Introduction, Part 1 to blupete's Essay
"An Essay On Democracy"
The notions of government and of democracy are independent notions and do not, from what I can see of the case, depend on one another. What is likely required for the masses of people, as we see in "modern" world societies, is an established system of government. Where there is a need for an established system of government, it will likely, naturally come about; and will do so, whether, or not, it has the consent of the people, -- real or imagined. Putting aside, for the moment, the arguments of Hobbes and Locke, I believe, on the basis of plain historical fact, that governments come about naturally and maintain themselves naturally without the general will of the people; indeed, I believe, with many others I suspect, that our long established democratic governments in the world (the United States and Canada being among them) did not come about by the general will of the people, at all; nor is it necessary that it should be maintained by the will of the people.2 One should not conclude, therefore, that democracy is necessary for good government: It may not be. What is necessary for optimum prosperity is a state of acquiescence, which, as it happens, is the hallmark of western democracies. It may be, that the only thing needed is but the trappings of democracy.
An individual or a group of individuals may take and maintain power by the use of coercive force. From history we can see that this is the usual way by which power is gained, and maintained. However, it has long been understood that people might come together and explicitly agree to put someone in power. The best of the thinkers saw a process, -- call it democracy -- by which groups might bloodlessly choose a leader. That each of the governed should have a say, or at least an opportunity to have a say, is a high flying ideal; but any system by which the peace is kept is an admirable system and democracy, such as it has evolved, has proven, in many cases, to be just such a system.
A precise definition of democracy might be had by consulting the OED. Democracy is government by the people; a form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers elected by them. In modern use it vaguely denotes a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege. Walter Bagehot gave it a more uncelestial definition: "Each man is to have one twelve-millionth share in electing a Parliament; the rich and the wise are not to have, by explicit law, more votes than the poor and stupid; nor are any latent contrivances to give them an influence equivalent to more votes."3
In considering the word, "democracy," what I first draw to your attention is the suffix, "-ocracy." This suffix expresses the operative meaning of the larger word, "democracy"; it is the indicator of the dominant, superior, or aspiring class who would rule; it is derived from the Greek word kratos, meaning strength or power. Any word might be added to this suffix, which will then indicate the type of rule, such as: plutocracy (rule by the wealthy), ochlocracy (mob-rule), angelocracy (government by angels), etc. Democracy is the rule by, or the dominion of, the people; it comes from the Greek word, demos. It is often referred to as popular government. Democracy, historically speaking, is to be compared with monarchy, rule of one; or with aristocracy, rule of the "best-born," or rule of the nobles.
Whatever its origins (and we will consider its origins) democracy has come to mean a principle or system to which most all political parties of the western world, no matter their political beliefs, would subscribe. It is politics. It goes beyond the periodic act of voting; it is characterized by participation in government, viz., involving members of the community in governmental decisions, allowing them to take part in anything at all which amounts to a public demonstration of popular opinion.
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[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]