Civics 101 - Voting
Posted by: Paul Nichols
08 Nov 2006
Let's start Civics with a rather protracted discussion of Democracy. A wise man was once asked, "What is democracy?" "'s got somethin' to do with young men killing each other," he replied.
The literature on democracy is rife with definitions. Words come to one's mind associated with democracy such as "human rights," "freedom to," or "freedom from." Researchers have delved into the notion of a government's role in society, and whether or not the government exists to provide for the citizens or vice-versa. Hmmm...well let's move on.
Democracy is usually defined as government by the people, where the people hold the supreme power in government. A generally accepted formal definition of democracy is Robert A. Dahl's polyarchy that treats a country as democratic if the regime holds elections that the opposition has some chance to win. Democracy in today's world happens almost by default. The large amount of international pressure to democratize provides a sort of baseline, a minimum acceptable limit of democracy. A smart guy named Schmitter goes as far to say, "most polities are condemned to be democratic."
However, a simplistic or minimalist definition does not help us determine the order of magnitude by which a country holds to democratic principles. The literature has developed the notion of "consolidated democracies" to differentiate between countries that do or do not embrace distinct democratic values over the long term. Linz and Stepan, another couple of really smart guys, define a consolidated democracy as "a political regime in which democracy as a complex system of institutions, rules, and patterned incentives and disincentives has become, in a phrase, 'the only game in town.'"
So democracy nowadays is usually studied in relation to the institutions in a society (social, civic and otherwise) that enable everyone to get along okay. One element of these institutions is voting.
So I hope you voted!!!
I don't really hold to the premise that someone who hasn't researched their vote is at the polls "negating" my informed vote. Voting and its role in democracy should be and is much more than "something earned." (*Paradox Alert* Voting has been earned in this country and I am grateful for it.) But I'm talking about the idea of voting as a privilege. (*Paradox Alert* It is a privilege, but not in the sense of only privileged whites should be allowed to do it. Or people who pay a poll tax. Or the informed.)
So what's the conclusion? I have none to offer. I'm glad we don't have inflated voter percentages in this country. In some countries the citizens are forced to vote, artificially inflating the number of "responsible" citizens. (*Paradox Alert* Of course I'm sad that we don't have higher percentages of people voting, because I think this is an indicator of irresponsibility.)
Well, anyway, I hope you voted!!!
To close, some reflections on democracy by people more famous than I am:
"If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost."
- Aristotle, Greek philosopher and scientist
"Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions - it only guarantees equality of opportunity."
- Irving Kristol, American editor and educator
"Two cheers for democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism."
- E. M. Forster, English novelist and essayist
"In a democracy, the individual enjoys not only the ultimate power but carries the ultimate responsibility."
- Norman Cousins, editor, humanitarian and author
"While democracy must have its organization and controls, its vital breath is individual liberty."
- Charles Evans Hughes, American jurist and statesman
"As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy."
- Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States (1861-1865)