In some quarters, democracy has been regarded one of mankind's greatest institutional achievements. With that in mind, democracy as a concept has been subject to extensive research over time and in a way, these studies have helped us understand the very nature of democracy and democratization. In this text, I will briefly explore the British and the American constitution with an aim of finding out which of the two is more democratic. Further, I will amongst other things come up with a clear and concise definition of democracy and in so doing highlight the idea of Beetham in regard to necessary democratic goods and rights (civil).
The American and the British Constitution: Which of the Two is more Democratic?
It should be noted that to determine which of these two constitutions is more democratic, there is a need to highlight some key differences between the two countries in terms of their constitution systems. To begin with, it can be noted that while the United States of America can be regarded as a constitutional republic, Great Britain is considered to be a constitutional monarchy. Further, the two countries operate under different systems with the U.S. operating under a presidential system and Britain operating under a parliamentary system. With that said, in terms of democracy, the United States of America is regarded as a consensus democracy while on the other hand; Britain is taken to be a majoritarian democracy (Way, n.d.). To be able to determine which of the two constitutions is more democratic, it is imperative that the two countries' constitutional systems be compared.
In general terms, a constitutional monarchy has a single individual by whose name and title the governments is carried on. In this case, both the office and the title of such an individual is inherited but with the political authority of the individual largely regulated by the law. This is the modern view of a constitutional monarchy. It is important to note that in this modern view, the government in such a constitutional system has both a democratic and representative character though it is carried on by chief of state who inherits the office. The constitution largely limits the monarch's authority. Hence in this case, it is the representatives elected by the people who wield real government powers with the Monarch generally acting as a symbolic ruler. Political authority is shared between the Monarch and the elected representatives. On the other hand, a constitutional republic to begin with has a democratically elected chief of state. Hence effectively, unlike in a constitutional monarchy, inherited government offices do not exist (Way, n.d.).
In the British context, the Crown's title graces almost every aspect of the government (Barnett and Jago, 2011). For instance, as Barnett and Jago (2011, p. 115) note, "…the entire administration of justice is conducted in the name of the crown." Though she appoints a number of government officials, the Queen must abide by the constitutional provisions governing such appointments. It should be noted that though under the British constitution the Prime Minister is largely empowered to make decisions relating to the government i.e. In regard to defense and foreign policy, the same constitution also preserves some rights for the Crown which include but are not limited to the right to warn, encourage and be consulted on a wide range of policy related issues (Tompson, 2003). Thus in a way, one can argue that in the case of Britain, there is no absolute citizen participation through their elected officials. This effectively makes the British constitution less democratic than the United States Constitution.
It can be noted that in the United States of America, the constitution dictates that voters elect the country's president via an Electoral College (Sidlow and Henschen, 2008). Further, the constitution provides for the direct election of Congress members. On being elected, the president in consultation with the senate appoints the other relevant government officials including but not limited to ambassadors and federal judges. Under the U.S. constitution, no officers of the national government may be granted nobility titles by either the state or the national government. This promotes equality as one of the many tenets of democracy.
In my opinion, the American Constitution which prescribes a constitutional republic is more democratic than the British Constitution which prescribes a constitutional monarchy. In the American case, the constitution largely limits governmental power. Here, only democratically elected representatives exercise governmental power. Further in the American constitutional republic, any individual who is of the majority age possesses a legal right to participate in a democratic election. Thus the U.S. constitution prescribes a system of government which is largely seen as a representative democracy given that political authority is largely exercised by elected representatives as opposed to being shared between unelected and elected officials as is the case in a constitutional monarchy. Further, the move by the U.S. constitution to limit the powers of the government makes the country's regime (political) constitutional.
Democracy: A Concise Definition
In broad terms, the term 'democracy' does not have a universally accepted meaning or definition. However, based on the perceived characteristics of the same i.e. freedom and equality, some scholars, authors and commentators have over time coined different definitions of democracy. According to Lane and Ersson (2003, p. 25), "democracy comes from the Greek words 'demos' and 'cratein', meaning 'rule by the people'." In a way, this definition can be taken to be the literal view of democracy. In a more focused sense, Dautrich and Yalof (2011, p. 6) define the term democracy as a "form of government in which the people, either directly or through elected representatives, hold power or authority. Hence in this sense, individuals in a democracy have a say (in equal terms) in most state decisions.
Necessary Democratic Goods and Civil Rights: Beetham's Idea
Basically, democracy is constituted within a framework of both civil and political rights. According to Weir and Beetham (1999, p. 254), democratic goods include some qualities such as "qualities of responsiveness, redress, and so on…" According to the authors, these two goods are rather important. In an attempt to highlight the relevance of these goods, they note that when a complaint is responded to, there is greater satisfaction derived from such an action which largely differs from ballot box retribution at a later date. Further, as Beetham (2003) notes, there are a number of civil rights which should be secured by a democracy. Beetham identifies these rights as an individual person's security and life, freedom as well as liberty of movement, freedom of expression and thought, association and assembly freedom, freedom of access to information and freedom from being discriminated against.
When it comes to these rights, it is possible to give some examples of both their protection and subversion. Regarding their protection, individuals should be allowed to appeal court decisions if there is evidence of a probable violation or infringement of the said right. Second is the presence of legal machinery and muscle to ensure that courts interrogate the circumstances surrounding the restriction of rights. In this case, courts should be able to consider if all the considerations preceding the restriction of a given right have been satisfied. Another example which suffices in this case is the establishment of other agencies other than the courts charged with the aversion of any subversion of these rights.
When it comes to the subversion of these rights, Beetham (2003) identifies some generic modes of subversion. These modes of subversion according to Beetham arise as a result of judicial process inadequacies in regard to the protection of these rights where in such a case, courts come across as being rather incompetent or lack independence. Another of these generic subversion modes is oppressive or arbitrary policing. Here, the approaches used could include individuals being held in detention without any charge and protester intimidation. The third generic subversion mode Beetham (2003) identifies is the erroneous or selective use of anti-terrorism legislation or emergency powers. In this case, such powers and legislation are used erroneously against those perceived to belong to the opposition.
According to Beetham (2003), the subversion of these rights can also take place or occur in specific terms. In this case, specific subversion includes induced deaths of individuals in custody, capital punishment (though controversial), extreme control of media ownership rights, use of unfair defamation laws to stifle expression and public views and unavailability of information considered legally permitted or prohibitive costs of accessing the same.
Other Considerations: Democratic Matrix
Elite vs. Popular Control
According to Miroff, Seidelman and Swanstrom (2011), in an elite democracy, the citizenry have the power and right to vote which they actively exercise at the time of elections. However, after elections, authority relating to decision-making is ceded to the elite. In this case, it is assumed that the elite have the capacity to make decisions deemed reasonable in a world considered rather complex. On the other hand, when it comes to popular control, Miroff, Seidelman and Swanstrom (2011) are of the opinion that…