History of Democracy

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The main focus in this course, broadly, was the concept that ideas drive events. It seems sufficient to begin by reflecting back to one of the first few classes. Somewhere in that hour and a half class, I remember learning about educational perennialism. This is the notion, derived from Robert Hutchins, that there are a group of ideas that keep coming back and remain relevant in our present and in our future; in other words, it is the concept that history is repeated. The idea behind this concept is to not only process the facts of history, but to think critically of ideas in light of a brighter future, much like the Socratic method.

Thus, this course does not serve the purpose of merely memorizing names and dates, but rather studying ideas derived from original source documents, to see how those ideas have impacted human history. Your professor continually expressed the importance of history; in quote, it is the “living, breathing story of who we are and how we got exactly where we are today.” Within this concept is the fact that our families experienced many of these historical events, and that if any of our ancestors did anything differently, we may not exist. After setting this foundation of common ground, we learned about Democracy’s history and development. One of the first documents we looked at was the Thebian Dialogue. First, let me explain the guts of the piece. To put it simply it is a document where two men argue over two forms of government, democracy and despotism. Theseus was arguing in favor of democracy whereas the Herald, also known as a messenger, was arguing in favor of despotism. After a dialogue of opposing views, it set a foundation of ideas that we can fall back on and refer to in the further developing of government. With this, too, brought to light the fact that although democracy allows every individual to contribute their opinions, it does not guarantee us any substantive rights. This is due to the absence of liberty, which was further developed in later documents that we looked at throughout this course. The development of an individual’s liberty derived from the ideas written in The Magna Carta and Cicero on the Laws, which later influenced our treasured Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. The Magna Carta, written in 1215, was established because the barons felt as though the King of England at the time had too much power. He was then forced to acknowledge that he did have restrictions and can’t do whatever he wanted. Some notable references, such as section 61, set up a counsel of 25 barons that can overturn the King’s laws or even take his property, much like the Parliament. Clause 35 set standardized weight and measures, and clauses 38, 39 and 40 prevented unreasonable seizes and searches. The king immediately renounced section 61 for obvious reasons, mainly because his power was being restricted. The most notable idea that came to life and remained so, was the right to a writ of habeus corpus, also known as a legal procedure that allows those held as prisoners to be innocent until proven guilty. This concept is still prevalent today in the court systems and has only been suspended a few times, for instance during the Civil War by Abraham Lincoln. In summary, the Magna Carta was an article that forced the King to treat individuals according to the law rather than his personal views. Thus, democracy was in the makings of being developed based on this idea. The ideas from The Magna Carta that were developed in our democracy today can be seen in the Bill of Rights under the U.S. Constitution. It was the first major development that started the erosion of absolute monarchies; it set a foundation towards individual rights. There are several similarities in both documents, in which the founding fathers were greatly influenced by. For instance, in The Magna Carta, article 39, it states, “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.” This mirrors...
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