Josh HoodMr. Iaconelli AP Government and Politics21 December 2017Philosophers on Democracy Democracy has been around for a long time and has changed throughout its existence. Many philosophers have had many opinions and theories when it comes to this topic. More modern philosophers include Alexis de Tocqueville, Henry David Thoreau, and Karl Marx.
These 19th century philosophers have very interesting takes on democracy.To start off, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote the work, “Democracy in America”. This work discusses how he thought that the United States offered the most advanced example of equality in action.
Tocqueville also believed that equality was the ultimate goal in the society of his era. He admired the fact that Americans were so individualized. However, he believed that a society so individualized can become atomized and paradoxically uniform when “every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd.” He felt that a society like that of America lacked the intermediate social structures that are created by traditional hierarchies that are in Europe. He feared that this could cause a democratic “tyranny of the majority” in which individual rights would be lost. Despite this, Tocqueville was really liked what he saw from American democracy because it created a very stable economy. He was also surprised at the popularity of its churches.
His main critique of America was portrayed as a freedom-loving nation even with support of slavery and the horrible mistreatment of Native Americans. With Henry David Thoreau, his biggest problem with democracy was its major reliance on majoritarianism. He wrote, “After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long period continue, to rule is not because they are most likely to be in the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but because they are physically the strongest. But a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it.” He argues that if one is in the minority, he or she is basically powerless and his or her opinion is worth nothing.
His critical examination of the way in which a democratic state threatens the commitments that facilitate and give meaning to the practice of morality intends to reorient the focus of politics, away from institutions and toward the people such institutions were ostensibly in place to serve. His critique stands as a warning that becoming complacent about democracy will inhibit the search for better (perhaps more liberal) ways to organize political life. “Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man?”In Marxist theory, a new democratic society will arise through the organized actions of an international working class, enfranchising the entire population, freeing up humans to act without being bound by the labour market. In such a utopian world there would also be little if any need for a state, the goal of which was to enforce the alienation. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels stated in the Communist Manifesto and later works that “the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy” and universal suffrage, being “one of the first and most important tasks of the militant proletariat”. Marx’s philosophy involved 5 stages of economic development. He believed that a society must go from a state of primitive communism to feudalism to capitalism to socialism and then finally to communism. In this process, each one would establish a foundation for the next stage.
Marx wrote, “between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” From all of this, Marx was searching for was not political freedom but actual freedom, which he believed could only be attained through a revolution.
He also believed that humans would not gain this freedom until the conflict between the classes is put to an end. He allowed for the possibility of peaceful transition in some countries with strong democratic institutional structures (such as Britain, the US and the Netherlands), he suggested that in other countries in what workers can not “attain their goal by peaceful means” the “lever of our revolution must be force”, stating that the working people had the right to revolt if they were denied political expression. In closing, These 19th century philosophers have very interesting takes on democracy. There are many more philosophers that have many more opinions and theories.
Democracy has been studied from many different points of view leading to many different stances on the subject.