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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Against Democracy

Modern Americans seem to be losing faith in their government. Voter turnouts continue to fall, apathy reigns, and American citizens are becoming increasingly cynical about the political process taking place in Washington. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Bill Clinton impeachment proceedings, in which people generally admitted that Clinton's conduct was inappropriate but felt that he was nonetheless a good leader, and that one could not expect any politician to behave honorably. People generally feel that politicians are lying and scheming manipulators. They have therefore come to assume the worst about their leaders. Because of this attitude, all kinds of charges have been leveled at the American people -- that they are no longer willing to take responsibility for their actions, that they simply don't care about what happens anymore, or, worst of all, that they actually revel in the sin that they perceive to be taking place. While all of these may hold some element of truth, I believe that the real blame goes further. Our republican-democratic system of government is the real culprit.

In the Republic, Plato criticized democracy and the democratic personality by arguing that such people generally live for immediate gratification. He wrote, "And so [the democratic man] lives on, yielding day by day to the desire at hand. Sometimes he drinks heavily while listening to the flute; at other times, he's idle and neglects everything." By being free to do what they please, people living in a democracy are able to indulge their own desires first, and only worry about contributing to their society later. Although in modern times Plato's criticism seems overly harsh, there is a large element of truth in what he said. For example, most Dartmouth students are more concerned about their own future -- what their grades are, what their chances of getting in to a good professional school or investment firm are, and where they can have the most fun this weekend -- than they are in the United States itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this attitude, but it does place

the country in jeopardy, since a society concerned with its own needs first is often unable to bind together in times in conflict. This problem is particularly troubling in the United States, since there is enough enmity among different cultural groups at the present time that one wonders how they would unite in times of trouble.

The selfish attitude of modern America is hardly the most disturbing problem with our democratic form of government, however. Far more troubling is the fact that most people simply feel that they have no voice in modern politics. At first this claim may seem paradoxical, since the whole purpose of democracy is to give everyone a vote, and hence a say, in determining who rules. The problem is that our country is so vast -- with approximately 280 million citizens -- that voting is unable to function effectively. True, everyone has a say, but everyone's say is so minuscule that it might as well not exist at all. On the grand scheme of things, everyone's vote might matter, but on the small scheme it is almost impossible to persuade someone that his one vote could decide the outcome of an election. People therefore feel that their votes are insignificant and meaningless. They feel they have no part of the political process, and many therefore decide not to vote at all. Those that do

still vote are nevertheless disillusioned and cynical about the whole process. Because the average citizen is becoming increasingly removed from the government, they are becoming more and more apathetic, and the entire system is losing its viability.

Unfortunately, despite the plethora of problems inherent in a republican or democratic system of government, at present there is hardly an appealing alternative. The complex and bureaucratic nature of modern society means that a monarchy, such a personalized institution, would not function effectively; and dictatorship, with its penchant for tyranny, is unattractive as well. Although a great dictator, Plato's "philosopher-king" provides the best overall leadership, for every brilliant dictator there are about ten disastrous ones. None of the available systems of government seems adequate in dealing with the myriad of problems facing modern society.

Even so, it is important that the American people formulate a new and more viable form of government. The increasing alienation that the average citizen feels towards the political process is enhancing the vulnerability of the small person in the modern world. When a person feels increasingly isolated, weak, and unimportant, that person will turn to anything to restore a sense of meaning and purpose to the world. This fact explains the attraction of militia, hate groups, and fascism in the modern world. Unless we are able to effectively address the alarming cynicism and distressing isolation of the American people, we risk letting our country decay into tyranny, just like many of the other great democracies of the past, such as the ancient Greeks or Romans.