What do you think of when you hear the term ‘democracy’? One of the first things that come to mind is the United States of America. We also think about the political rights and civil liberties afforded to us by the constitutional policies that are used to govern us. These policies define us and provide a national identity by which people from other nations understand we are Americans.
What does the term, democracy, mean? Encyclopedia Britannica defines a democracy as “a rule by the people“. It goes on to mention that “if a government of or by the people is to be established, at least five fundamental questions must be confronted at the outset:
- What is the appropriate unit or association within which a democratic government should be established?,
- Given an appropriate association, who among its members should enjoy full citizenship?,
- Assuming a proper association and a proper demos (Gr. people), how are citizens to govern?,
- When citizens are divided on an issue, as they often will be, whose views should prevail, and in what circumstances?, and,
- If a majority is ordinarily to prevail, what is to constitute a proper majority?”
These five questions lead to two additional questions for consideration:
- Why should the people rule?, and
- What conditions favor the continued existence of democracy?
Customarily, the American population is educated to believe that America is a democracy. However, when presented with the above mentioned questions and our current set of national circumstances, we are forced to take a second look at whether we live in a democratic nation-state or not. To answer this, we must understand that there are two types of democracies: 1) direct democracy, and 2) representative democracy.
A direct democracy is a government system based on the “direct participation of citizens in specific democratic decision making“. A representative democracy is a government system based on the “indirect participation of citizens in broader democratic decision making“. In other words, a representative democracy allows for a representation of the whole by a few.
In addition to this, we must also define the two types of democratic systems: 1) the Parliamentary System, and 2) the Presidential System. The Parliamentary System is a system of government in which people elect representatives to a parliament to make laws. The executive functions of the government are carried out by the member of parliament who are appointed by the prime minister to the cabinet. The Presidential System is system of government in which the executive branch exists separate from a legislature.
When considering all of this, a democratic system is designed to represent the ideals of the whole and is based upon four key elements:
- a political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections,
- the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life,
- protection of the human rights of all citizens, and
- a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
However, when we observe the current political and civic climate within America, we must ask: Is America still a democracy? If not, is anyone paying any attention to the current path we are collectively traveling on?
The purpose of having a governmental system of checks and balances is to ensure that America does not descend into either authoritarian or totalitarian types of government. One individual should not be allowed to infringe upon the political rights and civil liberties of the rest of the population as a result of the masses’ disagreement with the leader’s policies. In consideration of this, if the leader’s policies are not introduced with the best interest of the collective whole in mind, the policies should not become the rule of law. If the executive powers remain unchecked by the legislative and judicial branches of government, it could potential lead to an abuse of power. In other words, the lack of checks and balances functioning properly can potentially lead to the continual abuse of power of the office, and modern history will begin to repeat itself.
Becoming complacent with some of the successes we have experienced in the recent decades can actually become our eventual downfall. If we forget the lessons learned from the earlier part of the twentieth century, we become subject to repeating them. We cannot turn a blind eye to the actions or lack of actions within our government. As a democracy, we the people have a right to voice our concerns with policies that have the propensity to violate or restrict our political rights and civil liberties. In addition, we also have the right to remove from positions of power those individuals who are engaging in the activity of restricting certain privileges for a few ‘elite’ group of persons.
All things considered, the current state of American politics cause us to question: Is America still a democracy? This is a year of mid-term elections. Every person’s vote matters. Pay close attention to the current events within our country and within the global community. We are affected by every political decision made both here and abroad. We each have a decision to make. The future direction of our country is dependent upon whether or not we will exercise our right to be represented by those who have the best interest of the collective whole in mind.
Sean Mungin, author of “The Thorn In The Flesh”