the Informed

When Did Democracy Die?

America's founding fathers had quite a lot to say concerning the morality and the nature of democracy. They were a thoughtful group of men, intelligent and philosophical and empathetic to the plight of the common citizen, for the most part. Their thoughts and writings on democracy very much echoed these ideals and are embodied in the very fabric of the constitution itself. They envisioned a fair and equal country, one where rule of law and the wishes of the majority would prevail, a system in which the less wealthy would rule by default, being the majority voice. A place of prosperity, justice and equality.

While they foresaw democracy lasting many, many years, they acknowledged that it had certain specific and inherent dangers that had to be avoided at all cost; namely allowing financial institutions to control the production of money, maintaining a large standing army, and vast control by a minority of elite to name a few. But above all they warned, tyranny stood as the most heinous of all the dangers to besmirch the name of democracy. In answer to this, they charged that in order to ensure democracy's continued success, the population must be educated and aware of issues and problems, committed to the longevity of liberty and critical and actively participating in the cultural dialogue; indeed the informed would be the defenders of this new and bold society. 

If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it. - Thomas Jefferson

So what has happened in this era of decline to make us call another form of government altogether, democracy? For what we have in place now in the West is not that at all anymore; it is now only a vague shadow in the mist of what once was democracy. According to American political scientist Larry Diamond, democracy consists of four key elements:

1. A political system for choosing the government through free and fair elections.
2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

Let's deconstruct these four elements to see where we stand, assuming firstly that all four conditions must be true for democracy to be said to exist. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; I would cite this debacle that led us further down the black hole. Of Bush's election, Michael Moore used the occasion of his Oscar win to tell three billion viewers this:

On behalf of our producers Kathleen Glynn and Michael Donovan from Canada, I’d like to thank the Academy for this. I’ve invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and they are here in solidarity with me because we like non-fiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious President. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or the fictitious [sic] of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.

There are countless examples of the bastardization of free and fair elections, but the preceding example alone makes the case well enough in part because of its utter and complete extremism in the shredding of fair election of a public official.

In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. - Aristotle

Regarding Dr. Diamond's second point; the active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; it is clear that most Americans are less informed and active in the political process than ever before. Apathy, dismay, hopelessness and skepticism plague the ruled and their power to organize and speak out has been diminished greatly in concert with this. There are a vast array of examples of citizens' rights to peacefully protest being removed from them in recent years as well as decades past. The mass arrest of Keystone XL or Occupy protesters, or on a much more horrific scale, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning are considered traitors for speaking out against a tyrannical regime and activists and those who feel the call to speak out against this madness are considered terrorists for attempting to uphold the values of justice and equality. They are silenced for wanting our leaders to protect the environment instead of serving their corporate interests. These are the very people that Jefferson and Madison said were necessary for the success of democracy. The whistleblowers and the activists. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life. Democracy fails on two counts for this second prerequisite.

As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality. - George Washington

On the protection of the human rights of all citizens, where do we begin? Forget the human rights atrocities committed by the US government abroad on a daily basis for a moment and consider the countless examples of American's human rights being violated. The horrific aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the unjust treatment of American Muslims, the lack of sufficient medical care, the war on drugs, the list goes on and on. The American government does not and has not protected the human rights of all of its citizens at any point in its history. Their police have killed more of its citizens on their own soil than soldiers have died in the whole of the Iraq war.

Democracy... while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. - John Adams

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defense against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. - James Madison

This brings us to the final criteria for democracy; a rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens. There has been an erosion over the past few decades, one where the elite are allowed to practice legal greediness and where corporations are above the law. There is now a two-tier justice system; one for the rich and one for the poor. Rule of law is now a comic sentiment when applied to the US. They do not meet this criteria remotely.

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy.... The world's great civilizations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back again into bondage. - Alexander Tyler ca. 1770

Democracy is a beautiful idea in it's concept, as are many political systems. Communism for example, despite the dirty name that McCarthyism has given it, is a just and fair system on its face. The problem is when greed and the wants of men infiltrate these ideas and twist and distort their founding principals. It is time to accept that democracy has failed and we are simply voting for one or another representative of a corporate interest, one driven by greed and acquisition at any cost - even at the cost of human life by means of war for profit. It is time to reconsider these tenets and to utilize our technology and understanding to create a new, better system. Critics will ask were this magical system may be hiding, but the truth is that there have been countless alternatives proposed over the course of time, but the elite are so entrenched in their power and greed that it will take nothing short of a revolution to effect a real change. This broken system has seen its day, and it is time for a change.

Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty. - Plato

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  1. In those cases where voting is not compulsory, often only a small percentage of the population participates in the electoral process.
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