Memories of Futures Past
Kevin D. Williamson writes: Alex Seitz-Wald, the poor man’s Hendrik Hertzberg, has in the latest issue of National Journal heaved a Ciceronic sigh and declared that the Constitution “isn’t going to make it,” that it should be replaced by the wise men of our generation, who have “learned what works and what doesn’t.” This sort of essay is practically a genre unto itself. The print version of Mr. Seitz-Wald’s article is headlined “Get Me Rewrite,” as were the Boston Globe’s 2006 essay on the same subject, Lewis Lapham’s 1996 version in the New York Times Book Review, a 1999 San Francisco Chronicle version of the same piece, and a half-dozen other offerings, the main variation being the occasional presence of an exclamation point, as favored by the excitable Mr. Lapham.
Mr. Seitz-Wald’s is not the most intelligent of the selections, but it satisfactorily adheres to the conventions of the genre, which are: (1) the question-begging assertion that our federal government “isn’t working” because it stubbornly refuses to do such things as Mr. Seitz-Wald wishes it to do; (2) the conceit that we have at long last reached the stage in our social evolution at which we can best the work of the founding generation; (3) populist techno-fetishism, which since the first days of radio has been promising to unleash the forces of democracy against the arrayed lines of big business, malefactors of great wealth, vested interests, and the rest of that bunch.
This is mainly a progressive interest, though not exclusively so. Conservatives such as Mark Levin also are interested in making sweeping changes to our constitutional order, though Mr. Levin would work within that order, specifically through the amendment process, to achieve his version of a more perfect union. Mr. Seitz-Wald, on the other hand, writes admiringly of Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth and its fictitious political system, which “asks the public to choose leaders from a preselected pool of candidates who have been algorithmically chosen for leadership potential.” One suspects that the main attraction of that idea is the opportunity to write the word “algorithmically,” and Mr. Seitz-Wald all but squeals with delight as he considers the new possibilities offered by technological development: “These tools are still in their infancy, but scaled up they could change what democracy looks like in ways we’re only just beginning to imagine. At the extreme, we could theoretically have smartphone-enabled direct democracy, where the public could vote directly on legislation and where Congress would almost be irrelevant. At the same time, Lorelei Kelly of the New America Foundation and the Smart Congress project warns against ‘mob sourcing.’ One glance at what’s trending on the White House’s ‘We the People’ petition platform — e.g., ‘Investigate Jimmy Kimmel Kid’s Table Government Shutdown Show on ABC Network’ — confirms this. Instead, she says, we need something more like Rotten Tomatoes democracy. Unlike typical crowd sourcing, the movie-reviewing site privileges expertise and aggregates reviews for smarter results.” Note the loving use of California business-speak — “scaled up” for “improved,” etc. — and the general undertone of Silicon Valley envy. Read the rest of this entry »