The United States of America would have been completely different had the Founding Fathers been influenced by a different philosophical stream. Had democracy not been the cornerstone of the nation, Americans would not be enjoying the rights they have today. Democracy, in its literal meaning, suggests that the power of the state rests on its constituents and that, therefore, the fate of the country solely depends on its people. Without a democratic system, there will be no elections and no representations in the political arena.
Since elections provide the means for the people to constantly shape the course of the nation’s institutions through elected officials, the lack thereof deprives Americans of their right to steer their country towards the direction which they see best fits their needs. For the most part, the Founding Founders perfectly embodied the noble principle of democracy in three simple words—“We the People”. If the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes became the foundation of America, Americans will be forced to surrender their rights to a single authority.
In effect, Americans will be left powerless as the “Leviathan” would have now held and wielded the aggregate of all their rights. The limitation of the political philosophy of Hobbes is clear—it does not recognize a large number of the rights of the people, more so their inalienable rights. Without recognizing the rights of the people, society becomes either lifeless or mechanical as individuals are forced to follow whatever the sitting authority dictates. In the society of Hobbes, Americans have no right to tell the ruler what to do.
In some cases, modern Americans are unable to convince their local officials to do as they are told by their constituents. Rather, some local officials play deaf and mute to the calls of their constituents to make certain actions that will favor the larger body politic instead of a few chosen elites. If the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill became the foundation of America, the political system would have been chosen depending on the greatest good for the greatest number. In short, the political system will essentially be a Utilitarian system.
In such a system, certain harms towards some Americans are permissible so long as the majority of the population is able to gain the best benefit. It then becomes clear that human rights violations are permissible if such violations would realize the best interest of the people. For example, the murder of thieves vigilante groups commit becomes acceptable because it reduces the possible sources of threats to life and property to most Americans. In the long run, the rule of law becomes parallel to the rule of the majority.
Minorities who stand in opposition to the principles and ideals of the majority become powerless and are reduced to “toothless” citizens of the nation unable to change the social situation. Oftentimes, modern American culture reflects the Utilitarian perspective. One compelling example is the time when African-Americans were racially discriminated. Their discrimination was left unattended to by the federal government at that time primarily because most of the American population such as the “conservatives” benefitted from the oppression—benefit as in the context of their perception.
I think the political philosophy of John Locke best reflects the formation of America as a nation. Locke primarily espouses the idea that men in the State of Nature would come together and transfer the power to punish transgressors to the government. Although the will of the majority requires all people to follow that will, the government plays the role of judge in times when offenses towards the people occur. The society formed from convention of people comes with certain laws that guide the actions of all people and serve as an adjudicating force with the aid of judges.
Today, much of Locke’s political philosophy can be observed in America. The country has its own set of laws that guide the conducts of its citizens. Although the will of the majority is observed especially during elections, it does not necessarily deprive the minority of their rights and privileges in the society. As a matter of fact, American laws, in principle, do not discriminate between those who belong to the majority and those who are from the minority. All people are equal before the law.
Courtney from Study Moose
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