published on September 22, 2015
The Emotional Justification of Democracy
Most political philosophers see rationally recognized human rights as justifying universal suffrage. But sentimentalism can develop its own justification for democracy. It is uncaring for rulers to deny people the vote out of a desire to retain power and privilege; and when rulers in Asia argue that Asian societies don’t need democracy because of the “natural deference” of Asian people, their argument is no more persuasive than patriarchal arguments for the natural deference of women. But a positive argument for democracy emerges from Abraham Maslow’s idea that all humans have a deep desire for the esteem of others. Denying people the right to vote expresses a low opinion of them, and this goes deeply against our desire for esteem. Even though democratic societies may lose out on various economic opportunities because of the electorate’s unwillingness to make certain sacrifices, they provide a form of esteem that is for emotional reasons much more important to us humans.