The claims of superiority, often evident in the attitudes and actions of the west, is based on their acceptance of democracy and the ideals which it suggests. Democracy is the fundamental basis that western countries use to claim themselves superior to other countries in the world. Western countries believe that democracy is the only fair form of government and are often critical of countries that have different forms of government. One of the ironies of these facts is that most citizens of democratic countries do not know what the word democracy means and what it represents. “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but wont cross the street to vote in a national election.” Bill Vaughan
The Oxford dictionary defines democracy as government by the people, direct or representative. In Canada we have a representative democracy that allows us to pick our political leaders, but because of the laws and institutions that are in place it is unlikely that we will ever have a “pure” form of democracy. Some of the important questions, which all Canadians need to ask themselves, include those at the heart of this essay: Why do we call ourselves a democracy, do we only have democratic rights every four years when we are asked to vote? When we chose those who will represent us do we have any control over their actions after they are in power? What possible means do the people have in controlling politicians and government decisions? These and other questions need to be addressed in order to determine the nature of our democracy and perhaps our attitudes toward it.
Representation is an essential element of modern democracy. In comparing populations of modern countries to the 5th century B.C.E. city-state of Athens, where the first democracy originated, the first difficulty encountered by modern democracy becomes clear. The citizen assembly in Athens was the most innovative and important idea in the development of democratic politics. The small population of Athens, however, allowed for a gathering of all men over the age of 18. Modern cities and states could never gather all men and women over 18 in one area to discuss and vote on every aspect of a political agenda. The modern solution, representative democracy, ensures that one person who voices the opinions of the majority represents a large number of people in the government.
Unfortunately in modern politics this does not usually work the way it was intended to. In theory representative democracy is a logical and practical way to deal with large populations and limited time. But with political corruption being a widespread problem, the voice of the majority is not always heard and their interests are not always fought for. Instead our political system is corrupted by influence and alliances and this is one of the principle reasons why modern western countries will never have a pure form of democracy. During the Golden Age of Athens, democracy was the prided of all Athenians and they believed in only the purest form of democratic institutions.
“The most pure democracy, is that which is so called principally from that equality which prevails in it, for this is what the law in that state directs: that the poor shall be in no greater subjection than the rich, nor that the supreme power shall be lodged with either of these, but both shall share it.
For if liberty and equality, as some persons suppose, are chiefly to be found in a democracy, it must be so by every department of government being alike open to all?as the people are majority and what they vote is law”
Democracy in Athens included people being given positions of power at random by drawing names or by election by peers. Modern democracy has become a means to pick our so-called political elites, those that have devoted their lives to politics.
The elite are people we pick who have the real power in the institutions of representative government. The question that needs to be addressed is whether we have any control over those in power after we have put them there. Are there laws and institutions in place to prevent a group from gaining so much power that they are hard to challenge? I do not think there are. In some ways the people do have democracy only when they can vote every four years. That is one of the few times that the public is a real threat to any party. Canadians do have a lack of total control over actions of the government, the essential element of pure democracy. Majority rule in the legislature is an element of the Canadian government that allows for a party to be in a position where few things threaten its ability to govern how it wants.
If a party in Canada holds the majority rule in the House of Commons they are given the opportunity to place members in the senate. Also if the party holds majority in the House of Commons for long enough they will be able to create a majority in the senate. The Prime Minister of the party that hold a Commons majority is able to pick the governor general (a political figurehead), and they have almost absolute power and influence over the various institutions of government. This is why, in democratic countries like Canada, it is necessary to have institutions or laws that will keep the government in check. A government that holds the majority fears few things when it comes to the public. It can easily be seen that demonstrations have little effect on the government nor do many attempts by the public to get the governments attention.
There are two very important things that the governments do fear and have little direct influence over, the Supreme Court of Canada and the media. Both of these institutions cater to the rights of every Canadian. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over disputes in all areas of the law, including constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law and civil law. One of the main functions of the court is to interpret the constitution as it pertains to the rights of Canadians. The Supreme Court is often called on to assist the government in interpreting the constitution during the creation of new law. Because the Supreme Court is based around fundamental human rights the government must abide by its rulings without question. And when it comes to the Supreme Court there are few instances of corruption, which is one of the bigger problems in politics.
The Press, or Fifth Estate, is the second important check on government power. The press is the voice of the people, and although susceptible to manipulations of government, it is vital in keeping the public informed. The press are members of the public who appeal to the public and don’t necessarily care what the government thinks. The laws surrounding freedom of speech and freedom of the press allow the public to have some access to the truth. In my opinion the press has become a modern substitute for the Athenian assembly where all Athenians were invited to every assembly to hear arguments on all aspects of political decisions. Although in modern democracy every citizen is not given the right to vote on every political decision, the media allows for the public to hear arguments from both sides about all issues. If one desired, one could find information on every issue up for debate in the House of Commons on any given day.
When Democracy first started in Ancient Greece in a relatively small city-state of Athens it was enormously different than the democracy we know today. The basics of democracy: rule by the people, equality, and majority rule, have continued to be the foundation of modern democracy. We have maintained the basic principals of pure democracy but we have made some mandatory alterations to adopt democracy to the modern world. Sir Winston Churchill once said, “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” But most importantly, at the end of the day, democracy attempts to create social equality.