Democracy is the most sought after form of governance in the modern day politics. Many countries have pronounced that their governments are democratic but not many countries have managed to entrench the democratic principles and democratic culture at the governance level. The main ideals that inform democracy have in many countries (including the United States) been partially implemented making it hard for those who are governed to fully enjoy the basic democratic ideal which is the rule of the people by participation.
According to Dahl, an ideal democracy is one that meets at least five criteria which he outlines in his book as; all inclusive, where citizens are enlightened, where there is efficient participation, equality in terms of the voting rights at the most influential stages, direction of the political agenda. In the absence of the foregoing aspects, the democracy is not ideal according to Dahl.
The inclusivity ensures that every citizen has the equal, fair and a legitimate claim within the political processes in a state while enlightenment of the citizens helps them to enjoy equal opportunities for discovering and asserting the choices which would best serve their interests. Effective participation also enables the citizens within state equal opportunities to voice their opinions and preferences by expressing their reasons for the resulting conditions. Participation is directly related to the issue of directing the agenda where the people are allowed the opportunity to make up their mind on what political matters would be and how they would be deliberated upon. Consequently, the book emphasizes on equality in voting at crucial levels and this ensures that every one’s opinion on crucial matters is equally considered (Dahl, 1989).
With regard to the mode of governance in the United States, Dahl, in relation to his democratic ideologies was of the opinion that governance in US is comprised of elites who play critical roles contending and compromising with each other. This, he says, is democracy in the populist sense a situation which he referred to as polyarchy. He further concludes that this form of governance is less democratic and only serves to create more centers of power.
A closer look at part 1 of the book clearly shows that the formation of the United States was not democratic and taking into consideration the ideals of a democratic system by Dahl, the United State’s constitution lacks democratic ideals. And this according to the chapter the absence of democratic elements in the constitution is partly due to the ignorance the founding fathers and the influence of opinion of the public at the time of codifying the constitution. Subsequently, the dynamism of democratic ideals has also contributed to the loss of democratic touch in the constitution which has not entrenched the new democratic ideologies.
The book in relation to democratic principles points some of the deficiencies related to the US constitution which include; first, the forbearance of slave trade which was necessitated by the need to influence southern states to participate and cooperate. However, this aspect was done away with after the civil war in America. Secondly, the issue of suffrage where women both natives and African Americans were discriminated upon and were not allowed to vote.
Thirdly, the senate is made up of two senators from each state regardless of the size of populace in the states. This was made possible since the smaller states were rebellious on the US constitution hence there was need to secure continued participation by smaller states hence the incorporation of equal representation to senate. This goes contrary to the basic tenet of democracy which is to the effect that the majority rules. This is demonstrated by the fact that smaller states receive more in terms of per capita income from the federal government.
Fourth, the election of president allows the Electoral College whose composition is determined by the legislators by whatever means they choose, to choose the president. One can competently argue that the representatives at the College are more likely to use their personal judgments. As such, the citizens are do not have the final say on who becomes the president rather the Electoral College usurps that power which is unbothered to date. Fifth, the Constitution provided that the senators were to be appointed by the legislators directly and this ensured that the process was not all inclusive as is required by democratic ideals. However, the Article on election of the senators (section 3 of Article 1) was amended by the seventeenth amendment of 1913 to substitute the appointment of senators by legislators with popular elections.
Subsequently, judges are appointed but they have the power to rule against any legislation as being unconstitutional regardless of whether the same had been endorsed by legislators and duly signed by the president. The fact that they have the power to rule on the constitutionality of legislation also allows them to pronounce judgments which more often constitute national policies through official sanctions.
As discussed above, during the founding years of the United States, the drafters of the constitution created a form of representative democracy where rights such as election of the senators were exercised on their behalf legislators. Some of those deficiencies exist in the constitution up till now.
However, the US has over the years tried to measure up to Dahl’s democratic elements by amending the Constitution to suit the ideal democratic principles as established by Dahl in his book. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was responsible for a push towards eradicating injustices such as discrimination against the African Americans in the founding constitution and moving towards establishing democratic principles which have become more pronounced in the prevailing constitution. For instance, the 1913 Seventeenth Amendment on the election of senators, the 1964 nineteenth amendment which proscribed denunciation of suffrage on the basis of sex and the twenty fourth amendment which prohibited poll taxes which was being used by several states to discriminate against the African Americans.
A comparison of the prevailing conditions in the founding constitution and the amended constitution of the United States reveal a better progress towards establishing democratic ideals. The Constitution has taken enormous steps to move away from representative democracy as was the case in the founding constitution towards entrenchment of values related to direct democracy. As such, the modern constitution has ideals which are aimed at creating stability at all the spheres of governance and in particular the political democratic stability (Linz, 1994). The amendments have demonstrated and enhanced aspects of fairness, protection of democratic rights, promoted civil rights and liberties, encouraged compromise and promoted crisis solving principles which are usually elusive in emerging and leading democracies the world over.
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