John Locke (1632-1704) was the first political philosopher to advocate strongly for democracy. In his Second Treatise of Government (1689), he argued clearly and convincingly that “the consent of the people” is the only “lawful basis” for government; that "all men by nature are equal” with natural rights to “life, health, liberty, (and) possessions”; and that the reason we establish governments is “not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom”.
If those ideas sound familiar it is because they are the “self-evident” truths that Thomas Jefferson, clearly inspired by Locke, summarized in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:
John Locke - America's Founding Forefather
The Intelligence Unit of The Economist publishes a Democracy Index annually, ranking 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 2021 Democracy Index (the most recent) the United States remained in the “flawed democracies” category, ranking 26th in the world in terms of the state of our democracy. The “score” for the United States has consistently trended downward since the Democracy Index was first compiled and published in 2006, from a score of 8.22 in 2006 to a score of 7.85 in 2021. The biggest year-to-year drops in the U. S. score were drops of 0.07% from 2010 to 2022 and from 2020 to 2021.
One of the most pervasive forms of American exceptionalism is the belief that we are the greatest democracy in the world and in the history of the world. The reality is that there are serious flaws in the manner in which we conduct our elections and numerous antidemocratic provisions in our Constitution. Our version of democracy is seriously flawed.
The work of making America a “full democracy” (and a more perfect democracy) begins with a clear definition of democracy and a shared understanding of the essential elements of a perfect democracy. democracy” once again and to moving up the charts in the Democracy Index is for Americans to unite in support of the ideals upon which our nation was founded. We need to join forces and do the work of making our government our own. We must come together in support of reforms that will make America a full democracy and the most democratic nation in the world. If we succeed in that effort, we will make history.
The work of making America a full democracy begins with a clear definition of democracy and a shared understanding of the essential elements of a perfect 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:
"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."
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.
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Although the word “democracy” does not appear anywhere in the Declaration of Independence, a government in which the “just powers” of government are derived from “the consent of the governed” is a democracy. The word “democracy” also does not appear anywhere in our Constitution - although Article IV, Section 4 does “guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government” – in other words, a representative democracy.
In a democracy, the “just powers” of government (including laws and public policies) are derived from “the consent of the governed”. How do “the governed” give their consent? By voting – directly or indirectly. And when the votes are counted, the will of the majority must prevail. Any provision or practice that enables a minority to overrule the majority is antidemocratic.
The antidemocratic provisions embedded in our Constitution created a form of government that is in conflict with the ideals upon which our nation was founded, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and with the essential elements of a perfect democracy, as identified by John Locke. If we want America to be a more perfect democracy, we must amend our Constitution.
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