Introduction to Political Thought

“This house believes that democracy is undesirable for a good society”.Seminar four took the form of a debate between supporters and opponents of democracy. Two speakers made their case, each putting forward their argument. The remaining members of the group then discussed the issues raised and decided if they were in favour or against democracy. This log seeks to record the events of the debate.The argument for the case of democracy was presented first. The following represents how the argument was put forward.For democracy* The word democracy comes from the Greek for ruled by people through any form of government they choose.* The public must obey the rules so surely they should, at least, have a hand in creating the rules. This way they public are more content and happier to obey the laws as they are less likely to feel alienated by them and indeed there would be less discrimination.* Rousseau set out the idea of a ‘social contract’ where by citizens agree to obey the law. They give their consent to be governed and that also constitutes an agreement to obey any laws the government makes.* Every citizen should take part in democracy, and participation should not be limited to those with education or wealth.* Locke argues that basic right of human beings cannot be taken away, so therefore, the people cannot hand over power to an elite group or ruler.o Locke goes onto ague that any person willing, or desiring to do the job of leading the people must only want that position for selfish reasons. Be they egotistical, megalomaniacal or material. It is argued that anyone wanting the job, therefore, is unsuitable.* The media has made democracy easier. In that there are more ways to stay informed, such as the traditional newspaper, to the internet. People have much more choice now also. They need not continue reading or watching biased coverage of politics. Instead they can switch on to the likes of BBC Parliament, Sky News, BBC News 24, or rolling radio news services such as DNN. With so much choice and diversity, it is easy to see why the media has been an advantage to democracy.o Also, the internet has opened up new ways of participating in politics an has made government institutions much more accessible. Online petitions and pressure groups with online membership facilities all contribute to an increase in participation opportunities.* Elections are held with intervals, and so, in the time between voting, people become more ‘worked up’ and more likely to participate at the next election. Elections also act to guarantee a degree of participation each time.* The function of elections is to choose our government; however, if we feel we have made a mistake in our choice, we have a legitimate means to remove those in power. However, in the past this has not always been the case as revolutions have taken place in order to oust a government or administration. There is no longer any need for violence or illegal overthrows.* Democratising nations are on the rise and those nations who have not been democratic for long have seen a better way of life for their citizens. There are many more nations going over to democracy also, which is testament to its success.* Finally, it is argued that people who do not vote or participate in politics have no right to an opinion on any political matters.Against democracy* There are more efficient system of government than democracy. For example, in the UK, we practice democracy with a ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) electoral system, but this method often means that the UK is not fairly represented in the Commons, as the system does not accommodate proportional representation.* Some people, it is argued, will always feel left out, as the majority rule means that minority groups are not always provided for. There cannot always be laws that are in everyone’s interests.* Democracy can be very dangerous, as in representative democracies, there is a huge amount of power handed over to those who may abuse the powers and act on behalf of the people, without their express consent. An example of this happening is the Iraq war, with Britain and the USA acting against the will of many citizens.* Representative democracy does not fully represent the views of the people, it can be argued, as members do not always act on behalf of their constituents. Instead, members act on behalf of pressure groups, which sponsor them, their own interests and the interests of the party.o Acting on behalf of the party can also be argued is acting for yourself, as members vote with the party on issues in order that their career stays on track. As often voting against the party can mean no further career progression within the party.* Plato saw democracy as an inefficient form of government. He suggested that skilled individuals should be in charge of departments within government, providing a professional base of knowledge, meaning the state can be run much more efficiently.o Further to this, Plato suggests that leaders should be fully trained with education and experience in the field. This way the state is run the very best way, by someone who knows exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s common sense really, as we train people for any other occupation, such as bus driver, or plumber, so why not the Prime Minister?o It also means that people are more comfortable with their leader, and trust that he or she will do a good job. People will always listen to those who have better knowledge in a field, such as doctors or dentists, and therefore, people would be happier obeying laws and such set forth by a skilled leader.o It could be said that a leader from a non-democratic state has the potential to become a dictator, as the power they have overwhelms them. However, with the leader being trained and educated, it is much more likely for a leader of a democratic state to become a dictator. This is because the leader with education knows that a dictatorship is not a good form of government.o Rulers, also, would have limits, so as corruption would not occur.* Voting is also an issue for debate, as people use their vote in different ways. Firstly, people vote as they wish, and vote for the party closest fitting their own ideology. Secondly, some people vote simply to follow others. For example, the Sun newspaper often changes its political allegiance. Often when it does, the party they support gains extra votes. Thirdly, people will vote with morals and so will vote on a particular issue, such as the war, rather than a party’s whole manifesto.* It was said that people should listen to the unelected leader so they know what they need rather than what they want.o There is no guarantee that elected representatives know what their constituents want in the first place, and if they do, of course they are not necessarily going to act on that.* Rousseau suggests that instead of people voting on laws and policies, as they may in a democracy, they should all come together in a large open forum to discuss and create laws. This way also, people will obey the laws as they have taken part in making them.1* If people were more community spirited and part of a group, then they are much less likely to break laws. Further to this, if people feel part of a group, they are more likely to think of others when creating laws in a Rousseau fashion as detailed above.* “The greatness of democracy is nothing but an illusion.”EvaluationBoth arguments were detailed and considered, however, there are a few criticisms that could be made about each speech.Neither of the speakers used many examples to back up their arguments, be it philosophical or examples from reality. Case studies would have made their arguments stronger and would have added a new depth to the debate. Also, the mention of key thinkers could have been improved, using more examples and philosophy in order to strengthen a point, or indeed make a fresh one.I felt that some arguments, while interesting and related, were irrelevant. For example, the argument made for democracy used the increase in media coverage as a reason for why democracy was good. However, it doesn’t really explain why democracy is good; it simply means that there is an increase in media activity. Secondly the case against democracy said, in her first point that there are more efficient systems of government than democracy, however, she failed to mention any. There was one point that seemed to make no sense at all. The case against democracy set out Rousseau’s ideas where by people would come together in a large open forum to make laws, yet this seems to me to be a form of direct democracy and so, the speaker was inadvertently advocating democracy.Extra ArgumentsThere are several points worth raising which were neglected in the debate.* For democracy.o Democracy protects the individual. Democratic societies have better education which creates a better society as well as a more rounded individual. Education can also be used for employment enhancing the economy.o Democracy can strengthen a community as it promotes political societies, which create a community spirit. People then feel a sense of belonging and solidarity.o Democracy protects us from the interests of individuals. This is due to the lack of a dictator and the checks and balances a democratic government provides.* Against democracy.o Dominant religious bodies can impose their values of the wide population through government. Although many people may subscribe to such beliefs, not all people will, but religious policies may find their way into law. Such as prayer in primary schools. Although children from other religions are not forced to take part, they may feel alienated by the practice.ConclusionThe debate was extremely interesting, as never before had many of us thought properly about living with a non-democratic government. The arguments against democracy were compelling and convincing, and there certainly are holes in the democratic process that many of use would never have thought about before now. Equally the argument for democracy was convincing too.I think it’s hard to imagine now living in a non-democratic Britain, and the way we are governed is most likely for the best, but it is certainly interesting to look on non-democratic states with more respect.1 This point about Rousseau was made for the argument against democracy, although it seems to support democracy.

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