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Democracy Research Papers

Democracy research papers can discuss any aspect of democracy that you need covered for a political science, philosophy or sociology course. Democracy is a complex notion and our writers can clarify democracy in a custom written research paper that is tailored to exactly what you need.

Democracy is the system of government in which all citizens are involved in the decision making process. In a democracy, the majority rules. Democracy traces its origins to the Golden Age of Athens, which developed direct democracy. All Athenian citizens could vote in the city’s assembly, but citizenship was restricted from women, slaves, and non-landowners. Today, most forms of democracy are representative democracies, in which the people elect members to the legislature, either a Congress or Parliament, to govern.

The Middle ages and Democracy

The Middle Ages witnessed numerous instances of democracy, despite the prevailing stereotype of absolute monarchies. DemocracyMany Scandinavian societies had democratic assemblies, often called Things. Modern democracy traces itself to England’s Parliament, with its roots in Magna Charta (1215), and the first representative assembly that first met in 1265. In 1789, the United States produced its constitution as an outline of republican government. It is the oldest active government constitution in existence today. The French Revolution, which began that same year, introduced many forms of democracy in its overthrow of the Ancient Regime.

The process of democracy spread in the 20th century, largely in part to do the death of colonial empires and the emergence of the United States into international affairs. This process accelerated after World War II, when democracy and self-determination became promoted standards in the Western world. The fall of Communism in the late 20th century turned many former totalitarian states toward democracy as well.

Whose Idea Was Democracy?

It was Aristotle that first debated the merits of democracy in recorded history. According to him, the following elements of democracy are its foundation:

  1. First, democracy governs in the interests of the needy rather than in the interests of everyone.
  2. Second, democracy makes a motto of “equality,” but this ignores the role that virtue plays, or should play in the state; the virtuous man should have a greater share in it than the non-virtuous man. 
  3. Third, justice and power should not be confused.  This suggests that the will of the majority—or of any group within the society of the state that may attain power—is not identical to that form of justice which results in the overall welfare of the state.  The will of the majority may be ethically wrong.

These objections may all be easily disposed of in the light of human history since Aristotle’s time.  The Greek philosopher had a very limited experience of democratic government and did not understand its potential. With respect to Aristotle’s first objection, the point can be made that the political and economic health of democratic states in the modern world is generally superior to that of states otherwise governed. The wealth, political stability, and human rights that prevail in democracies render them better places to live for everyone in them, not merely the needy. This is an empirical fact, but one so solid as to overcome theoretical objections.

Second, equality and virtue may be more equated than Aristotle realized.  Throughout the Politics we are confronted with hierarchical notions and this is not surprising because the Greeks, even those under democratic governance, were not egalitarians in the sense that we are. The idea of the preciousness of the individual, and of his/her natural and inalienable rights based on his/her mere humanity, was not in place in ancient Greece which was under the influence of notions of “aristocratic virtue,” arête, which went back to Homer. Democracies grant rights to all human beings and that idea is far more central to our ethics than it was to Aristotle’s or Plato’s.

Third, Aristotle is correct that justice and power should not be confused and that the will of the majority may err at times.  But, again, the democracies he had experienced were primitive compared to the democracies that exist in the modern world, representative democracies equipped with constitutional separation of power between executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and checks and balances designed to maintain that separation.  In such states demagoguery is not absent, but it is not as dangerous as it was in Aristotle’s time.  Moreover, as John Rawls points out, believers in modern political liberalism maintain, as Aristotle and Plato did not, that there is a “plurality of reasonable though opposing comprehensive doctrines each with its own conception of the good (134)” rather than just one.  For those who believe this a constitutional form of government based on the notion that all citizens are free and equal is a political necessity for only it can accommodate ethical pluralism (137).

A final, non-specific objection can be raised with respect to Aristotle’s denigration of democracy. If one accepts his notion that the state exists in part so that human beings may enjoy the good life, then it can be empirically observed that democracy most facilitates this. Robert Dahl has listed ten advantages of democracy. One of these is that democracy maximizes the opportunity for citizens to exercise moral responsibility.  Another is that democracy “fosters human development more than any feasible alternative (55).”  Surely, both of these would have been considered to be part of the good life by Aristotle, as they are today by most thinking people. Aristocracy cannot do these things en masse and, under our egalitarian ethics, is disqualified because of it. Neither can timocracy or monarchy.

The United States' Promotion of Democracy

Should the United States work to spread democracy in the world?  Yes it should. But it should do so in a certain way.  Obviously, it often imposes democracy by force in places where it does not exist.  We ought not to try to invade China in order to create democracy there.  But we certainly were right to defend democracy during World War II and, when the liberal democracies of Western Europe were in jeopardy from left-wing parties controlled by Stalin after the war, the United States’ response, the Marshall Plan, was an altogether fitting and proper one.

But the United States must be wary of becoming what Athens was during the Peloponnesian War. Installing a democracy in place of a tyranny will not be morally credible if it is seen as an adjunct of imperialism, as Athens’ replacement of oligarchies with democracies was seen to be in the fifth century BC.  We should do all we can to preserve, protect, defend, and promote democracy in the world, but we should never make the mistake that that is a license to practice aggression any time we so choose.

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