• Theories of Democratic Government

Definition of "Democracy"
According to the ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle, democracy can be defined as "the rule of the many," in which citizens participate in either making [[#|policy]] or holding office.
  • Majority usually consisted of the [[#|classes]] with the greatest number of people and these classes mostly included poorer people ("We the people")
  • The word democracy is not found in the Constitution. Instead the phrase "republican form of government" takes its place. By this, the founders meant what we today call a "representative democracy."
  • Democratic Governments ideally are accountable to the people. In analyzing a democratic system of government, it is it is important to ask the following questions: "Who governs?” and “To what ends?” or “To what extent?”.
  • The problem with a democratic government is that there is no clear-cut precise way to determine whether a government, decision, or policy is democratic.
  • In history, a truly democratic government has only existed once: in ancient Greece, in the city-state of Athens. Due to the rapid growth of population as well as imperialistic land/territorial expansion, the concept of a pure (i.e. direct rule) democracy has been unable to keep up and remain effective as a form of government.
  • Local democratic government existed in the colonies as well. The "town meeting" in New England is one example of such government(We the people).
  • Framers of the Constitution favored a republic form of government more than the democratic government because in a republic citizens and the [[#|government work]] together to attain common good instead of personal interest(We the people).


The two types of democracy include Direct (Participatory) Democracy and Representative Democracy.

1. Direct Democracy is a system of government in which all or most citizens participate directly, such as in a small town meeting where everyone votes directly on all issues. It is also used to describe those regimes that come as close as possible to Aristotle's definition-"the rule of many." (Some historians assert that the prevalence of this type of democracy in colonial America, especially in Puritan churches, paved the way for the widespread adoption of democracy in a national context after the American Revolution.) According to Wilson and Dilulio, this type of democracy is no longer completely practical because of increasingly large populations. Some people believe that direct democracy can be ineffective in achieving the common good because people may make decisions based on emotional appeals. The Framers believed Americans couldn't handle direct democracy, so they created the system of checks and balances. A system of checks and balances would appease those that feared a federal government that would become too powerful and stifle the rights of the individual states while still creating a new federal government that could run a new nation. Many states allow a form of direct democracy in which voters decide on referendum issues (policy choices that appear on the ballot). Those who support direct democracy claim it is the only way to make sure the "will of the people" prevails.

However, the framers of the Constitution did not believe that the "will of the people" was synonymous with the "common interest" or the "public good." Madison wrote in Federalist No. 10 and No. 51 about the different factions in America that would make it difficult to govern. He believed that these different factions had to come together and form coalitions. Madison favored larger republics, as he believed they would provide more moderate views (Wilson). In this way, he thought that the federal government should not be too close to the people since the people did not always have everyone's "common interest" in mind (Wilson). They believed that an enlightened minority could be better trusted with the duty of making educated decisions with the best interest of everyone in mind. Thus, instead of direct democracy, they favored...

  • The founder’s philosophy was that government should “mirror not mediate” popular opinion. They believed that time and knowledge were limited within the citizens and therefore they could not make good political policy choices. They also believed that even though this type of democracy acts faster than that of a representative one, it can also cause great harm in a small amount of time. Due to this they chose to not let every important issue be decided by a popular vote. An example of this can be the initial elections of senators by which they were chosen by state legislators.
  • The Framers also believed that the common man was rather incompetent
  • A direct democracy has never been successful on a large scale


2. Representative Democracy is a system of government in which leaders that are elected for the people by the people makes decisions by winning a competitive struggle for the popular vote.
  • The United States and Germany are examples of representative democracies.
  • Representative democracy utilizes characteristics of both the presidential and parliamentary systems of government.
  • In representative democracy, leaders must be able to communicate without an abundance of restrictions and political parties must have the opportunity for competition, and voters need to believe that a meaningful choice exists.
  • Leaders must make compromises to connect to a majority of voters, which can balance out the radical candidates into well-rounded contenders.
  • representative democracies keep the people close to politics, yet at a safe distance, as they cannot directly influence much of the political structure or directly vote for political leaders. The president, for instance, is selected through electorates
  • It is impractical, due to limits on time, energy, interest, and expertise, for people to decide on public policy but is not impractical to expect reasonable choices made by the public. This is why it is called "representative democracy."
  • Sometimes called "the elitist theory of democracy," due to the fact that direct democracy is likely to lead to bad decisions because decisions are based on fleeting passions and popular demagogues.
Is Representative Democracy Best?
  • The Framers of the Constitution saw representative democracy as a way of minimizing abuse of power by either a misguided majority, or self-serving office holders, according to Wilson and Dilulio.
    • Leaders are authorized to make decisions and to wield political power by winning a competitive struggle for the popular vote.
  • There exist problems that representative government faces in order to be successful.
    • There must be "an opportunity for genuine leadership competition," so that individuals and parties are required to run for office in order to garner the votes and approval of the people, hence involving direct participation of citizens.
    • There also needs to be communication that has little to no bias in order for voters to make decisions.
  • Even with these requirements met, there still exists problems.
    • Determining which offices are to be elected and which are to be appointed.
    • The number of candidates that are allowed to compete.
    • Among candidates, parties or the government, who has to pay for the campaigns.
    • Candidates may not always serve the needs of those who they represent, but may choose to follow their self-interest.
  • According to Wilson and Dilulio, the Framers of the Constitution wanted the government to "mediate, not mirror, popular views" and that those elected would only "represent, not register, majority sentiment." (pg 8 American Government)
  • The Framers also assumed that the average citizen wasn't capable of making decisions on policies, hence a representative democracy would be best.
  • The Framers conceded that representative democracy has slow effects and prevents dramatic changes in policy, and that a government is just as capable of doing great harm as it is doing great good.
  • For representative democracy to work, there must be an opportunity for genuine leadership competition, as Wilson describes.
  • Elected "representatives" in a Representative Democracy may also need to become more politically moderate in order to win election. This implies that there are fewer ideological extremists who wind up in office.
  • The framers who wrote the constitution never explicitly mentioned the word “democracy” instead they stated “The republican form of government” . The framers believed that the majority opinion should figure in the enactment of many or more government policies. They insisted that the issues concerning civil rights and liberties such as the freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, freedom of press and religion, or even the right to vote should never lie in the hands of a populr vote. They saw this as a great opportunity to minimize the abuse of a tyrannical majority or offcie holder.
  • Even though the representative democracy is designed to have similar views as the majority of the population there will still be those that oppose.

Direct Democracy vs. Representative Democracy
  • Direct Democracy allows more decision-making power to lie in the hands of the people.
  • On the other hand, Representative Democracy allows for a government with more stable policies, not subject to "popular passions".
  • Direct Democracy allows for initiatives to be created by voters.
  • Representative Democracy allows people to make reasonable choices among leadership groups, instead of having people attempt to directly decide on public policy, as in a Direct Democracy, with the constraints of time, information, energy, interest, and expertise (Wilson).
  • Representative Democracy most closely resembles the intentions of constitutional democracy, meaning that elected officials can act in the best interests of the people as opposed to them voting the way the people want them to on every issue, which would essentially be the same thing as Direct Democracy.
  • A Direct Democracy which allows individual voices to be heard and taken accounted for would not particularly work with such a large population, where as a Representative Democracy takes into account of these issues and groups people with similar outlooks to "represent" the population.
  • Most representative democratic countries allow for three main direct democracy actions: initiative, referendum, and recall.

According to Wilson and Dilulio, power affects who will hold government office and how government will behave.

Authority: The right to use power.
  • We accept decisions often without question if we believe they are made by people who we believe have the right to make them.
  • While we will obey users of naked power, we resent them for not having authority.
  • In the United States a person is thought to have authority if the way he or she acts is conferred by a law, by a state, or national constitution.
  • The US Constitution allows government and indirectly the people to remove authority and replace it with another if necessary to avoid oppression or bad leadership
  • " People who exercise political power may or may not have the authority to do so" ( Wilson 5). So just because someone is in power does not mean they have the right to use their power.

Formal authority:
  • The power of a government official such as the President, a senator, or a federal judge.
  • In formal authority, power is usually centralized at the head of an organization (such as a business owner).

Legitimacy: Political authority conferred by law or by a state or national constitution.
  • When the United States was first formed, the legitimacy of the actions of the government was questioned. But today the Constitution is accepted as a source of legitimate authority.
  • Legitimacy does not mean power.
    If the US Constitution and the entire government that has resulted from its ratification in the late 18th century was suddenly considered illegitimate, the government would have no true power. For example, the Supreme Court may declare an act or law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has most usually been given a large amount of legitimacy by citizens and within the government. But the Supreme Court has very little power of enforcement. Just because they are considered legitimate, the other branches of government could easily go against the rulings of the court, taking away the courts only real power. President Andrew Jackson exemplified this after his decision to move the Cherokee Indians to gain their land against the Supreme Court's decision in the case Worcester v. Georgia.
  • No exercise of political power by government at any level is legitimate if it is not in some sense democratic.
  • Introduced the battle between the loose constructionists and the strict constructionists
    • Strict constructionists: Those that believed the Constitution should only be interpreted literally and policy making should follow what the Founders wanted out of government. Thomas Jefferson was a strict constructionist in ideology but ended up acting as a loose constructionist in practice during his presidency.
    • Loose constructionists: Those that believed the Constitution should not be interpreted literally but in terms of its implied powers. Alexander Hamilton was a loose constructionist; he used the "necessary and proper" clause to assert that the national government has the power to establish a National Bank even though no such power is explicitly granted in the Constitution.
  • the legitimacy that a government has is one of the most important, since a government can have power in theory, but without legitimacy, nobody will follow the laws and demands

How are power and authority related?
A government can have power without having authority, or legitimacy in exercising that power. While power is the ability to get another person to act, even by force, so in having power one does not necessarily have the authority to use it.


What is Political Power?


Power - The ability of one person to cause another person to act in accordance with the first person's intentions
-Examples:
Obvious: president orders troops into disputes.
Subtle: The president's speechwriters write speeches with tones that are in line with their own feelings about the issues addressed in the speech. Thus, they are exercising power over the president by getting him to convey the tones and therefore feelings of the speechwriters when he addresses the country. In this way, the speechwriters may be indirectly exercising power over people across the country, if individuals react the way the speechwriters would want after hearing the speech.
Authority - Is the right to use power, not all who exercise political power have authority to do so.
- Political power is given to the politician through trust and allowance by the citizens (the citizens believing that person or body has the ability to use the power properly).
-In the United States most authority comes from what is written in the Constitution.
-The exercise of authority is easier than the use of power that is not supported by any claim or right.(Wilson). Sometimes people accept decisions if they believe that the person doing them has the right to make them. However in order to have power one does not necessarily have aurthority. For eaxmple the president’s policy advisers can have power as they are the people that help carry out new policies that can affect a minority or a majority of the people. All this depends on the policy, however they were able to exercise their power over the “authority” figure, the President
- The president, senators, and federal judges have formal authority. Formal authority refers to the power vested in a governmental office.
Legitimacy- The political authority conferred by law or by state or national constitution.
-The main question relating to legitimacy is "What makes a law or constitution a source of right?". The topic of legitimacy has been the foundation of political struggles over what politicians believe to be "right".
-Americans see the Constitution as a source of legitimacy
-Americans only view political power by government legitimate when it has some sense of democracy.
-Examples: The Civil War was fought over the legitimacy of the federal union. Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was controversial since some argued whether the government's activity in the economy was legitimate.
- No exercise of political power by government at any level is legitimate if it is not in some sense democratic (Wilson 5)
-Legitimacy is important in order to keep a sense of order, it is the foundation of a government

Distribution of Political Power

  • Policies would normally reflect the views of people who participate actively in any phase of policy-making.
  • The political elites use their disproportionate share of power and influence to affect the outcome of domestic and foreign more than any other group.
  • The separation of powers plays a key role in the distribution of political power

How is Political Power Distributed?

Majoritarian politics: elected officials act in accordance with the preferences of the majority of citizens.
The two key questions that are prevalent when studying government according to Wilson and Dilulio are “Who governs? and To what ends?" There are four traditional answers. There are four different political views of how a government should be run:
(1) Marxist view: view that the struggle for power is among two groups; capitalists or "bourgeoisie", and the workers or "proletariat". Whichever class dominates the economy also controls the government. In the U.S. capitalists hold control over the economy ergo the government. Marx suggested that the workers will have a workers rebellion and over throw the capitalists due to this growing struggle between the two groups.
-Introduced by German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), the founder of modern socialist thought
-Marxism is basically socialism and Communism has roots in Marxism.
-Marxists believe that the US government represents the rich since it is, "but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoise" (Wilson)
(2) Power elite view: A government that is dominated by a few top leaders, most of whom are outside of government and enjoy great advantages in wealth, status, or organizational position. Has Views that favor stability because elitist do not like any changes.
-Developed by the American sociologist Charles Wright Mills in his 1956 book, "The Power Elite."
  • Elite: Persons who possess a disproportionate share of some valued resource, like money or power.
  • Most people that have an elite view are outside of the government and enjoy great wealth and usually are in a high position at an organization.
  • According to Mills, the elite that is, or has, been governing the U.S. consists mostly of people belonging to three types of groups:
      1. High Political leaders such as, the President, close cabinet members, and advisers
      2. Major corporate owners and executives
      3. High ranking military officers
  • Elites tend to be more polarized than the average citizen. This is why the stance of the Republican and Democratic parties may differ significantly. The average citizen tends to have more of a moderate view.
(3) Bureaucratic view:
Instead of elected representatives, the bureaucratic view implies that government officials and/or workers are the ones who exercise power by helping write policies into existence. It suggests the aforementioned ones who have the power in actually making the changes, the appointed officials, are mostly invisible to the average citizen and relatively unknown to the elites, and not only implement policies, but make them to suit their interests and ideas.
  • Capitalists, workers, or elites (from the Marxist view or the power elite view) may come to power in the government, but the laws they create and enact will be dominated by bureaucrats who operate the government on a daily basis (Wilson)
  • This theory was created by German scholar Max Weber (1864-1920). He asserted that institutions, regardless of being governmental, had allowed bureaucrats to control them as to allow them to control and maintain the government easier.
  • According to Weber's theory, bureaucracies are desirable to some extent as expertise and specialization allow bureaucrats to make better decisions than elected officials.
  • This theory originated out of the idea that (non)governmental institutions are under the influence of large bureaucracies (Wilson)
  • Government bureaucrats do not merely implement public policies, they effectively "make" them as suits their own ideas and interests
  • Weber felt that an ideal bureaucracy is one that is hierarchically organized.

(4) Pluralist view: The idea of interest groups competing among one another to achieve what they want is known as the pluralist view. According to this view, policies are passed due to which interest is more representative of the views of Americans. This view tends to resonate the strongest with people when thinking of our government, because it generally encopmasses a large spectrum of input from competing interests, and the ones that tend to be fought for the most vigorously or perpetually tend to be the ones most represented.
Although no one authored the view, those who have this view (political scientists and journalists) believe that while businesses and corporations may make some issues impossible for citizens to impact, there are enough political resources so that big business cannot lock out every single issue.
  • According to Wilson and/or Dilulio, because there are many institutions that wield political power (ie state, federal, and local governments) and within those are smaller groups, there is no one group that controls a majority of the political process. The competition between these groups is what creates public policy. He also states that since these "political resources" continue to be divided, this gives different "elites" a "chance to affect the outcomes of decisions." (pg. 10 American Government)
  • Pluralists acknowledge that although political elites, big businesses, etc. can dominate certain issues but stress that among most issues the resources are so widely scattered that no single political elite can control all of them. (Wilson)
  • Government policies are often simply the end-result of lengthy compromises between political groups of different motives
  • In the midst of factions battling for political influence in public policy, the non-elites and general public contribute significantly to the the legislative process as well
  • Not only are they divided, they are responsive to their followers interests and they provide representation of almost every citizen who is affected by a policy.
  • While pluralists recognize that participation in the government is "extremely unequal" (Wilson 10), they accept that political resources are divided enough to equally affect decision outcomes.
Nongovernmental elitist theory
- Says that an elite (usually outside the government) makes most major decisions. Related to the Marxist theory in the sense that these elite control many aspects society, such as corporations and resources that we use in our everyday lives.

Is Democracy Driven by Self-Interest?
  • Out of the four different views on political power, the pluralist view is what ensures America as a democratic nation in more ways than one.
  • Democracy is driven by Self Interest because it relies on voter turnout that is dependent on influence by the candidates.
  • According to Wilson & Dilulio, there is plenty of self-interest among political elites, but it does not mean that the resulting policies will be based off that self-interest.
  • A policy may be good or bad independent of the motives of the person who decided it. One most determine the cost and benefits of both sides and see if there is a benefit for doing what they choose.
    • For example: The Revolutionary War, The Civil Rights Movement (Wilson)
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, a French author, noticed the trait of Americans to act on the basis of their self-interest, which is incomplete guide to their actions. (Wilson 10)
  • Some events can cause elected officials, government workers, and citizens to act in ways that transcend their personal needs or benefits (Wilson 11)
    • 9/11- elected officials, government workers, and citizens behaved altruistically defying the theory that people are driven by self interest. (Wilson 11)
    • 1960s leaders of AFL-CIO in Washington lobbying for civil rights bills- they were a powerful force, but did not stand to benefit personally or professionally (Wilson 11)
  • There is concern as to whether the U.S. can defeat terrorism.
    • There are concerns as to how a coordinated effort can be launched, because of the variations of views.
    • There are also constitutional rights that must be considered, and how they must be applied to those considered terrorists, such as the people previously held in Guantanamo Bay.
    • There are also problems involving is the U.S. should wage war against other countries considered to be harboring terrorists.

What explains Political Change?
-According to Wilson and Dilulio, politics is not all about "who gets what," it is about how people, who claims to speak for others, define the public interest.
-What has shaped our government and our policies that we have today are the economic interests, powerful elites, entrenched bureaucrats, competing pressure groups, and people who are passionate about an issue (Wilson).
-According to Wilson and Dilulio, the great shifts in the character of our government-size, scope, institutional arrangements, and direction of policies- have relfected complex and sometimes sudden changes in elite or mass beliefs about what government is supposed to do.

  • 1840s: When the nation was founded, France and England wanted to determine whether or not America would survive as a nation.
  • 1920's: The federal government played a minimum role.
  • 1930's-1970's: The federal government tried to solve many economic and social problems starting with FDR's "New Deal" during the Great Depression (the creation of a welfare state occurred from the numerous welfare programs that began under the "New Deal"). From then through LBJ's "Great Society" projects, (great expansion in power and reliance on the federal government), and then until around the time President Reagan was elected, the federal government expanded rapidly.
  • 1981-1988: The Reagan administration sought to cut back on social and economic involvement-cut taxes. money spent, and regulations (Wilson).
-The nature of "day-to-day political conflict" is shaped by "deep-seated" views, significant developments in the economy, and "competing or widely shared opinions" about what makes up the current "dominant political problem." (Wilson)
eg. The issue of slavery in peoples eyes could of posed as an issue of "gains and losses", or and issue of civic duty to abolish it. (Wilson)
    • politics and the conflict within it is about how elites, who claim to speak for the people, define the public interest
-political change is often a result of what events occur and how the public as a whole responds and how those responses will be represented.
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The Nature of Politics
  • To know who governs, there must be an understanding of who yields power- who made a difference in the outcome and for what reason- which is harder to discover (Wilson).
    • It is important you understand preferences to understand power
  • Unable to determine the distribution of political power by just looking at what laws are being discussed or what administrative actions are being taken
    • Most power exist because of shared understanding , common friendships, organizational loyalties etc. However, these are difficult to identify . (Wilson)
    • One must understand how different institutions act on a variety of issues to understand the nature of politics.
    • A close analyis of what the law entails and how it was passed and administered is necessary before actions can take place (Wilson)
  • Institutions & Interests can only truly be judged after one has seen how they behave on a variety of issues, important or potential. (Wilson)
  • According to Wilson & Dilulio, policy process is arguably one of the best barometers of changes in who governs (even though political change does not consistently occur with changes in public laws).
  • The American government and it's institutions handles issues and programs like social welfare, differently than other countries would or do.
What Value or Values matter most in American Democracy
  • The Framers had a vision for how American government would function but did not elaborate on what values mattered most, so it is the job of our current government to decide what and how decisions are to be made in America (Wilson).
  • It is the governments job to decide what types of trade-offs that it will make for our nation, like providing more federal money for college students, but raising taxes to get earn those funds or creating more jobs for people which would result in a decrease in salary.
  • Overall, what matters most in American Democracy is that the government does what is socially beneficial for society by providing for the wants and needs of individuals while maintaining economic prowess and financial security for the people.