essential readings


democracy’s fundamentals

Democracy in Greek literally means "rule by the people.’ From the beginning it has been understood to be a system of government where citizens exercise power by voting. Over eons and eons there have been three reasonably distinct types of democracies. In a direct democracy, the citizens as a whole form a governing body and vote directly on each issue. In a representative democracy the citizens elect representatives from among themselves. These representatives meet to form a governing body, such as a legislature. In a constitutional democracy the powers of the majority are exercised within the framework of a representative democracy, but the constitution limits the majority and protects the minority, usually through the enjoyment by all people of certain individual rights, e.g. freedom of speech, or freedom of association. This last type is the form of democracy the founders created for America. Here are two extraordinarily good treatises about democracy in general, about its three distinct forms, and the about logic that is necessarily at the heart of all democracies.

Democracy: A Very Short Introduction: Bernard Crick: No political concept is more used and misused than that of democracy. Nearly every government today claims to be democratic, but not all “democracies” allow for… Bernard Crick’s book is a succinct account of the history of the doctrine, practices, and institutions of democracy. From ancient Greece and Rome rough the American and French revolutions, Crick’s Democracy argues that democracy is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for an orderly government and a reasonably free people. He also explains why the rule of law, the idea of human rights, and the claims and liberties of groups within society must often lime the will of democratic majorities.

The Logic of Democracy: Thomas Landon Thorson: For centuries, democracy has been hailed as the world’s best form of government. This assertion’s been offered over and over again on the assumption that since the society is structured by the people for the sake of the people’s well-being, it is only reasonable that the people themselves be in charge of all the political processes and activities which affect their lives. This thesis is a contribution to the larger democratic debate about power relations between citizens and their state, especially their representatives who, because of modern day representative democratic philosophy have been chosen to speak for them. The ideal is that the people are sovereign in democracy, i.e., that ultimate power rests with them is a reassuring but fragile truth. In practice, “the people” do not exercise real power over their affairs; structurally their representatives exercise their power for them. This inevitable creates conflicts between the people and their representatives, causing a serious problem for the realization of the aims of democracy as a form of government. In The Logic of Democracy, Thorson main concern is examining the nature of the balance between the extent to which citizens still are in truth in charge of their affairs versus the degree to which they’ve needed their power and authority to their representatives when, through the electoral process as they entrust their representatives with the execution of their decisions. At base the question is whether “the people are at risk of loosing their sovereignty in today’s American democracy.