It's the eve of an important election and you have it in your power to put a voting drug in the national water supply to induce most people to vote the way you think is right. Don't worry about how you could possibly have such a power; this is science fiction, not the real world. However, do you now avail yourself of this power? As I'm not after trying to decode your moral character, let's just say the following: that if you have a genuine commitment to democracy, if you are a true democrat, then you won't exercise your power by using the voting drug. You would prefer the outcome of the election to reflect the democratic will rather than bring about the victory of your candidate, or party, or side, through such trickery, through, in effect, the imposition of your own will. This is at least in run-of-the-mill cases. There could be circumstances in which the democratic will imperils values that are so fundamental - for example, if the party you oppose is threatening genocide and looks like winning - that use of your drug might be justified. But let us leave such cases aside here for the more normal range of political differences. For these, true democrats will want their side to prevail through persuasive argument in the public arena, through putting forward political reasons; they won't want to impose their own will by trickery and what is, at bottom, a kind of force (the force of the drug).
But how about something lying between imposing one's will by use of a drug and straightforward persuasive reasoning? How about trying to win through forms of manipulation? Instead of offering reasons, or as well as doing so, your side in the election tries to gain votes by more underhanded means: smearing opponents, using rebarbative images to set up negative associations in the minds of voters, appealing to other purely emotive associations of one kind and another to put the electorate off voting for the other side. Are these practices the practices of true democrats?
Real democracies in the real world, then, are not the home of pure intentions.
My voting-drug example and the questions and observations I have attached to it derive from a piece at the New York Times by Michael P. Lynch. It is a defence of the value of reasoning and is directed at the views of Jonathan Haidt. It has an indirect bearing on recent posts of mine on comparative learning and the benefits of free debate.