Democracy In America, Revisited
Democracy, Liberty, Equality
“If a people could ever succeed in destroying, or even in diminishing, the equality that prevails in its own body, they could do so only by long and laborious efforts. Their social condition must be modified, their laws abolished, their opinions superseded, their habits changed, their manners corrupted. But political liberty is more easily lost; to neglect to hold it fast is to allow it to escape.” -- Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Prior to the Civil War, Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that the people of the United States loved equality even more than we loved freedom. He went so far as to define love of equality as the prime characteristic of our culture. While never perfect in our freedom or our equality, the trend in this great country has always been toward improving upon these defining traits of democracy. Our revolution was fought for equality and for freedom. Our civil war moved us closer to equality. We waged World War II against tyrannical regimes espousing despicable policies of national discrimination and genocide.
Equality comes in many forms, but can be grouped into at least two: economic equality, and political equality. Economic equality can be viewed from at least two perspectives, equality of opportunity, and equality of wealth and income. Political equality can be viewed in terms of both opportunity and existing political power. Opportunity is closely related to education in today’s market economy. In this country, where education has been the cement that has held our bricks of freedom and equality together, where our tax structure has focused on preserving equality, and where social security has buoyed the less able and the elderly, today we see the formation of a new aristocracy, of a new inequality. The canyon that divides the wealthiest 10% of the population from the rest has been increasing for more than two decades. The middle class and the lower classes are merging while the wealthiest earn more than 100 times what the average employee earns. Mobility, in economic terms, is largely dependent on education, and education has increased in cost radically over the past two decades. Not only is access to quality education reduced, but through the reduction of support for critical thinking, as evidenced by the removal of analogical testing in the SAT and by limiting funds for fundamental and exceptional education, we witness what one writer has called the “dummying down” of our youth. As Tocqueville remarked: “[T]he time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social order itself will not be able to exist without education.”
Perspective, paradigms, and world views
Freedom To, or Freedom From
Freedom can be considered in at least two forms: Freedom TO DO something, and freedom FROM something. In the case of the United States, we will consider these two forms as freedom TO vote, TO express opinions, and freedom FROM invasion of privacy, and FROM oppression. Terrorist attacks on our homeland have opened the way for the administration to commence reductions in our freedom. The Patriot Act has already been used to excess in many cities around the country. Big Brother is now a reality. Cameras watch our streets. Our movements are tracked via our credit cards and cell phones. Our conversations are monitored for law enforcement and counter terrorism. Certainly, a degree of invasiveness is tolerable and even required. The right to dissent, forever a freedom necessary to the health of democratic institutions, has been assaulted. Reporters are arrested for criticizing the administration while others, strongly partisan in support of the administration, are not prosecuted for publishing the same news. The traditionally independent Corporation for Public Broadcasting has been trampled on, with the administration labeling dissention or even mild criticism as unpatriotic and “liberal”… as if that were a dirty word. A definition of “Liberal”: a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties (SiteDictionary.com). Sound like a dirty word to you? Freedom necessitates an educated population, knowledgeable in what can be done. The reduction in critical thinking, and in liberal arts education in general, renders the people of this country less aware of what their freedoms are, and more susceptible to coercion. People generally believe what they see on television, especially if it is delivered as news. Secretively, through masterful manipulation of the media, advertisements are created and presented as if they were factual news, and are paid for with tax dollars. Restricting the freedom of the press hampers our ability to know, and so to act. Freedom suffers.
How do you view current trends in our Republic?
Do you see inequality in opportunity in your day to day life? Which response best approximates your view?
Equality exists only in as much as we are aware of our position and power in society and in governance.
At the core of our republic’s democratic roots are equality and freedom. Exercising our freedoms presumes knowledge of what they are. Equality exists only in as much as we are aware of our position and power in society and in governance. If criticism of the current government is disallowed, then our freedoms are at risk. Today, the historic trends toward increasing equality and freedom have been reversed. With a “mandate” of the majority, the people of this country are being stripped of their equality and their freedom. If we revert to a feudal or aristocratic society, then equality is at risk. If these things are handicapped, then our republic, too, is at risk.
If our political liberty is lost it will be due to our inaction and lack of attention. It will be because of our own neglect that we will lose our republic to a new aristocracy. Our communities are engrossed in private matters, while a minority of our population has gained control of the government. The few speak for an absent or inattentive public. Their caprice is the word of the government; the laws are changing, and our social structure is moving toward the widest gap in our history between the wealthiest and poorest of our people. These are the conditions Tocqueville outlined above as necessary for the destruction of our freedom and equality. Big Brother is watching, so beware: If we are not careful, we will lose our great democratic Republic as well.