In Defense of Elections


Elections have hardly had a good name in history.

In his letter to Cicero, in BC 64, Quintus offered his brother a list of suggestions to win the race for consul in Rome. Quintus had no doubt of Cicero’s attributes and abilities but he felt his brother should also know the details of how he ought to run an electoral campaign. “Favours, hope and personal attachment” were highlighted as the “three things that guarantee votes in an election”. It was important, as starting point, to cultivate “certain key men” who held the keys to power. A different notion of friendship applied at electoral times, an expansive one which included “people no decent person would talk to”. Nothing was gratuitous. Of course, a candidate could only get support if the people believed they had “something to gain”. Feeding their hope then proved crucial: “promise everything to everyone” was the motto of the “master of campaigning”. A basic piece of advice was the “need to learn the art of flattery – a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.” “For a candidate,” Quintus warned Cicero, “must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech if necessary”.

Manipulation, “deceit, betrayals”.

That Quintus’s Commentariolum Petitionis has recently been translated as How to Win an Election is perhaps indicative of a renewed dominant trend against the value of elections, often confined to the “down-and-dirty business… of campaigning”. There have certainly been moments when elections were identified with “democracy.” “I was looking the other day… into Noah Webster’s Dictionary for the meaning of democracy,” Norton Townshend observed at the Ohio Constitutional Convention in 1850, “and I found as I expected that he defines a democrat to be ‘one who favors universal suffrage’.” However, these have been brief, exceptional moments. A Spanish political dictionary in 1855 defined elections as a “prologue of a comedy,” or as a “battlefield where victory is produced not by the number of soldiers but by the strategy of the generals.”

In Defense of Elections

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Numero 19 ELECTIONS luglio, 2017 - Autore:  Condividi


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