Democracy in America
Roark envisioned democracy as something that was inevitable for the wellbeing of the nation (25). However, he was not of the opinion that it was inevitably good. There is a dilemma caused by democracy and this, according to the author, is democracy itself. The dilemma exists in the reconciliation of freedom and majority rule.
If the majority is the one that rules, how can there then be true freedom? Majority rule made it possible to have a majority based tyranny that subverts the liberties which constitute an acceptable doctrine in politics. Majority rule, however, in this context, is not interchangeable with mob rule. It does not whatsoever depict a numerical advantage as voting has its limitations and can only account for so much.
Madison, in the federalist papers, cautioned against a monetary majority which is characterized by wealthy property owners who have power over a very large portion of the government hence defeating the purpose of a greater good envisaged by the democratic doctrine (51).
He was very concerned with the numerical majority’s interest being overtaken by those of a monetary majority which could have been largely considered aristocratic. All these concerns raised are genuine and therefore in an effort to understand what true majority democracy is about, one must examine closely what a majority is constituted of.
Plato dismissed democracy as mob rule and decided that the problem could not be solved in any manner of way (509). He thus insinuated that, democracy and in turn, a tyranny resulting from this majority was the worst form of leadership any one country could adopt. Thus, the only solution he could conjure up was to have an out-of-world leader who would inevitably be in a position to balance power as it was meant to be.
Another thought is that democracy is simply the will of the majority. Thus, so much time should no be wasted in a bid to discussing the liberties accorded to the minorities as they inevitably lost in the ballot His was simple as it was based on popular sovereignty.
However, does the person that inevitably looses, become the minority? Or is the minority a group of people who are always destined to loose because they have a set of circumstances that do not elevate their status so? If he considered the latter, then his theory is not consistent with what democratic principles hold ideal.
A second weak point in his theory is: what factors did he consider when calculating who the majority is. Was it on a local, state or global scale? The answer then is that the factor that determines how the majority is calculated also determines who the majority is thus punching holes into his theory.
In most aristocratic societies, an absolute leader oppressing his subjects is what drives them to fear. However, in a democratic society, the fear stems from the fact that the majority use their power to suppress the freedoms and rights of the minority. It thus comes to the conclusion that, fear in either case is elicited by legitimate powers.
These powers are accorded by the structure of the government and are used in a systematic and unjust manner to mistreat others. The problem stemming from a democracy, like America, is in the justice system being institutionally skewed to one-sided thinking, thus, it is more complicated than an aristocracy. Therefore it is a problem of the people and their own selves; in this era.
Land is a major source of equality and inequality. In a bid to control the majority of people who own large tracts of land whereas other do not, there is a need for land redistribution. The solution thus lies in federalism as a constitutional order. Federalism has a clear separation of powers and would assist in ensuring that majorities, either monetary or numerical, would not corrupt the entire system as there would be autonomy in every branch.
The doctrine therein is simple; by reducing the chances of establishment of a tyrannical order, the interests of the minorities would be justly protected. By decentralizing power and the functions of government, the wealthy and influential would be prevented from controlling them which is in contrast to them being centralized.
This approach was envisaged by the Author as the best approach to democracy in the future, but he did not oversee the systematic occupation of all political positions by a cartel of the wealthy and influential over a long period of time. The government has largely resembled a monarch and it seems that positions of power are occupied by proteges of their predecessors.
Tocqueville was convinced that in order for prevention of a tyranny of the majority, there was need for a strong and decisive judiciary that would expeditiously endeavor to cap the excesses arising from this tyranny (103). “Restricted within its limits, the power granted to American courts to pronounce on the constitutionality of laws is yet one of the most powerful barriers ever erected against the tyranny of political assemblies” (Tocqueville 104).
Only the judiciary itself has the power to protect the minorities’ rights and freedoms from the control of the majority. Although he predicted that democracy in America could survive due to the uniqueness of the philosophies adopted and also due to land equality that was evident then, he cautioned against two things.
First, he cautioned against the ‘unnatural’ love for money which had the power to make people overlook their civil responsibilities. As is evident today, economic self-interest has led to the abandonment of active involvement in supervision of the democratic order.
The connection between the love for money and democratic inequality is overwhelming. When a person is so into money, they ultimately ignore the political process reducing considerably the chance of a numerical advantage. This is detrimental as it gives way for other people with self interests to use the government to further their agendas.
To curb this, the government should ensure that all citizens are actively involved in the political system and also ensure that the basic needs of a citizen are met so to avoid distractions of any manner. Meeting basic needs does not insinuate free hand outs, but rather the creation of opportunities that make it possible for a person to eke out a basic life.
Secondly, Schlesinger cautioned against individualism (97). This drives citizens, otherwise democratic; to keep off public related issues. When a democratic individual is so bogged up in his own life, it is a fact that they ultimately ignore the public concerns. This creates an avenue for tyrants to ply their trade. It could contribute to others being oppressed since their voices are suppressed by the concerns of a private life.
A person cannot be actively involved in one aspect his life without consequence to the other. There thus needs to be a balance between private and public life. The government should therefore challenge its citizens continuously so as to elicit interest in the political process and ensure active participation of all citizens and discourage tyranny.
The structure of the American government should thus be reevaluated to weed out the corrupt few whose dealings are only focused on the satisfaction of their own interests. In the same respect, there must be no individual or single group that is allowed to have absolute influence on any political issue or process.
Citizens should also be actively involved in all processes as individuals. Forming political associations with the aim of subverting majority rule is also paramount. Advocacy should be on the involvement of each and every person in the political process.
“It naturally follows that these individuals, operating under the guise of enlightened self-interest, will form political associations with the purpose of both forming and resisting majority rule” (Welch 95). Citizens not only need to be involved but also enlightened to elicit self-interest.
The way out of any democratic stalemate is negotiation and not violence as is witnessed in many areas around the world. America may be considered as performing relatively well in terms of true democracy, however, there is more that needs to be done.
Tocqueville proposed a dual mechanism that aims at striking a balance between inclusive political processes and mechanisms. This balance could be essential in the control of the social processes.
There is therefore need for the government to develop avenues that allow people to give their views and not be secluded. This inclusivity would go a long way in ensuring that all protests, opinions and views should not only be seen to be heard but also acted on to avoid violent means.
Madison, James, Hamilton, Alexander & Jay, John, The Federalist: A Commentary on the Constitution of the United States. New York: Random House, 1967
Plato. The Republic, Translated by Grube G.M.A. and Revised by Reeve, C.D.C. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992
Roark, Eric. Tocqueville’s Fix: Solving the Riddle of Democracy with Enlightened Self-Interest. Columbia: University of Missouri, viewed on 29 April, 2011
Schlesinger, Arthur. Individualism and Apathy in Tocqueville’s Democracy. London: Rudgers University Press, 1988
Tocqueville de Alexis. Democracy in America. Edited by Mayer, J.P George and translated by Lawrence, George. New York: HarperCollins, 1969
Welch, Cheryl. De Tocqueville. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001