Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Democracy

Hello Tapping,

Thanks to everyone who came out on a Thursday night to talk about suicide. Last week's discussion was a smashing success in terms of both attendance and content. If you want a more in depth summary, look on the tapping philosophy website in my signature. This week's topic is brought to you by Christina Bernardo.


What is democracy? The greek word dimokratia simply means "popular government." By popular government, we often mean actualizing a common will of the people. Is the average person able to truly participate effectively in government? Many argue (Schumpeter, Plato, Aristotle) that the average person is too stupid or wrapped up in their immediate needs to have any real concern about politics.

In Henrik Ibsen's play, An Enemy of the People, the main character tells the mayor about the bacteria laden bath water, and the people (led by the mayor) choose to do nothing about it due to cost and disbelief. At the town meeting, when he realizes he is fighting alone, the main character shouts:

"Dr. Stockmann. The majority never has right on its side. Never, I say! That is one of these social lies against which an independent, intelligent men must wage war. Who is it that constitute the majority of the population in a country? Is it the clever folk, or the stupid? I don't imagine you will dispute the fact that at present the stupid people are in an absolutely overwhelming majority all the world over. But, good Lord!--you can never pretend that it is right that the stupid folk should govern the clever ones I (Uproar and cries.) Oh, yes--you can shout me down, I know! But you cannot answer me. The majority has might on its side--unfortunately; but right it has not. I am in the right--I and a few other scattered individuals. The minority is always in the right. (Renewed uproar.)"

What do we think of this? Can we go against the ideals of equality and still maintain a democracy?

Today Democracy has varied extensively in definition and context, but two of its facets that remain relevant are the idea that all citizens have equal access to power and that all citizens can enjoy certain liberties and freedoms that the government will protect.

With these parameters in mind can we say that we live in a democracy (where 30% of the population votes)? Has there ever been an effective democracy or is it simply a utopian ideal? What would an effective democracy look like? According to Dahl, a political scientist, 5 criteria necessary for a democracy are:

1. Effective participation

2. Voting Equality

3. Enlightened Understanding

4. Control of the Agenda
5. Inclusiveness

So, if we can't think of a democracy that holds these ideals, can we think of any other form of government where every citizens has the same stake in the decision making process? Am I being too obvious? Prosch, help me out.


Francis Prior
Villanova Philosophy Club Website
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