Thinking About Democracy

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1 Source: BLM 9.2.5a MB Education Thinking About Democracy Read the following quotations and reflect on the advantage and disadvantage of living in a democratic society. You may want to use the internet for additional + and - s Democracy is the worst system devised by the wit of man, except for all the others. - Sir Winston Churchill Shall we then judge a country by the majority, or by the minority? By the minority, surely. - Ralph Waldo Emerson Democracy is deeply rooted in talk. It seems to prefer talk to force, deliberation to whim, good reasons to powerful arms, consensus to conflict, peace to war, co-operation to competition. But no sooner do we define democracy as reasonable discussion than someone reminds us that it can also mean the politics of conflict as well as the politics of co-operation; or that through the power of today s media, the government of public opinion we call democracy can enthrone whim rather than deliberation. - Patrick Watson and Benjamin Barber (2000), The Struggle for Democracy Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them - John Stuart Mill (1869), philosopher, On Liberty In an age of mass audiences it is the minorities who stand firm, and their loyalties are international. - Robert Weaver, in Books, Mass Media in Canada, (1962), ed. John A. Irving. Visible minorities are, in fact, the invisible members of our society. Canada will be the ultimate loser if we do not take advantage of the skills and abilities which visible minority Canadians have to offer. - Report of the Special Commission on the Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society, March 1984.

2 Page2 If you tell someone in Toronto that you think freedom and democracy are wonderful, they give you a strange look, as if you are raving about how nice oxygen is. Jan Wong (1996), Red China Blues Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it's something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles. Abbie Hoffman Canada is a country of minorities: the Anglophones are a minority put upon by the Americans, the francophones are put upon by the Anglophones; the aboriginal people are put upon by the anglophones and francophones and other cultural minorities are left out. - John Ralston Saul, as quoted in The Globe and Mail, 4 December Democracy is not a spectator sport. Michael Moore Democracy recognizes that one person may be right and ninety-nine wrong. That is why freedom of speech is so sacred: the one person must always have the right to proclaim his or her right to proclaim his or her truth in the hope of persuading the ninety-nine to change their point of view. - Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Approaches to Politics, A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. Thomas Jefferson The minority is sometimes right; the majority always wrong. George Bernard Shaw Democracy does not create strong ties between people. But it does make living together easier. - Alexis de Tocqueville A democrat need not believe that the majority will always reach a wise decision. He should however believe in the necessity of accepting the decision of the majority, be it wise or unwise, until such a time that the majority reaches another decision. - Bertrand Russell My notion of democracy is that under it the weakest shall have the same opportunities as the strongest. - Mahatma Gandhi Canada is the only country in the world in which the majority is the moral guarantor of the minority. Laurier LaPierre, CTV discussion, 2 July 1993

3 Page3 The art of governing has some parallels with the art of canoeing, with the movement of the water representing the people, their needs and wants. Sometimes you have to fight against the current. Sometimes you have to shoot the rapids, by going faster than the moving water or by back-paddling a bit until you find the most appropriate course between the rocks. Sometimes you get dumped. If you just want to administer things, you let the polls tell you where the river is and then you follow it wherever it goes. But drifting is not really governing. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Against the Current, 1996 Definition Democracy, by definition, is a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them. It can also be defined as the political orientation of those who favor government by the people or by their elected representatives. Advantages Democracy can provide for changes in government without violence. In a democracy, power can be transferred from one party to another by means of elections. The jurisdiction of the citizens of a nation determines its ruling authority. Moreover, any government is bound by an election term after which it has to compete against other parties to regain authority. This system prevents monopoly of the ruling authority. The ruling party has to make sure it works for its people for it cannot remain being the authority after completing its term unless re-elected by the people. This brings in a feeling of obligation towards the citizens. The ruling authorities owe their success in the elections to the citizens of the nation. This results in a feeling of gratefulness towards the people. It can serve as their motivation to work for the people for it is the common masses that have complete power over choosing their government. Another important advantage of democracy is that the people gain a sense of participation in the process of choosing their government. They get the opportunity to voice their opinions by means of electoral votes. This gives rise to a feeling of belongingness in the minds of the people towards their society. Disadvantages In a democratic nation, it is the citizens who hold the right to elect their representatives and their governing authorities. According to a common observation, not all the citizens are fully aware of the political scenario in their country. The common masses may not be aware of the political issues in society. This may result in people making the wrong choices during election.

4 Page4 As the government is subject to change after every election term, the authorities may work with a short-term focus. As they have to face an election after the completion of each term, they may lose focus on working for the people and rather focus on winning elections. Another disadvantage of democracy is that mobs can influence people. Citizens may vote in favor of a party under the influence of the majority. Compelled or influenced by the philosophies of those around, a person may not voice his/her true opinion. Every form of government is bound to have some shortfalls. Different people have different views about the various political systems. The advantages and disadvantages of any political system have to be weighed carefully in order to arrive at any conclusion.

5 Thinking About Democracy Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of living in a democratic society. Use Assignment 1 Article ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES

6 Democratic Ideals in Canadian Society Source: BLM 9.2.5b MB Education Step 1: Brainstorm a list of democratic ideals Step 2: Decide on two democratic ideals from the list that you consider to be the most important in Canadian society.. Democratic ideal #1: Democratic ideal #2: Step 3: Design a symbol to represent each of the ideals you selected.

7 Page2 Step 4: Think of four examples of how each ideal is practiced or exemplified in Canadian society today Step 5: Plan and create a poster on the following page on the topic of democratic ideals.

8 Majority Minority Issues Source: BLM 9.2.5c MB Education Democracies and Majority - Minority Rights: Majority rule is a way of organizing government and making public decisions. It does not mean that the majority has the right to practice oppression. No majority, no matter how large, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual. Minorities, based on factors such as race, ethnic background, culture, language, religion, geographic location, income level, or simply because they were the losers in elections or in political debates, are entitled to rights that may not be denied by government. In Canada these rights are protected by constitutional law. Minority rights need to be protected to ensure that all citizens are able to fully participate in the country's democratic institutions. All democratic governments should take measures to protect the basic human rights of citizens, whether of the majority or of a minority (e.g., freedom of speech and expression; freedom of religion and belief; due process and equal protection under the law; freedom to organize, speak out, dissent, and participate fully in the public life of their society). Democratic principles recognize that a key responsibility of government is to protect the rights of minorities to uphold their cultures, social practices, individual consciences, and religious activities. Acceptance of ethnic and cultural groups that seem strange or unusual to the majority can represent one of the greatest challenges that any democratic government can face. But democracies recognize that diversity can be an enormous asset. They treat these differences in identity, culture, and values not as a threat but as a challenge that can strengthen and enrich them. There is no single solution to dealing with minority-group differences in perspectives, beliefs, and values. Only through the democratic process of tolerance, debate, and willingness to compromise can free societies reach agreements that embrace the twin pillars of majority rule and minority rights.

9 Majority Minority Issues Source: BLM 9.2.5c MB Education Answer the following question using the information from Assignment 3 Article 1. Protecting the rights of minorities is a fundamental problem of a democracy. In a situation where majority rules, how can a nation ensure that all citizens have equal treatment and equal opportunities, even those who are not part of the majority?

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