Democracy in America

democracy in america

When people think of democracy they probably think about a system that allows the free expression of ideas and the peaceful resolution of disagreements. They also likely imagine a government that is transparent and responsive to the public, and that provides checks against corruption. But democracy is not only about the political system: it is a way of life. Democracy is about the shared sense that we live in a constantly changing world, that things could always be different than they presently are. It is a sense that is nourished by the dynamic forces of democracy itself.

The wellsprings of this sense of contingency are many and varied. One obvious source is the frequent interruptions of certainties that occur in democracies when elected officials make promises they cannot keep and do not fulfill. This is a powerful source of discontent in democratic societies. Another source is the constant reminder of a limit on personal power posed by democratic institutions that are not subject to the kind of external checks that are found in more traditional societies. These limits make it difficult for individuals to achieve a kind of mastery over their own lives.

In Tocqueville’s view, democracy’s inescapable limit on power leads to a desire for equality in other areas of life. He was struck by the fact that in American society there was a constant struggle to level the playing field. For example, married women were always battling to overcome the principle that a husband’s authority is innate and God-given.

This desire for equality was reflected in the growing popularity of self-consciously democratic literature and art. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a celebration of the boundlessness of the human potential to change, is one such work. Another is Hermann Melville’s Moby-Dick, a cautionary tale of the hubris and self-destruction that are inevitable for those who act as if there are no limits to progress.

Tocqueville thought that democratic societies, in their drive to equalize all aspects of life, would eventually destroy or modify the great inequality between men and women that appeared to be rooted in nature. He called this process ‘social revolution’.

As a result, he believed that the United States would have an interest in encouraging the spread of democracy because further democratization enhances the lives of citizens of other countries and contributes to international peace. As a result, democracies tend not to launch wars or terrorist attacks against one another. As the United States continues to promote democracy in the hemisphere, it should pragmatically reassess its diplomatic methods and focus on cooperation rather than confrontation.