martes, 11 de abril de 2006

Democratic Voices in a Changing Society

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

1. Democratic Voices in a Changing Society

Define the terms government, politics, power, and democracy. Discuss the difference between representative democracy and direct democracy and evaluate how these terms relate to democracy in the United States.

As with many other terms, the succinct definition of words like “government”, “politics”, “power”, and “democracy” hardly manages to convey the complexity and profound reach that their meaning can have in the real world, and in our real lives.

For example, the term “government” can be readily summarized by the definition offered in the textbook Democracy under pressure. It reads, “Government… can be defined on a simple level as the individuals, institutions, and processes that make the rules for society and possess the power to enforce them”. The text goes on to explain how this concept is applied by political scientist David Easton. Easton’s concept is that any society needs to provide some process by which its people can decide “what” goes to “whom” in an authoritative manner.

Another term closely related with (and indeed, often believed to be interchangeable with) “government” is the term “politics”. Once again, the textbook offers a very precise concept of this word. Politics can be seen as the pursuit and exercise of power, it informs us. The text shares with us that, according to Disraeli, in his book Endymion, “politics are the possession and distribution of power”; and it also relates to us the observation by V. O. Key, Jr., that politics is the same as “the process and practice of ruling” and the “workings of governments generally, their impact on the governed, their manner of operation, the means by which governors attain and retain authority.” Francisco Medrano says in the video lesson, “Everyone’s in politics whether they like it or not… From the day they’re born until the day they die”.

Both of the previous terms are centered on the word “power” and its uses. From the text we learn that “power” is the possession of control over others. And this short definition belies the complexity of the application of the word in real life. In the video lesson we are offered example after example of the struggle for greater power between those who wield it and those who are subject to it. Because the people of any social group cannot escape the need to have some person or entity impose a ruling about “who” gets “what”, and because that position of authority conveys the possession and exercise of power, then one can argue that the execution of such office and the power it grants over the people is based on the recognition of such need, the need to be governed.

The video lesson mentions that the word “democracy” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. It is an interesting fact, considering that the idea of “democracy” can be closely associated with the general concept of the United States of America. The word “democracy” is derived from the Greek roots of demos (the populace), and kratia (rule), consequently, democracy is the rule by the people. For the Greeks, this word served to denote the difference between being governed by the mass of people instead of being dominated by a precious few (who had some kind of special status or ranking).

Hypothetically, in a democracy the power to govern flows from the people as a whole to the government. And indeed, in the case of the small city-states of Athens and its Hellenic counterparts, their limited population size and other idiosyncrasies allowed them to practice this kind of democracy. This is now known as “direct democracy”. But in a country like ours that has so many inhabitants, and such diversified population, and with its variety of environmental settings, and its sheer vastness of landmass, the direct democracy scheme would fail abjectly. Instead, in our country we practice a government form that can be described as a republic, where the people are still sovereign, but their power flows to their elected representatives first, and from them to the government. This is a “representative democracy”, in which the original idea that the majority should rule, instead of the rule of just a few inexplicably chosen ones, carries on strong.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

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