POLS 208 Essay
Describe and critically evaluate the key features of Representative Democracy created by the U.S Constitution with primary but not exclusive reference to E.Wood, ch.7 “the demos versus ‘we the people’: from ancient to modern conceptions of citizenship” pg 204-237 especially 213-237 Representative democracy is a term inseparable from the U.S Constitution. Not only did the attendees of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 invent a very different form of government to anything that had gone before it, it went on to become probably the most influential of all governments and indeed forms of governance since its inception. It was the beginning of the domination of representative democracy in international politics. There were two key features of representative democracy born out the constitution, firstly the rise of capitalism, by confining democracy to a purely political sphere. They introduced a clear and concerted separation of the economic sphere from the political one. Secondly, the advent of liberalism, which saw a focus on limited powers of government, securing ‘individual rights’ and ‘civil liberties’, essentially the freedom of the individual and their right to private property. These two features are clearly closely linked and cannot exist or could not have come into existence without the other. Both are linked with the distancing of civic society from politics while still being a democracy- a representative democracy where participation in politics is indirect and removed from civic life or the economic sphere. Their relationship will examined further in this essay along with how they have come to define representative democracy. In doing so we will unravel what E. Wood is insinuating in his chapter heading ‘The demos versus “we the people”: from ancient to modern conceptions of citizenship’. In order to best explore the key features of representative democracy created by the U.S constitution one must be given some perspective by comparing it’s birth to the birth of the democratic ideal in Athens. Democracy as a political concept and method of structuring a community first came about in Greece in around 508 BC and lasted till 322BC. The democracy Athenians knew would be known today as a ‘participatory democracy’, although it’s franchise was quite narrow, those with it had direct contact and effect on political affairs. It was a form of rule for the people by the people, this is inherently obvious in the origins of its name itself. Democracy comes from the Greek word ‘Demokratia’ which means popular government. The word ‘Demokratia’ is born out of two Greek words ‘Demos’ roughly translating to “common people” and ‘Kratos’ meaning “rule and strength”. Moreover it has been contended by Pericles that democracy can only be democracy if the poor are included in the political community. It was a form of government borne out of a revolution in which a peasant majority sought to liberate themselves from the political domination of their superiors. This must be used to contrast with what the men of the Philadelphia Convention set out to achieve, which could be more accurately described as a powerful, propertied minority looking to secure their property and ‘liberty’ against the threat of the masses. If the Athenian’s were freeing themselves from the powers of the wealthy by instigating a ‘Demokratia’ it could be said that in the same sense the American elite were attempting to free themselves from the powers of a poor, largely property less majority by inventing representative democracy. Having just secured their property and prospects from the British crown in a bloody and expensive war, the propertied elite on the west coast of America were now having their wealth threatened by an increasingly politically active and aggressive majority. The experience of the American Revolution had politically activised the American people. The poor’s sentiment at the time was best personified by ‘Shay’s Rebellion’ of this...
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