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The Pragmatic Electorate


  • Wilson, Francis G.


Political science has dealt too long, on the one hand, with the ideal, and, on the other hand, with the abnormal and perverted features of political society, rather than with the normal and the eventual. Our theory of ideal democracy is perhaps more suited to the Greek and Roman city-state, with participation as the test of the good citizen. Representation has been heralded as the device which makes the ancient ideal possible on a large scale. But in practice it has been found that the enormous expansion of the public, i.e., the body of persons who have the right of participation, has made the problem far more complex than was at first thought possible. Greek ideals of education and coercion of the citizen body toward general improvement have been carried out with greater success, and our statute books reflect a Hobbesian attitude toward human nature which is true only in part. The political philosophy of democracy must be built on the facts of political life.Shall we break with the Greek and Roman ideal of the participation of the citizen group in the affairs of the state? It is true that the present attitude is a revised form of the democratic ideal of antiquity, but with a different interpretation of the meaning of citizenship. All democratic governments must finally rest on some theory of the suffrage; any study of the fact of non-voting must be based on a theory of the suffrage likewise. With the expansion of the theory of citizenship to include all subjects, a corresponding theory of limited participation was developed—no doubt a product of the Middle Ages. The totality of citizens was distrusted, and some test of participation had to be devised. Such was the origin of religious tests for political participation; such was the origin of the distinction between the right to vote and the fact of citizenship.

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  • Wilson, Francis G., 1930. "The Pragmatic Electorate," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 24(1), pages 16-37, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:24:y:1930:i:01:p:16-37_11

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    Cited by:

    1. Alejandro Corvalan, 2011. "Institutional Design aganist Electoral Participation: the case of Chile," Working Papers 32, Facultad de Economía y Empresa, Universidad Diego Portales.

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