In his essay “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell made the point that "the great enemy of clear language is insincerity”, resulting from “a gap between one's real and one's declared aims”. In that context, he identified some political words that have been “abused” to the point that they have “several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another”. With regard to democracy, he said:
"In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic, we are praising it: consequently, the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning."
It is true that democracy has come to mean different things to different people but attempts to define democracy are not “resisted from all sides” – only by the defenders of other kinds of regimes – the false friends and true enemies of democracy.
George Orwell (1903-1950)
For anyone who is sincere and feels no need to hide their real aims, defining “democracy” is a simple matter. The word is derived from the Greek word demokratia, which was formed from two other Greek words: demos(meaning “the people”) and kratia (which means “have power”). A democratic government, therefore, is one in which the people have power. There is another Greek word – kratos (which means “rule”) – that is also applicable. In a democracy, the people rule.
Other groups of people around the world practiced what we would call direct democracy before democracy emerged in Athens. And Athens was not the only city-state in Greece to practice direct democracy. Athens came to be considered to be the “Cradle of Democracy” primarily because, of the written records that survive, the information related to democracy, as it was practiced in Athens, is, by far, the most complete.
The main democratic body in Athens was the Assembly, which met on a hillside west of the Acropolis from one to three times per month. All male citizens over the age of 18 (raised to 20 in 403 BCE) had equal rights regardless of their wealth, education, or social status. They could attend assemblies and were free to speak during the discussions of the issues that came before the Assembly. The Assembly wrote and revised laws, made decisions regarding foreign policies (including wars), and could criticize and even ostracize public officials (exiling them from Athens for ten years).
After each issue was discussed at an assembly, a vote was taken by a show of hands, with the votes of the majority determining the outcome. The decisions of the assembly were final. The will of the people, as expressed by a majority vote of the citizenry, was thereby clearly and consistently expressed in laws and public policies.
Democracy in Athens came to an end as the result of a series of military defeats. Two thousand years later, a new Champion of Democracy emerged.
In his Second Treatise of Government (1689), John Locke, a deeply spiritual man, placed both individual liberty and political power within a moral worldview informed by his theories regarding life in the state of Nature. He stated, as “self-evident” truths, that “all men by nature are equal”, endowed by God with natural rights to “life, health, liberty, (and) possessions”; that the reason we establish governments is “not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom”, and that “the consent of the people” is the only “lawful basis” for government.
If these ideas seem familiar, it is because they inspired Thomas Jefferson as he wrote the Declaration of Independence. The first two sentences of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, drawn directly from Locke's Second Treatise of Government, are a clear and concise statement of the ideals upon which our nation was founded:
John Locke (1632-1704)
The word “democracy” does not appear anywhere in the Declaration of Independence and appears only once in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, in a sentence describing the elements that make the form of a government a “perfect democracy”:
In this passage, Locke used the term “perfect democracy” in the same way the term “pure democracy” is sometimes used to describe the form of government commonly known as direct democracy. In a direct democracy the citizens of a state or nation vote directly to determine the form and powers of their government, what rights are protected, what laws are enacted, and what public policies are put in place.
Locke identified majority rule as the essential element that makes the form of a government a perfect democracy. He asserted that a majority of the members of a society had “the whole power of the community naturally in them” and “may employ all that power in making laws for the community” because “every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation, to everyone of that society, to submit to the determination of the majority, and to be concluded by it".
Locke also discussed, at some length, the other elements of a perfect democracy that flow from majority rule: an equal vote for every citizen of a community, state, or nation; and the supremacy of the legislative power.
The element of an equal vote (or equal representation) is implicit in a government founded on the principle of majority rule. It is impossible to determine the will of a majority of the citizens unless every citizen has an equal vote (or equal representation). Locke stressed the importance of maintaining “a state…of equality wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another…for it is the interest as well as the intention of the people to have fair and equal representation.”
With regard to the supremacy of the legislative power, Locke stated that “the first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the legislative power” and that “there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate”.
A government with the form of a perfect democracy is a true democracy. There are three additional elements that must be in place to make a true democracy a perfect democracy:
Finally, and most importantly, a majority of the citizens who choose to be politically active must be well-educated and well-informed, with a deep and profound respect for the rights of others.
The invention of the printing press made written materials less expensive and, therefore, more widely available, which led to a dramatic increase in literacy, made information and knowledge more accessible, and fueled the Age of Reason. All of these developments made democracy a more effective and more appealing form of government.
The technological developments of the past few decades, particularly the Internet, have made direct democracy an even more viable form of government by making it much easier for citizens to share information, engage in political discussions with other citizens all over a country (or even the world).
We can now get a real feel for the candidates who are seeking our support by hearing and seeing them speak in videos posted online. We can visit their websites and learn whatever information they want to share.
It is a relatively simple matter for citizens who choose to be politically active to become well-informed with regard to the issues that matter to them.
Over a hundred and fifty million Americans voted in the 2020 election. How well-educated and well-informed each of those voters may have been, and ow much respect each of those voters has for the rights of others, is a judgment call. But when common sense observation tells us, and research confirms, that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy”, it is time to alter the form our government so that:
“All political power is vested in and derived from the people.
All government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only,
and is instituted for the good of the whole.”
It is time to -
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