Democracy - is it always good?

United States
December 27, 2006 2:53pm CST
Here in the US, it is considered un-patriotic to even ask such a question. Yet, I'm asking it anyway, because I am fed up. The philosopher Plato has a scathing critique of democracy in his _Republic_, and John Stuart Mill famously mentions "tyranny of the majority" in _On Liberty_. It was democracy that killed Socrates -- he ticked off too many people in high positions, so they brought him forth on trumped-up charges that were obviously false and the Athenian Senate*voted*,*democratically*, to execute him. In a true democracy, some degree of conformity to prevailing norms is required of everyone, just because it's what the majority WANTS. If a person steps out of line, that person is shoved back into line by the will of the "people."I'm not talking about people who do things that are truly harmful to others. I'm talking about people who choose not to conform in some way -- sexually (homosexuality), idealogically, etc. Democracy is supposed to foster freedom. And it*is* definitely true that there is more freedom in the US. I am grateful to have the freedoms I have. But is democracy really above any kind of criticism at all? Is tyranny of the majority just the price we must pay? Is rampant exploitative capitalism just the price we must pay?Is it really okay to be able to vote,*democratically*, on whether a certain group of people in our own country will or will not be granted certain rights? Are there any limitations on democracy? Are there just some things that should not be voted upon? Should it be only about what the majority of people WANT, or should it sometimes be about enforcing what is morally RIGHT, even if the majority wants something that really ISN'T right?
1 person likes this
7 responses
@Ashida (1370)
• United States
27 Dec 06
great post! Until something better comes along, I think democracy is about the best system we have to have some semblence of freedom. Don't forget that the US is a republic, not a true democracy. I think the constitution does a pretty good job of delineating individual rights to prevent the majority from crushing the individual. it could be better, but considering it was written by a bunch of gentleman planters, I think they did a pretty good job. Society, in general, is tough on the individual who is different. To be one's own person is a tough, tough road, but one with a beautiful view. However, there's something that concerns me at the end of your post -- enforcing what is morally right despite the majority -- how do we determine what is morally right? Without a democracy, that determination is made by the very few (Politburo) or the one (dictatorship). That scares me as much, if not more, than the mob mentality we sometimes have now.
1 person likes this
• United States
27 Dec 06
Glad you liked the post. :) You are correct, of course, in asking who determines what is right. Without majority rule, it is indeed left to a few select individuals, who may or (more often) may not have a clear vision of right and wrong. "Who guards the guardians?" is the perennial question. That's the problem with *not* having democracy. What's the old cliche about democracy being the worst form of government except for all others? Heh. Plato attempted to address this by setting up a hierarchy in his mythical utopia that was controlled by philosophers (imagine that ;) who were put through rigorous training in order that they might make better decisions and know "The Good." They weren't allowed to rule until they were 50. Once they did, though, their word was law. He also imposed a lot of restrictions on his philosopher-king. The philosopher-king wasn't allowed to own any property, and his/her home was always open to anyone who cared to inspect it. I wonder what our government would be like if we imposed those kinds of rules on candidates running for office? Heheh. I don't know if the fundamental problem here is really solvable. Just because the majority decides something is morally right, that doesn't make it right. There are many people out there who are not very bright or not educated enough to know who or what to vote for. How about this? Voters, before each election, should be required to take and pass with a C or better a course on the issues at hand and the stands each candidate has taken. Proof of passing the course would be required before a person could vote. This wouldn't be an indoctrination, but just a course to make sure people were informed about the issues themselves. Of course, that's also open to exploitation. Maybe it's vulnerable to the same problem -- who grades the tests? Who teaches the course? Hmmm...
@Ashida (1370)
• United States
28 Dec 06
Of course one nice thing about having philosophers in charge is that they'd be so busy arguing over what exactly the word law means, they wouldn't have time to pass any ;)
1 person likes this
• United States
28 Dec 06
Bwahahahahaaaa!!! So you know us, then? ROTFL! You have no idea. When I was in graduate school, the idea of a philosophy club was brought up. We couldn't even agree on a time to meet! So that went nowhere. The injustice of a meeting time that did not accommodate everyone (it wasn't *possible*) prevented us from ever even beginning. Then there was the issue of Teaching Assistant of the Year awards. Holy Mother, youd'a thought someone had brought up throwing the "B" students to sharks and having them fight their way out to pick who got to continue and who got kicked out. Hahahahaha!! :D
1 person likes this
@edelweiss (1930)
• India
28 Dec 06
yes, democrary in really important. it gives everyone a say atleast. democracies helps in dientifying what is right and what is wrong.. atleast for a majority of people if not all. there are always atleast two opinions to anything. isnt it.. :).. otherwise where's the fun if there is no competition.
@MrNiceGuy (4148)
• United States
28 Dec 06
Or course its good, because if it doesn't work out, the people can change it to their liking. You can't change a dictatorship without revolution. Not to mention the whole freedom thing.
• United States
28 Dec 06
we are born free,and to express then share with your opinion is right in medocracy the opion and decision of majority prevails
@vipul20044 (5800)
• India
28 Dec 06
A Democracy is a good thing if the democracy survives. If the Democracy does not survive and is replaced by a dictatorship then that dictatorship will most likely be a bad thing. Only a democracy can ensure a reasonable amount of fairness for the most people possible. Perfect fairness is not achievable because though all humans want to be dealt with fairly, many do not want to treat others fairly.
@volschenkh (1045)
• South Africa
28 Dec 06
In a country with a relatively new democracy, South Africa, I think its a really good thing. Some critics of the previous regime might be negative about it and also define it as the "tyranny of the majority". I think that education is key to an effective democracy. People must be educated and well-informed to make democracy work...and not vote out of ignorance. If the majority is unhappy about a specific situation and they are well-informed about the political landscape they live they can make changes in the voting behaviour and can make significant changes that affects them and theor futures directly.
@jricbt (1455)
• Brazil
28 Dec 06
Okay, democracy has a lot of problems and issues, but, can you create a better system? I think that it is easier to identify the flaws and correct them than to change the system. And I am not speaking about the US (that has a better system than my country), but about democracy in a general way.
@scorpius (1793)
• India
28 Dec 06
democracy is all about giving the people thier voice.can you imagine living in a country like china.i have given as a link to my discussions on china and do chk it out.also democracy is great but then again nothing is perfect.plato would probably say that the chinese model is the perfect model,huh?what rubbish! quite frankly i am glad to be an indian and that i am happy to say that currently i am enjoying a degree of freedom which is not anjoyed by many people in the world.i believe i democracy very srtongly! http://www.mylot.com/w/discussions/473600.aspx http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy http://www.opendemocracy.net/home/index.jsp