Democracy: A Perversion of the United States Government

Tuesday West – 5th Period

“Demokratia,” or “rule by the people” was first introduced in 507 B.C. by Athenian leader Cleisthenes.  Later, this government became well-known in history texts as the first democracy.  It consisted of three institutions: the ekklesia, the legislators; the boule, a council of citizens to run daily affairs; and the dikasteria, or the jurors.[1]  As Aristotle predicted, this government did not last longer than two centuries.  Aristotle believed that the democratic government could not provide for the common good of all because it failed to meet standards to lead a successful civilization.  In order to have a righteous political system, the government must measure the importance of the state before the individual, help the household properly function, uphold Aristotle’s definition of a citizen, and be in accordance with justice.  Interestingly enough, despite these standards and the collapse of Greece’s government, the United States still incorporates democratic forms of government into its society.  In his work of political philosophy, The Politics, Aristotle correctly establishes democracy as a perverse form of government that takes away from the well-being of its people, despite its good components and intentions.  Therefore, the democratic components of the United States are insufficient because of their lack of accordance with justice.

The original Athenian democracy was designed for the supreme power to be vested in the people and exercised directly by them, as well.  Voting was the primary means of governing in their direct democracy.  Free men were the only true citizens, so women, children, and slaves were not allowed to vote.  Aristotle originally saw this flaw in democracy as being for the select people.  In his opinion, these select people were “the needy.”[2]  This group would be the downfall of democracy as they took away from the common good and drained from the government’s ability to provide for the needs of all.  But, contrary to Aristotle’s opinion, all citizens are “needy” of the government.  The wealthier classes have just as much need from the government as do the lower classes, just in different forms.  Therefore, it is not in the needy where the problem lies, but in the majority.  As seen in Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill, the majority does not necessarily mean what is best for the people, but what is best for the greatest number of people.[3]  In the system of democracy, the significant minority is overlooked and discounted.  There can be no mix or compromise of solutions and, therefore, it cannot be an adequate government.  Although it is completely impossible to satisfy every person in a country, it is the responsibility of the government to arrange for the most compromised solutions possible.

As the United States formed their government, they aimed to have one unlike any other before.  The framers of the Constitution wanted a government that would give power to the people that could function without chaos.  In order for this government to exist, the country would need rulers.  Emigrating primarily from Europe, new Americans wanted to avoid the establishment of a single ruler so that more people would have a voice in the functioning of their society.  However, it was to be different from a democracy where everyone voted for policies.  Now, instead, citizens would vote for their representatives who would “create and change the laws that govern the people.” [4]  The United States was to become a democratic republic.  Establishing the democratic components in our government, the question now remains of whether or not the United States has the proper means in order to help our society properly function and lead our people to success.  Despite the immense success of the United States, there is no denying the issues in which our country fails to provide for the well-being of individuals.  So, where lays the gap in our system?

Aristotle believed that in order for a society to run properly, the state must always go before the individual.  Although this might seem to disvalue the individual, when looked at closely, the individual cannot live without the state.  Therefore, the state is of more importance because, without it, the individual “is like a part in relation to the whole” and cannot survive.[5]  The law goes hand-in-hand with the state and must be put above the individual, as well.  The law is not meant to serve as a dictatorship, but as a guide for the success of an individual.  Without this superiority of the law, man would be free to do as he pleases and have a lack of accordance with virtue.  The law is meant to be for the good of man, for when a man is “separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all.” [6]  The United States stands with Aristotle for this principle that the law is above the individual.  Our legislators establish these laws and acts, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act, in order that citizens may maintain virtue in order to have a better society.  However, the aspect of individualism tends to coincide with the idea of liberty and freedom in the United States.  Although the individual is forced to follow the given laws, the culture of individualism in which the United States promotes can also endanger the people to assume that they are above the law instead of the fact that they are free.  Therefore, the idea of individualism poses a threat to the United States in that the individual is above the state, giving way to chaos.

The role of the government is also to help the household function properly.  This, in fact, is the root of economics.  The word for “household” in Greek is “oikos,” and the word for “household management” is “oikonomia,” from which the word “economics” comes.[7]  Aristotle believed it was the government’s duty to provide individuals with the best means possible in order to achieve this art of wealth-getting.  Although the government is not always successful in their approaches to strengthen the economy, there is a system set up which intends to provide the best possible economic solution in order for its people to be successful.

Despite the state’s importance, it is nothing without its citizen.  The United States offers a unique aspect on being a citizen in that you do not have to be born here to be a part of its society.  Even Aristotle defines a citizen as one “who [has] the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any state.”[8]  We offer a unique opportunity different even from the Greeks in that all citizens have a say in the future of their government and the power to change our society.  And, more importantly, anyone can be a part of this system.

Lastly, it is necessary that the state is in accordance with justice.  While Aristotle believed that governments in accordance with justice were those “which have a regard to the common interest,” he also believed that those of whom “regard only the interest of the rulers are all defective and perverted forms.”[9]  In this type of government, Aristotle believed that a “community of freemen” could not exist.[10]  Here is where we reach the main fault in our democratic republic.  The Constitution was written as the basis for our expectations of government and the way in which we envision our society to be.  The Constitution provided the promise to “establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty” to the people of the United States.[11]  Through the establishment of the rights of every person and an outline of the dynamics of our politics and authority, the United States was set to live the content and idealistic lifestyle.  However, our society has yet to completely live up to the standards of the Constitution, because where there lies idealism lays conflicts, and with power, greed.  Even from the beginning roots of Federalists versus Anti-Federalists in the United States, the government and its people began to steer away from the boundaries of the Constitution to no longer serve for the good of all, but instead the groups of the select.  This corruption is most commonly seen in the last few decades as the government has perverted from the Constitution in order to establish more power in themselves rather than the people.  This power is gained from unjust support from the wealthier classes, who are brought into power by the government because of this support.  Because of this, the United States does not have proper representation in government, but instead has become corrupt with the misrepresentation of the higher class.  From here, it can also be concluded that sometimes the corruption in democracy does not always lie in the majority, but in the rule of the few, or an oligarchy.

Now remains the question of if any government is capable of living up to the standards of Aristotle.  As people, we all have different wants, needs, desires, and opinions that one government policy or decision cannot possibly make everyone content.  Although compromise can be a great solution, it still does not provide everyone with paramount happiness.  However, looking not just at democracy, but every type of government that aims to live up to the standards of government that Aristotle has established, none of them are perfect.  Therefore, it can be concluded that happiness to everyone is not possible in humanity and that Aristotle provides an impossible utopian society that cannot be met.  But what is humanity to do?  If it is impossible to provide happiness and well-being to everyone, we should not give up, but instead find the means to make people as happy as possible.  The answer is compromise.  Since forms of democracy cannot fulfill these needs, it is necessary to adapt a new form of government that incorporates compromise into decisions and policies for our country.

[1] “Ancient Greek Democracy, A&E Television Networks, 2014, http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/ancient-greece-democracy.

[2] Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 3:  Chapter 7, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

[3] Mill, John Stuart.  Utilitarianism.  Oxford:  Oxford UP, 1998.

[4] Donn, Lin.  “Democracy in Ancient Athens,” Ancient Greece for Kids, http://greece.mrdonn.org/athensdemocracy.html.

[5] Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 1:  Chapter 2, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 3:  Chapter 1, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

[9] Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 3:  Chapter 6, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

[10] Ibid.

[11] U.S. Const.  Preamble.

Bibliography:

“Ancient Greek Democracy, A&E Television Networks, 2014,

http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/ancient-greece-democracy.

Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 1:  Chapter 2, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 3:  Chapter 1, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 3:  Chapter 6, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Aristotle.  The Politics, Book 3:  Chapter 7, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Donn, Lin.  “Democracy in Ancient Athens,” Ancient Greece for Kids,

http://greece.mrdonn.org/athensdemocracy.html.

Mill, John Stuart.  Utilitarianism.  Oxford:  Oxford UP, 1998.

U.S. Const.  Preamble.

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One thought on “Democracy: A Perversion of the United States Government

  1. I think your view on democracy is very interesting. We always think that we live in a “perfect society” but that vision is so untrue.

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