Proximity and Politics by Dr. Daniela Cammack (UC Berkeley)
What difference does regular proximity to unknown others make to democratic politics? Many people dislike—even fear—crowds, but gathering together physically may help to foster solidarity in a way significant for democracy. Drawing on a variety of ancient Greek sources, I suggest that being with many unknown others when deciding on collective actions helps us to act together successfully, both because it tells us something about the feasibility of rival plans, thus allowing us to commit to one unanimously, and because visibly committing to and pursuing collective actions in the face of public disagreement makes us more tolerant of our differences from one another. Those effects are particularly supported by public mass majoritarianism and help to explain why that procedure has historically seemed attractive to participants, including most significantly outvoted minorities. Two conditions are important. Open mass meetings must be routine and empowered, as they were in ancient Greece and Rome, rather than ad hoc and purely remonstrative or laudatory, as they typically are in modern democracies. And assemblies must retain the power to convene themselves, as in ancient Greek democracies, rather than hand over convening power to elected officials, as in the Roman Republic. Absent those conditions, proximity becomes hitched to populism in a way that remains debilitating today.
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