“the forms of government under which men (and women) live have been very few; they were discovered early, classified by the Greeks and have proved extraordinarily long-lived. … (The) fundamental idea, despite many variations, did not change in the two and a half thousand years that separate Plato from Kant”
It is frequently useful to compare different political systems on an axis of Individualism (liberalism, democracy, respect for individual rights) versus Authoritarianism (top-down command of society, a view that the State may justly disregard the concerns of individuals).
Is one of these preferable to the other?
Generally speaking, authoritarian systems can implement their policies with great rapidity and effectiveness. When such decisions increase the general happiness, this is easily considered a good thing. However, history shows us that, quite frequently, the actions of authoritarian governments produce considerable misery. In fact, as Lord Acton reminded us in 1887, concentration of power in a dictator or oligarchy seems frequently to result in misery.
“Democratic institutions are quarantine arrangements to combat that ancient pestilence, lust for tyranny: as such they are very useful and very boring.”
from Nietzsche's The Wanderer and his Shadows. p 289, R.J. Hollingdale transl.
”The dictionary definition has lots of different dimensions, but, roughly speaking, a society is democratic to the extent that people in it have meaningful opportunities to take part in the formation of public policy. There are a lot of different ways in which that can be true, but insofar as it's true, the society is democratic."
“How to stay free : Hanging on to democracy in good times and bad”
Excerpted from Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual
"About the most important job of a democracy -- next to serving its people -- is to make sure it stays a democracy.
This is a lot harder than many people think. ...
Unfortunately, many Americans either don't understand or have come to ignore this basic principle.
As things now stand, we could easily become the first people in history to lose democracy and its constitutional freedoms simply because we have forgotten what they are about.”
(The book is from 1997, so I’d say we’ve come a long way down this road since then.)
The Democracy Gap
by Ralph Nader
Published on Monday, October 18, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
“ ‘Freedom is participation in power’, said the Roman orator Cicero. By this deep definition, freedom is in short supply for tens of millions of Americans, a scarcity with serious consequences. This absence of freedom breeds apathy. Average citizens do not fight for change, even about the conditions and causes that mean the most to them.
Our lack of civic motivation is the greatest problem facing the country today. Our beloved country is being taken apart by large multinational commercial powers. …
Democracy, whether representative or more direct, brings out the best in people because it gives them more freedom, more voice, more lawful order, and more opportunity to advance their visions of a just society. In our country, however, there is a gap that needs to be closed: the democracy gap. It is often said that "power abhors a vacuum." When people do not claim power, the greedy step in to fill the void. Every day that capable citizens abstain from civic engagement allows our society and world to tolerate harm and to decay incrementally. The converse is also true. The tiny, cumulative efforts to build a more just society are comparable to the sources for a great river. Similarly, our efforts, small and large, daily and cumulatively, spread the more noble sentiments of our humanity toward one another. But it isn't happening nearly enough to stem the downward slide of justice in our society.
Is it not time for real people to plan for their own futures together? The balance struck between democracy and plutocracy, between fair and unfair tax and budget priorities, between investor rights and corporate managers, between "a government of the people, by the people and for the people," in Lincoln's immortal words, and a government of the Exxons, by the General Motors, and for the DuPonts, determines the quality of our society. …Franklin Delano Roosevelt emphasized this in a message to Congress, "The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of the government by an individual, by a group or any controlling private power." …
This loss of control is felt ever more deeply. A Business Week poll in the year 2000 found 72 percent of the people believing that corporations had too much control over their lives. This was before exposure of the ongoing corporate crime wave that has looted or drained trillions of dollars from hardworking people. Our leaders have been delivering for themselves and their circles, not for the people they allegedly serve. In return, too many people have been too trusting of or too resigned to their leaders' mass media rhetoric. Our static political system often leads our elected officials to do the opposite of what they say. Double talk. With limited choices, people find it difficult to demand more from their leaders, or to have effective modes of measuring their performance beyond the blizzard of soothing words directed at them. …
So then, what builds civic motivation? A sense of the heroic progress against great odds achieved by our forebears helps. Think what stamina and inner-strength drove abolitionists against slavery, women seeking the right to vote, workers demanding trade unions to counter the callous bosses of industry, dirt-poor farmers of the late 1800s who, taking on the major railroads and banks, used their heads, hearts, and feet to launch the populist-progressive reform movement. These efforts advanced our country immeasurably. They were efforts by ordinary people doing extraordinary things without electricity, motor vehicles, telephones, faxes, or e-mail. They mobilized person-to-person.
What the citizenry should expect of their governments depends in no small part on how much people know about their governments, their duties, their commitments, and who has unworthy or craven influence over them. There is no substitute for voters doing their homework, studying records, and seeing through the dense mists of fabricated political advertisements, shams, and evasions. Without such civic engagement, and without candidates for office who faithfully represent their constituents, our broken politics cannot be repaired. Whether we think in terms of justice under law or equal protection of the laws, it is untenable that artificial entities called corporations are given most of the constitutional rights of real humans while aggregating powers, privileges, and immunities that individuals, no matter how wealthy, could never come close to attaining.
The primacy of civic values, rooted in our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, must become our common objective for the common good. … Strengthening the blessings of liberty and the benefits of justice invites us all to these challenges, both inside the electoral arenas and outside in the civic action arenas.”
In the 2002 Election, The Issue is Unchecked Power
by Harvey Wasserman
09 OCT 2002
"The reality is simple: the right wing of the Republican Party controls three of the four branches of government, and is just a single vote away from taking the fourth. The Executive, the Judiciary, the media and the House of Representatives are all in Republican hands. The Senate teeters on the edge. And the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of September 11, has obliterated most of the Constitutional guarantees that made this country a democracy in the first place.
...the Republicans (also) control the "fourth branch of government." Virtually all major US media is now owned by six corporations. With precious few exceptions, there is no serious debate on the core issues that define American life, and no mainstream coverage of the movements for peace, social justice, environmental, labor, or minority rights. ..."