sample essay on Democracy:
Behind any word there is a meaning. However, meaning is not a “transparent” representation for a definition. Meaning varies from culture to culture and differs between individuals. It is constructed and is interpreted by many contrasting views. What one chooses as a definition of democracy can cause a discrepancy for another with a conflicting point of view.
In the article How Democratic is America? Howard Zinn defines democracy by a set of criteria. The list of ten requirements that are used to construct a “democratic” political institution vary from participation in decisions to opportunity to protest. Using the criteria, Zinn measures American “democracy” by evaluating how well the criteria is fulfilled. Does everyone have access to the same resources? Is there the same opportunity for two kids of different financial status to receive the same education and quality of government resources? With these questions in mind, doubt may arise as to whether the level of democracy for “all” is equally distributed.
Another system of measurement Zinn encompasses is comparing our democracy with other nations. By comparing the availability of resources and opportunities in comparison with another country. Lastly, Zinn concluded that we could measure our democracy against the standard or ideal that is most desirable for a society. Using the methods of measuring American democracy, Zinn made the conclusion that we fall short of fulfilling each ten requirements of a democracy.
The second article is a response by Sidney Hook in reference to Howard Zinn’s How Democratic is America? Hook disagrees with Zinn’s ideals for a democracy. He asserts that the definition of democracy should not be described by the criteria given in the first article. The ten criteria mentioned were not required or needed in defining what democracy is. Considering there are countries that are not democratic and have the access to the same freedoms. Hook believes that the comparative approach should be used in reflecting how democratic America is. That is the approach that compares democracy with the past to see how much has improved. Than we can see how the political process has improved the quality of life, to an equality of concern for all of its citizens. However, unlike the standard or ideal that Hook uses as a measurement, the comparative approach is a process. A process where making decisions is necessary and encourages people to make decisions about quality of life.
Democracy itself is a process for creating a quality of life that is enriched with access to better resources, such as technology, medicine, and education. The definition of democracy to me is not limited to the “criteria of ten”. Instead I am partial to the comparative approach described by Hook in article two.
The best way to measure democracy in the U.S. is to compare the present with the past. If the quality of life has improved, than it would make sense to say that we have become more democratic than the past. Certainly the mission to encompass a more democratic country is suitable to the lives of all citizens. However, the level of democracy to one can differ to another. For instance, there are two students and both have equaled test scores and grade point averages. They both apply to the same medical school, but one is rejected due to skin color or ethnicity. The opportunity that one has over the other is unequal and the level of democracy is also unequally distributed amongst the two. Democracy has to be measured by its improvements rather than measured by its failures in each individual circumstance.
I find it very difficult to measure democracy. It appears to vary with each new perspective or conception of what you feel is considered democracy. Charles A. Beard determined that the Constitution is not at all democratic. He claimed that it was designed to protect the wealthy by frustrating popular majorities. An opposing view suggest that the Constitution is democratized through representative institutions, initiatives, referendums, and recall (Goldwin & Schambra, 1).
It seems as though America is doing better at democracy in some areas than in others. For example, the government is broken up into three branches of government to prevent tyranny and from one branch becoming to powerful (Wood, Gordon A. 38). Representatives are chosen to administer the duty within each branch through the selection process of elections. Some argue that voting is not a great representative of the majority consensus because of low voting turnout. The fact remains that the purpose of elections is to give each citizen the privilege and opportunity to be part of a political process and decision. Using the comparative approach method for measuring American democracy I would agree that “we” are a very democratic country in comparison to countries that fail to let their citizens have a voice in politics.
However, “no government of human device and human administration can be perfect…that which is the least imperfect is therefore the best government.” (qtd. in Goldwin and Schambra 1). The amount of democracy in America can be characterized as high in some cases or low in other circumstances. Such examples of low circumstances include equal pay and the distribution of wealth. James Madison said, “no government is perfect,” which is a key factor in the process to improve and create a democracy better for the majority in equality, opportunity, and freedom (1). Comparing present America with the past I would conclude that democracy has improved for the majority.
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