As Americans, we are taught in school that our country was the birthplace of democracy in the modern world (a claim that is mostly true) and that we are the champions of democracy around the world (a claim that is, sadly.largely false).
The Intelligence Unit of The Economist publishes a Democracy Index annually that ranks the nations of the world in terms of the state of democracy in each country. Nations are given numerical scores on a total of 60 indicators and grouped into four categories based on their average score: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes.
The United States fell out of the “full democracies” category in 2016. In the 2020 Democracy Index (the most recent) the United States remains in the “flawed democracies” category, ranking 25th in the world in terms of the state of our democracy. The 2020 Index does not reflect the events of January 6, 2021 or the continuing turmoil in the wake of that tragic day.
The authors of the Democracy Index acknowledge the fact that some people “insist that democracy is, necessarily, a dichotomous concept: a state is either a democracy or not.” For those of us who agree, making a determination as to whether or not America (or any nation) is a democracy requires a clear and concise definition of democracy and a shared understanding of the essential elements of democracy.
In his essay “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell makes 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, with regard to democracy, he says:
"The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. 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. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way."
Orwell is correct. The term “democracy” has been abused and used dishonestly to the point that it has “several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another”. However, attempts to define democracy are not “resisted from all sides” – only by the defenders of other kinds of regimes – the false friends of democracy.
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. A democracy is a government in which the people rule.
Extensive research has consistently shown that there is no significant correlation between the will of the people and the legislation enacted by Congress. If we define democracy as a government in which the people rule, the United States is not a true democracy.
Using John Locke’s essential elements of a perfect democracy as our guide, the work of making America a perfect democracy will require making both Congress and state legislatures an accurate reflection of the will of the people and amending our Constitution to remove provisions that allow the other branches of government to overrule the legislature (and by extension to overrule the will of a majority of the people).
There are two reforms that will provide the foundation needed to enact the other reforms needed to make America a perfect democracy.
“Equal Representation” acts that implement a system of proxies giving every citizen who is governed by the acts of a legislative body a proxy that can be assigned to any member of each legislative body designating them as their representative and then giving each legislator a number of votes equal to the number of proxies they hold (plus one for themselves) on all matters that come before a representative assembly.
An amendment to Article V of our Constitution that makes the amendment process democratic by removing super-majority requirements and allowing a simple majority of the members of either chamber of Congress or states legislatures representing a majority of the population to propose amendments, with proposed amendments ratified if approved by a simple majority of voters in nationwide referendums.
With these two reforms in place, it will be easier to pass the other amendments that are needed to remove the remaining antidemocratic provisions from our Constitution.
A system giving proxies to citizens can be put in place in the House of Representatives with simple legislation. Extending proxies and weighted votes to the Senate will require a constitutional amendment because the Constitution stipulates that “each senator shall have one vote” and that "no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate". The nature of the legislation required to implement a system of proxies and weighted votes in state legislatures will vary from state to state.
Proxies will make the House of Representatives truly democratic but unless we also get a system of proxies put in place in the Senate, legislation favored by the people is likely to continue to die in the Senate. The fact that citizens will be far more effectively and directly represented in the House should build support for amending Article V. Without the Article V amendment, any progress beyond implementing proxies in the House and in state legislatures, toward making America a perfect democracy (or at least a true democracy), is unlikely.
A grassroots movement making these two reforms the litmus tests for a referendum on democracy in the 2022 election, if successful, will reform our political system and ensure the success of future grassroots movements.
These two reforms will not make America a perfect democracy.
They will provide the foundation for enacting the other reforms that are needed
to meet the criteria John Locke set out for a “perfect democracy”
in his Second Treatise of Government.
This website is intended to serve as an educational resource and organizing hub for concerned citizens as we do the work of making our government our own.
On this website you will find:
The Action Plan is a work in progress and is intended to be a collaborative effort. Your input is welcomed and encouraged. The best way to offer input is through our Facebook group.
Please note: The term “perfect democracy” is used throughout this website. That may strike some as overly ambitious. A word of explanation may be in order. John Locke, the first political philosopher to champion democracy, used the term “perfect democracy” in his Second Treatise of Government to describe a government that met all of the criteria he laid out as the essential elements of democracy. Becoming and remaining a “perfect democracy” in the sense that we meet all of the criteria that Locke described is a very realistic goal. It is also worth noting that if we aim for perfection and fall a bit short of that goal, we may at least make America a true democracy. We will reap tremendous benefits if we succeed in that effort.
This website is a work in progress.
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for revisions,
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Most of the material on this website is adapted from a soon-to-be published book (Government by the People: A Citizen's Guide to Making America a True Democracy) by Winston Apple. Permission to copy is granted provided that attribution is included. You are, of course, encouraged to share access to this website freely.