.
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Offline wilber

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #3 on: May 04, 2018, 02:02:55 pm »
Technology has made it less necessary to deal with each other on a personal level. Phone calls and voicemails are hit and miss but people always seem to answer a text.
"Never trust a man without a single redeeming vice" WSC

Offline cybercoma

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #4 on: May 04, 2018, 03:18:57 pm »
Texts and online communication are as impersonal as communication between people can get.

Offline MH

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2018, 06:23:43 am »
Texts and online communication are as impersonal as communication between people can get.

How so ?

Anonymous pamphlets were common in the colonial American era.  There was however a 'public' and people tended to know who published them.

But 'impersonal' is only one aspect of communication.  Television is intensely personal and radio more so.  But they are also visual/oral/tactile and do not allow for response.  Radio is credited with making the mass audience believe they had a personal relationship with the leader.  Hence you got 4-terms FDR and Hitler also.

Text communication is more visual, and permanent.   And the web is decentralized.  From what I am seeing, we will start to see a big swing left in our politics quite soon, but also a measure of new Victorianism which will be a hybrid synthesized from today's customs.

......

But as McLuhan taught us, we won't know the results of new technologies until years after.
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Offline cybercoma

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2018, 09:05:18 am »
Thatís fine but itís all very much beside the point of being connected to society.

Offline MH

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Re: Who Governs? Robert Dahl
« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2018, 09:08:42 am »
Thatís fine but itís all very much beside the point of being connected to society.

Sorry, there was a little 2-post drift on the topic and since I am interested in media I responded.

But - yes - it's about forming a 'public' through media.  'Society' isn't a term that I use to describe people and their sphere of discussion and communication.  I use 'masses' and 'publics'.