Friday, December 9, 2022

Review of "A Preface to Democratic Theory," by Robert A. Dahl

 Review of

A Preface to Democratic Theory, by Robert A. Dahl

Five out of five stars

Predicate calculus applied to voting

 This is one of the most unusual political science books I have ever read, for there is an occasional reference to mathematical formulas to express how votes are created and applied. Line graphs are also used to express percentages of eligible voters differentiated based on the strength of their preferences.

 For example, on page 39 there is the formula:

NP(x,y) > NP(y,x) ↔ x Pg y.

It is explained in the text. NP(x,y) means “the number of citizens that prefer x to y,” and x Pg y means “x is then chosen as government policy to y.” It is a mathematical way of saying that if the number of people that vote for option x over y is greater than the number that vote for option y over x, then the government accepts option x as policy.

 The author refers to the ideas of James Madison in describing the various ways that factions, both in the majority and in the minority can somehow seize power in a government. There is analysis of how more than one minority faction can align themselves into the equivalent of a majority in order to take and share power. Making it a very detailed analysis of just what democracy is.

 The three branches of the federal government are also described and compared. Of particular interest are the cases mentioned where the United States Supreme Court declared popular laws passed by the Congress unconstitutional more than once. These rulings were eventually overturned by a later court, albeit decades later. These sections of the book seem particularly relevant in the years of the Roberts’ court.

 A scientific examination of what democracy is and how it is implemented in the United States, one can see how the contents of this book can be applied to the presidential elections of 2000 and 2016, where the winner lost the popular vote by millions. The victory was in the Electoral College and not the sum of what was in the ballot boxes.

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