Friday, January 16, 2009

We are not a Democracy

Did you know that?

I've known it for a while, but I was reminded wonderfully today through ARG's history class. They've been studying Ancient Greece, specifically Athens, where there was true democracy. I really liked his teacher's definition of democracy: unlimited rule of the majority.

In a true democracy, the power of the government was spread out among all the people (I believe slaves were not included, but he plumber came to the door during that part of the lecture, so I missed it). All the people voted on everything. Anything. Literally anything and everything could be voted on. Want a new law? Propose it and vote on it. A new regulation? The same. Want to get rid of a political or business rival? Propose he be ostracized and vote on it.

Yes, in a true democracy people could be voted into exile. People could actually be voted to death. That's what happened famously to Socrates.

The unlimited rule of the majority means that if the majority (half the voters plus one) wants to take away the property of the minority - they can! If the majority wants to restrict the rights of the minority? They can! Something I realized a while ago about democracy is that majorities can vote for bad, immoral, evil things.

Are you still thinking democracy is something we want to spread around the world?

The United States has a far superior form of government: a constitutional republic. Enshrined in our founding laws are the unalienable rights of individuals. They are not up for a vote. Or at least they shouldn't be, if people respected the constitution. Actually as I think about it I become a bit depressed, because some of our "unalienable" rights have been voted away by degrees. I'm thinking of those protected in the 2nd, 4th, 5th,6th and 10th Amendments mostly.

But still, you can't vote someone to death in the US.



Beth said...

For more on this subject, I embeded a video clip on my blog which makes this same point (and a few others.)

and no, slaves didn't get to vote, nor women nor non-citizens. (If you weren't born in Athens, you were not a citizen.)