Busyness and citizenship

Abstract

How does the experience of busyness impact democratic political life? My hunch is that those reading this essay might very well offer the following answer: busyness means that we relegate political activities to the bottom of a long and sometimes tedious laundry list of “things to get done.” In fact, many of us no longer even bother to include the basic activities of citizenship –getting informed about the issues, deliberating with our peers about matters of common concern, attending a political meeting, or even voting —on the list in the first place. Like this author, many of you probably feel somewhat guilty about this as well, and thus try to compensate in some way or another… At worst, busyness generates political disinterest and apathy: many of our fellow citizens openly describe the most fundamental form of democratic participation, the vote, as “a waste of time.” At best, it seems to privilege an acceleration of political activity: we seek speedy and rapidly consummated types of involvement that do not unduly add to the enormous time pressures we already feel. Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether even such high-speed forms of citizen involvement are normatively satisfactory. Can liberal democracy flourish when a growing number of us avoid the responsibilities of citizenship altogether, while even those of us who try to remain politically involved insist that they be dealt with quickly and painlessly? In this essay, I hope at the very least to deepen our understanding of this quagmire. If I am not mistaken, it provides a useful starting point for examining one of the core challenges of contemporary political life: how can we make sure that busyness and citizenship coexist in a potentially fruitful, though by no means necessarily harmonious, relationship?

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