No Manifest Equality? No Democracy.
Hobbes and Locke, in their theories of the social contract and of liberalism, presumed that all citizens were equal. Unlike the theorists, I don’t think that average US citizens and even political activists should presume equality. The labels of democracy or republic here hinge on the fact that all citizens have manifest equality and can equally participate in the government system. Robert A. Dahl of Yale University came up with a label that I think is more fitting for our nation – a polycracy. We are pretty close to equality, and most of our people can participate. But in the end, the governing is done by “many people”, not by all of the people. I don’t think the United States is a democracy and I think that by calling ourselves a democracy, we are doing ourselves a disservice.
In the United States, citizens do not have equal access to the floors of meaningful deliberation. According to the US Census Bureau, more than four million U.S. citizens residing in the US territories are excluded from participating in the election of any voting-member of Congress, which is the political body that holds ultimate sovereignty over them. The unrepresentative face of government biases against the interests of women, minorities, and the young, less educated, and less wealthy. Our nation’s social order ensures that not every person has equal opportunity to voice their opinion with equal weight. Manifest equality does not exist. Additionally, there are over 300 million people in the United States. In the modern nation-state, people disappear, and are reduced to “we, the people”. The average voter fails to achieve the concrete identity needed to enjoy radical plurality. 300 million people can never all be heard in one conversation about any national issue. We are not all heard in a system we all proudly call a democracy.
We aren’t a democracy. Most, not all, of the people have the ability to participate. But, by telling ourselves we are a democracy – a prized label among liberal states – we stop working towards a greater equality among citizens. By no means are we abusing the title like some countries (i.e. Democratic Republic of Congo). But, we should still acknowledge that we have further to go before we achieve the ideal. We need the motivation to progress as a society and the language we use to describe ourselves is one step towards furthering that goal. Do you agree?