Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gauchet on "Crisis of Mediation"

Marcel Gauchet looks at the crisis of the media as a symptom of a more general "crisis of mediation." In an interesting remark, he notes that the flourishing of numerous associations dedicated to defending particular interests, often seen as an antidote to the decline of more general representative groups such as parties and unions, is in fact a symptom of that decline, since one function of general representation is to thrash out a hierarchy among competing interests. It is the difficulty of establishing priorities that is at the heart of the problem.

Gauchet, it seems to me, has articulated a real problem with Tocqueville's much-discussed admiration of "association" as a palliative to some of the inherent flaws of democratic society. Tocqueville believed that associative skills were learned and that a society that had many associations could foster the sorts of traits (readiness to compromise, reciprocity, long-term thinking) that successful democracy required. But perhaps there can be too much of a good thing: a penchant for association encourages the "exit" option over "voice" and "loyalty," to borrow Albert Hirschman's terms and thus corrodes the very traits it is supposed to foster. This is a problem that Tocqueville failed to foresee.

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