In the discussion you formulate, you should not reflect anyone else’s belief. The professor
does not grade you on whether or not she is in agreement; only on how logically and
ethically you discuss the issues. Read through and incorporate your answers to questions
in your discussion.
For a point of reference, when using the term democratic or the term republic it is in reference
to the philosophy of, and those who subscribe to democratic principles; not political parties.
The United States of America is a Democratic Republic. The people elect representatives to
legislative bodies to make national, state and local decisions for them.
There is no single principle, or attitude, held in common by all democratic philosophers, it is a
confidence in the capacity of human beings, living together, to govern themselves justly. When
we enter into this institution, theoretically, poverty is not a bar. There should be no
exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private intercourse we should not be suspicious of one
another, or angry with our neighbor if he believes differently. We are unconstrained in our
private lives; however, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from
doing wrong by respect for authority and for the laws, having an especial regard to those which
are ordained for the protection of the injured, the poor and the under-represented.
At the core of American Democracy is Federalism. (You will address this more when you study
Chapter 3.) Unlike many political philosophies our democracy is not all-powered from the top
down or from the bottom up. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution solidly establishes the
powers of the States. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor
prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Federal
ism has provided the opportunity for both State and National governments to operate effectively
and ethically, with some powers going upward and constitutional powers going downward.
Throughout this discussion (and the entire course) keep the principle of Federalism at the
Our democracy is a system that developed through three traditions; natural rights democracy,
democratic liberalism, and ultimately, contemporary democracy.
The oldest form, natural rights democracy, is based upon the existence of a law of nature, from which the inalienable rights of every citizen are derived. Some of the early writers likened these laws of nature to “laws of a God.” Man (generically) could make laws only as far as they did not disagree with that of the defining force. The great difficulty being, “who” defined what nature or a God wanted? The most modern of the natural rights democrats, Thomas Jefferson incorporated the idea of a creator into the Declaration of Independence. This document carries no weight of law, but it carries the burden of commitment of a people to live under democratic principles.
Natural rights democracy led into a period of democratic liberalism. Philosophers turned from alleged inalienable rights to the well-being and happiness of all members of a society. Laws protecting the liberty of people and the equality of treatment could only be controlled by people themselves, not a God or nature. Democratic ideals were supported as those best suited for the achievement of the greatest good for the greatest number. Men must be free and equal, not because it had been preordained, but because only freedom and equality could lead to the kind of government and kind of man considered ideal by all.
The pragmatists of the time, 55 gentlemen gathered in Philadelphia to write the Constitution. They were concerned with the operation of democracy, with changes in its laws and institutions that would have the optimum consequences. They were concerned about the possible tyranny of the majority and how it could be prevented with a democracy; and they were troubled about the conflict of interest into which excessive liberty could lead; and they tried to develop principles upon which freedoms could be safely extended and when necessary, justly restricted. These were the philosophers of democratic liberalism. They sought to answer questions. How do we insure freedom for all, and still restrict it in order to protect the rights of others? How do we provide the greatest good for the greatest number, yet protect minorities? How do we establish a strong executive without creating a monarchy. Answers were found in the development of contemporary democracy, the tradition in which the Constitution was framed.
Inherent in contemporary democracy are two traditions, democratic capitalism, and democratic socialism. Capitalism is, and always has been a major motivation for all Americans. Free
enterprise is that rock upon which many young people have placed a dream and built that dream into a thriving business. Democratic socialism is of equal import. When private corporations, businesses or individuals are unable to provide the services necessary to a democratic society the government has an obligation to provide them. Examples: medical care for service persons, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, Welfare, family leave, minimum wage, workmen’s comp, unemployment insurance, GI Bill, TVA.
In your discussion of the topic you have just read answer the following questions:
How does this evolutionary socialism differ from revolutionary socialism found in Communism?
Which of these three traditions of democracy are the best? Why? Give examples, using sound reasoning. If you agree or disagree with any principle explain your justification logically and with reason.
What do you see is the best “road” for America today? Should we cling to the old principles? Should we make major changes? Keeping in mind, the Fifth Article of the U.S. Constitution provides the means for amendment.
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