Put ‘decline of democracy’ into a Google search.
I got 63,100,000 results in 0.47 seconds.
- Chinese meritocracy,
- Russian neo-czarism,
- Arab monarchy,
- Islamic theocracy.
Generically, a democracy is a two-way process or set or processes, in which citizens with equal political rights and obligations have a reliable means to ensure that their government operates in keeping with their choices. This presumes that their choices have enough common ground to allow this; it should come as no surprise that a government cannot be all things to all people.
For the United States of America, this common ground arguably should be in line with the founding fathers’ clearly stated objectives – i.e. the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.
Life and liberty would seem to speak for themselves – even at the time these were viewed as basic entitlements to all free men. But what might have been meant by ‘pursuit of happiness’?
As you probably know, this was a spin-off from the British philosopher, John Locke’s, famous trinity – ‘life, liberty, and property’. Unfortunately, our founding fathers did not define what they meant by the term ‘pursuit of happiness’ nor did they specify why they’d chosen to make the substitution. But since Locke was to remain a loyal to the British king and our forefathers were not, it only makes sense that this was done to support that purpose.
Like Locke, our forefathers believed that government should respect the rights of its citizens. Unlike Locke, they were not interested in constraining an existing government (i.e. the king). Instead, they were creating a whole new government– not ‘for the people – but ‘by’ and ‘of’ the people – meaning that the sovereign powers of government must not just serve the people (as was the case with Locke) but must flow from and with the people; the people must make the choices to form and shape their government as well as to ensure that it continues to operate in accord with their common objectives.
This does not mean that ‘property’ is not every bit as important as was ‘life’ and ’liberty’. What it does mean is that an American citizen must be empowered beyond that of an ordinary citizen because he has a bigger and more important job to do. In this respect ‘happiness’ must be intrinsically linked with the role of self-governance – i.e. the wealth (and with it health and education) – that which will allow citizens not only to choose wisely, but to exercise proper oversight over the government they’ve chosen.
I would hazard to guess that today, many people have lost sight of this. Perhaps like Locke, they figure that the government is not ‘by’ and ‘of them, but rather is there ‘for’ them? As for the common ground? In light of the escapades involved in the current US presidential election, I fear that at least for America, such commonality may no longer exist.
If Democracy is to survive in America then ‘we’ the people need to get back to basics. Democracy is a two-way process – it conveys both (1) rights to decide on common ground, the objectives of which the government is expected to meet and (2) obligations to ensure those objectives are met. There is no king to take up the slack. Neither is this the job of the president – for those in doubt on this point, please read the transcripts of our forefather’s debates on the Executive Power.
As for the ‘pursuit of happiness’?
Difficult to achieve when only 1% of the nation controls than 50% of the nation’s wealth necessary to secure health and education?
I suggest that it’s now time for all US citizens to rethink that common ground and make sensible choices in keeping with it. Don’t leave this up to your neighbour, your congressman, or your president.
Leave a Reply