America Was a Wonderful Experiment in Freedom Term Paper
Excerpt from Term Paper :
America was a wonderful experiment in freedom and democracy which had never before been attempted by any nation. Nations either tried to give power to the people in order to prevent monarchies from rising to despotic power, or they allowed monarchs, despots and other sole figure heads to rise to power. In the case of allowing the people to rule, Europe and European's had learned many times that unbridled power in the hands of the people was no more just than the rule of despots. Mobs could become just as dictatorial as individual monarchs who sat upon golden thrones. Until America came into existence, nations could only expect to exist for a short time before political turmoil would create change of government, and the nation would start over again.
So as America grew from a fledgling nation to a powerful and economically stable country, those who had watched democracy struggle around the world watched to see the difference between what they understood from their own experiences in freedom and the American experiment. Theorists from around the world watch America develop its own version of independence and democracy which could be exercised by all people by allowing all people to have their own say in the matters of the nation. This novel idea was both idealistic and realistic. Allowing one person of group of people to have freedom without guaranteeing the same to every man was the source of democratic failure after failure in the European countries. Never before had an entire nation based their future on the rights of every man to guide the collective governance of the nation. And as such, America received more than a small amount of attention.
Alexis de Tocqueville was one of the first to write prolifically about the American experiment. As a student of political affairs, he had watched governments rise and fall, claim divine right, or claim to speak for the people only to be replaced by a more right of more 'of the people' government across the European continent. Like Madison who contributed significantly to the founding of the nation through authoring the Federalist papers, Tocqueville knew that a pure democracy was no guarantee of continued freedom. He spoke of the 'tyranny of the majority' in his essays entitled Democracy in America. Democracy had not prevented social failure. Democracy had contributed to the failure of the national political system in the same way that a monarchy had. The people could gain a heated and radical spirit which if left unabated could rise up against the national government and demand its own way, rather than the well-being of the nation.
Godkin, writing at the time of the civil war, was writing on the other side of the issue. Godkin watched powerful individuals rise to leadership by influencing the public opinions or gaining political power for themselves. Godkin, beginning as a war correspondent during the civil war, wrote about affairs of governments from the common soldier's point-of-view. After the war, and the rise of political power in the north which began to resemble the monarchies / dictatorships of the past, Godkin questioned the ability of the people to rule themselves because they could not oppose such powerful forces.
Mills also knew of the problems of mankind which arise when individuals seek to rule themselves. He also wrote during the middle of the 19th century, and his words brought into questions the direction of the developing nation. Mills, like Madison and Tocqueville, understood that when people ruled themselves, only the guarantee of freedom for all people could guarantee the freedom of the individual. He wrote: "No society, in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free!" (Mill,2000)
Freedom for our generation has become such a convoluted idea of freedom to do whatever we choose without regard to individual responsibility, or to a level of accountable responsibility to others. Mill understood, as did the Madison, that mankind has complete independence and liberty over himself, his own body and mind. The highest goal of a social order, therefore, would be to guarantee and support this freedom. However, these writers understood what our generation has forgotten, that man's actions are limited when concerning the well-being of others. In order to create a society which is built to benefit others the individual freedoms of each man must be balances by the freedoms of others and by the responsibilities which the men carry in relationship to
The idea of democracy, when it is over-simplified to mean "majority rules" is the idea which Tocqueville, Mills and Godkin watched become corrupt as America matured. In theory, such a notion sounds just and efficient as a means of guaranteeing the freedoms of each individual. However, in practice, the concept of "majority rules" is much more complex. It can be implemented, but if not guarded by counteracting forces, then individuals arise who understand how to control the 'majority' for their own benefit.
The version of democracy, such as the one utilized in the United States, do more than simply guarantee a person's right to voice his or her opinion in all matters involving the public. American democracy provides a forum for the expression of such viewpoints as well as the guarantee of each individual's right to the same access, and the same level of influence. In doing so, it does not create the ability of any one individual or tyranny of the majority to bring about dramatic change.
The Federalists, who were greatly responsible for the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, recognized the impracticality of simple democracy, as did these three writers. The simple "majority rules" approach to democracy can be initiated, but not monitored against the tyranny of the mob. Because Madison, and those who shaped the nation's political theory understood the inherent weakness of pure democracy, the Federalists were realistic democrats - supporters of democracy who recognized the shortcomings of the voting. The Federalists were opposite of idealists; they were pragmatic, and it is their realism that is directly responsible for the success of democracy within the United States. These are the themes concerning which these three authors wrote.
Tocqueville, Mill and Godkin recognized and believed in the benefits of a democratic nation that could guarantee the freedoms of all peoples, but they found in the American government the first successful implementation of these theories. Tocqueville in particular understood that the freedoms constrained in the U.S. were a benefit to all the people, but he did not understand how to create it until Madison, a staunch Federalist, defined the process in the Federalist papers, and then he watched the process take form in the U.S. Madison defines a faction in The Federalist Papers No. 10 as "a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community." Madison maintained that factions, by definition, are detrimental to the good of the whole. At the same time he recognized their right to exist.
Never does Madison suggest a policy of restricting the rights of such groups. Rather the federalist papers identified that the only course to maintaining liberty was to guarantee the rights and liberties of each of these factions. Then the ongoing struggle for freedom would create political market forces which manage themselves, thus creating liberty for all members. Madison wrote: "Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency." The pragmatic nature of Madison realizes the function of "factions" and he explains within his writings why such entities will not pose problems for America- a larger Republic.
He argues that in Republics composed of larger populations, "factions" cannot play significant roles because of their decreased ability to exert influence on the larger whole. Madison continues: "The smaller the society...the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression." In other words, when all the people have power and right to express their desires, then all the people hold each other in check. It is when a small number of people figure out how to hold influence over the larger community that the smaller umber can begin to oppress and control the rest.
Mills echoes this sentiment when he warns that the disposition of mankind, whether as rulers or fellow-citizens, is to attempt to impose their own opinions and…
Sources Used in Documents:
Mill, John Stuart. Dissertations and Discussions. New York: classic Books. 2000.
Madison, James. Federalist paper #10. 1775
De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America, essays on freedom. 1835. Accessed 21 May 2004. Website: http://www.tocqueville.org
Cite This Term Paper: