The first step in making America (or any other nation) a perfect democracy is to agree upon a clear definition of democracy and develop a shared understanding of the elements that make a government a true democracy, a pure democracy, or a perfect democracy.
It might seem that the word “democracy” should need no definition. It is a word that is used frequently. However, democracy has a great many false friends and true enemies who have actively, relentlessly, and successfully sought to prevent people from developing a shared understanding of the essential elements that make a government a true democracy or even agree upon a clear definition of democracy.
George Orwell addressed the problem of defining democracy in his essay “Politics and the English Language”. He made 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, he identified some political words that have been “abused” to the point that they have “several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another”. With regard to democracy, he said:
“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.”
It is true that the term democracy has come to mean different things to different people but attempts to define democracy are not “resisted from all sides” – only by the defenders of other kinds of regimes – the false friends and true enemies 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. Another Greek word – kratos, which means “to rule” – is also relevant here. In a democracy, the people rule.
Several enlightened theologians and politicians have defined democracy using some variation of the phrase “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. In a sermon he delivered on July 4, 1858 (The effect of slavery on the American people), Theodore Parker, stated that “Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, by all the people, for all the people.” Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, brought a copy of that sermon and several other sermons by Parker back with him when he returned to Illinois from a trip to Boston. He shared them with Lincoln, who noted that phrase in his copy of The effect of slavery on the American people, and later incorporated it into the Gettysburg Address: "We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Winston Churchill, speaking to the House of Commons, in November of 1947, reaffirmed that "Government of the people, by the people, for the people, still remains the sovereign definition of democracy.”
We can define democracy even more succinctly. Government of the people is a given. The people of every nation are governed. Government being “for the people” is rare. Most of the governments around that world today and throughout history have served the private interests of a ruling class or a “power elite”. Monarchs or groups of aristocrats who truly “govern with a view to the common interest” have been extremely rare (if, in fact, there have been any). If we want government of the people to be government for the people, we must have government by the people.
Democracy is government by the people.
In this passage from his Second Treaties of Government, John Locke used the term “perfect democracy” in the same way the term “pure democracy” is sometimes used to describe the form of government commonly known as direct democracy. In a direct democracy, every citizen who is governed by the laws that are put in place has an equal vote and votes directly to determine what laws will be enacted, as well as to determine the form and the powers of their government, what rights will be protected by their government, and what public policies are put in place.
Locke identified majority rule as the essential element that makes a government a pure democracy. He asserted that a majority of the members of a community had “the whole power of the community naturally in them” and “may employ all that power in making laws for the community” because “every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation, to everyone of that society, to submit to the determination of the majority, and to be concluded by it".
John Locke (1632-1704)
Locke also identified two other elements that flow from majority rule: an equal vote (or equal representation) for every citizen and the supremacy of the legislative power.
It is impossible to accurately determine the will of the majority unless every citizen has an equal vote and/or equal representation. Locke stressed the importance of maintaining “a state…of equality wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another…for it is the interest as well as the intention of the people to have fair and equal representation.”
Regarding the supremacy of the legislative power, Locke stated that “there can be but one supreme power, which is the legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate.” The supremacy of the legislative power is established and maintained by having the laws that are made by the people executed by “officers of their own appointing”.
Majority rule, an equal vote or equal representation for all, and the supremacy of the legislative power make a government a pure democracy and put the form of a perfect democracy in place. Several additional elements must be in place to make a government a perfect democracy:
The argument could be made that for a government to be a perfect democracy, in the strictest sense of the term, all politically active citizens should meet those criteria. However, just as Locke pointed out that democracies act upon “the consent of the majority” because “it is impossible” to obtain the “the consent of every individual”, we may bestow the honorific of “Perfect Democracy” on a government where most of the citizens who choose to be politically active are well-educated, well-informed, and respect the rights of others.
Armed with a clear definition and a shared understanding of democracy, we can turn our attention to an objective list of reforms (the Democracy Agenda) that need to be enacted to make America a perfect democracy. When we enact those reforms, we will experience the blessings of Liberty in ways that are scarcely imaginable within the seriously dysfunctional and deeply flawed political system that is currently in place.
This website is intended to serve as an informational and educational resource and an organizing hub for a broad and inclusive grassroots movement united in support of doing the work necessary to make our governments our own, at both the state and federal levels.
Making every state in the United States and the federal government perfect democracies will involve getting constitutional amendments and other legislation enacted that will remove antidemocratic provisions from our Constitution (and state constitutions) and reform our political system. The amendments and legislation needed make up the Democracy Agenda.
Making America a perfect democracy will not be easy, but it is the task at hand. And when we succeed, we will make history.
If you want to join our grassroots efforts to make America a more perfect democracy, please provide your email address. You will receive occasional emails with calls to action and updates regarding our progress. You will never be asked for a financial contribution. Your contact information will not be shared.
This website was created by, is maintained by, and is paid for by Winston Apple, a private citizen. Copyright © 2023 Gary Winston Apple - All Rights Reserved.
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