Universal Suffrage Not Sufficient for Well-functioning Democracy

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Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution of the United States mentions the right to vote. These texts reflect an understanding of democratic deliberation that is much broader than the idea of an individual right to vote, which typically is a right to vote for a representative. Historically, universal suffrage has not always been considered necessary for democracy. Fifth-century Athens limited voting rights to male citizens over 18 years of age. Athens regarded itself as a democracy, and most historians have regarded it as a democracy as well.

Recently a scholar has claimed that “a polity cannot be truly democratic without universal suffrage” and “no political system can claim to be democratic without universal suffrage.”^ The conditions of production for that scholarly work included positions and presentations at elite North American and European universities. Production of that work also depended on supporting labor by an army of research assistants.^ Such conditions of scholarly production are necessarily limited to only a small number of highly privileged symbolic capitalists. They are thus highly undemocratic. Meaningful, universal democratic participation requires much more than just universal voting rights. It requires universally available material and communicative resources for knowledge acquisition and knowledge sharing.

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