Does it really matter if a voter decides to vote-or, as a
significant number of Americans do each election, not vote? Ron
Hirschbein explores this issue and shows why enfranchisement cannot
be understood unless it is placed in context and history. Clearly,
the meaning of a vote depends upon the situation: a vote cast among
the 400 of Athens or in the College of Cardinals has one
significance; this is considerably different from pulling a lever
every four years in a mass society of spectacles and commodities.
Hirschbein also examines how voting was transformed from an
expression of the political will of the Athenian polity into a
sacred natural right-only to be turned to a ritual of mass
First, Hirschbein looks at the right to vote as the centerpiece
of American civic religion. He contrasts civic myths about
enfranchisement with anthropological realities. Specifically he
argues that, given the intractable mathematics of mass society, the
chances that a single vote will determine the outcome of an
election approach the infinitesimal. However, he suggests that
voting plays a neglected ritual function by constructing,
legitimizing, and celebrating political reality for players and
spectators alike. Hirschbein then explicates the origins and
evanescent meanings of enfranchisement by examining the theory and
practice of voting among the citizenry of ancient Athens, medieval
ecclesiastical bureaucrats, Enlightenment natural law thinkers, and
the founders of the Virtuous Republic. He concludes with
speculation about possible futures. A controversial and important
analysis, this will be of interest to the general public as well as
scholars, researchers, and policy makers involved with election
issues and theories of democracy.
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