True Democracy Essay, Research Paper
Complete and true democracy is almost impossible to achieve, and has been the primary goal of many nations, beginning from ancient civilizations of Greece and Roman Empire, all the way to the government of the United States today. In any system, which claims to be democratic, a question of its legitimacy remains. A truly democratic political system has certain characteristics, which prove its legitimacy with their existence. One essential characteristic of a legitimate democracy is that it allows people to freely make choices without government intervention. Another necessary characteristic that legitimates government is that every vote must count equally: one vote for every person. For this equality to occur, all people must be subject to the same laws, have equal civil rights, and have to be allowed to freely express their ideas.
Democracies fall into two basic categories, direct and representative. Modern society, with its size and complexity, offers few opportunities for direct democracy and today in America, the most common form of democracy, is representative democracy, in which citizens elect officials to make political decisions, formulate laws, and administer programs for the public good. In the name of the people, such officials can deliberate on complex public issues in a thoughtful and systematic manner that requires an investment of time and energy that is often impractical for the vast majority of private citizens. Public officials in today’s representative democracy hold office in the name of the people and remain accountable to the people for their actions.
Considering the achievement of complete democracy is most likely impossible, the political system of American government is democratic, but its democratic legitimacy is clearly limited. Although in theory the American system calls for one vote per person, the low rate of turnout results in the upper and middle classes ultimately choosing candidates for the entire nation. This concludes that because voting is class-biased, it may not be classified as a completely legitimate process. The “winner-takes-all” system in elections may also be criticized for being undemocratic because the proportion of people agreeing with a particular candidate on a certain issue may not be adequately represented under this system.
Democracy means power to the people. But this remains an ideal, and does not reflect the way democracy works today. In reality democracy means the will of the whole, but the will of the whole is not necessarily represented by the majority, nor by a two-thirds or three-quarters vote, nor even by a unanimous vote; majority rule is democratic when it is approaching not a unanimous but an integrated will.
Yet, the presumption of a democratic system is that the Majority is right. All democracies are systems in which citizens freely make political decisions by majority rule. The presumption exists that the rightness of a law exists precisely because it is a majority decision; it requires no other justification. The truth is that the law is not right simply because a majority of the citizenry supports it. Moreover, the rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic: no one, for example, would call a system fair or just that permitted 51 percent of the population to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of the majority. Majorities can be financially irresponsible, and oppressive of minorities, or just plain greedy. In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities–whether ethnic, religious, or political, or simply the losers in the debate over a piece of controversial legislation. The rights of minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.