April 15, 2009

What is Democracy Anyway?

We talk about democracy in blithe terms and I think we often fail to understand what democracy really is. It's easy to say that democracy is the right to vote but this misses the essence of democracy. Merriam-Webster's defines democracy as a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

Direct exercise of power is the oldest form of democratic principle. The ancient Greek city-state of Athens was governed under this manner in which all eligible men would gather and vote with the majority holding the day. There were no elected officials, just majority rule. Now you have to remember that who was eligible to vote was extremely limited and the common man had pretty much no say at all in how laws were decided so this ancient form doesn't come close to a populist ideal of democracy. The limiting factor is the over-all lack of sovereign franchise, the right to vote.

We live in a nation built on indirect exercise of democracy. We are a representative Democratic Republic. We have progressed to grant franchise to a wide and large body of people. This is meant to allow all voices and opinions to be expressed, but ultimately the majority still rules. In our republic the elected officials are supposed to be beholden to the will of the people. They are sent to represent us and are answerable to us. In truth, we do a pretty decent job on this. We are not so completely cut out of the system yet that we don't elect our law-makers. The past couple of elections has seen that to be true. Dissatisfaction cost many people their jobs.

I want to make it clear that we do have a great deal of impact on government and that we are not living in a complete tyranny. We have an amazing application of populist will in our system. But we are being cut out of it, and that is why I seek to wake us to this before we lose control. The United States of America isn't a sinking ship, it just has some holes in the hull that need patching before we take on any more water and sink.

None the less, the will of the people is being silenced and we can not allow this. For American democracy to work the voice of the people must be heard by law-makers at every level of government. A populist democracy demands that we take action and raise our voices to be heard. We must not be dictated to but must instead tell our leaders in no uncertain terms that our will is more powerful than those that seek to buy their vote for their own purposes. That is how American democracy should and must work.

For the people.

No comments:

Post a Comment