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"THE ROOF" ©1990-92 research text with references from various sources


THE STEPS OF DEMOCRACY
Democracy is a political philosophy, a way of life, a goal and an ideal. Its origins can be traced in the very early beginning of societies when the need for organization and sharing of responsibilities brought people to meet and make laws for their community. The word democracy comes from the Greek words demos, meaning people, and kratos, which means rule or authority. It developed into a form of government in ancient Greece as early as 500 B.C. Athens and other Greek city-states contacted their communal affairs in this manner. Athenian democracy was a direct democracy, also called a pure democracy, rather than a representative one. Each male citizen had the duty to serve permanently in the assembly, which passed the laws and decided all important policies. The ideal of democracy was so strongly implanted into the greek societies that it was elevated to a religious belief, so we can make the just speculation that the greek pantheon of gods other than representing spiritual values was also a form of democratic government with its various ministries, Zeus (Jupiter) the Prime Minister, Aris (Ajax) Ministry of Defense, Athena (Minerva) Ministry of Education, Demeter (Ceres) Ministry of Agriculture and so on. Contrary to popular misconception we observe that this form of greek ideal "government" was shared equally by both genders, were women held an important role. Evidence of this, radical at that time when most of the known world was ruined by authoritarian rulers and kings, is the much celebrated play of Aristophanes "Lysistrata" where a group of women go on a "strike" while they occupy the most sacred rock of Acropolis. As for the role of the slaves here we also observe a liberal treatment when individual charisma is appreciated and cherished, an example is the story teller Aesopus who gained acclaimed success with his fables. Since the history of mankind was advanced by muscle power, giving more rights to the strong, women and slaves had no place in important functions of the greek or later forms of democracy. Roman political thinkers taught that political power comes from the consent of the people suggesting a representative democracy when people choose some other people to represent their interests. Christianity and various religions proposed that everyone is equal before God thus teaching the democratic ideal of brotherhood among people. The Middle Ages produced a social system known as feudalism when persons pledged their loyalty and services to one another. The cultural re-awakening called Renaissance influenced political thinking and hastened the growth of democracy with the demand of greater freedom in all areas of life. The Reformation emphasized the importance of individual conscience when both Catholics and Protestants defended the right to oppose absolute monarchy. They argued that the political power of earthly rulers comes from the consent of the people. In 1215, English nobles forced King John to approve the Magna Carta. This historic document became a symbol of human liberty. It was used to support later demands for trial by jury, protection against unlawful arrest and no taxation without representation. Oliver Cromwell, fought the followers of the king and the Puritans established a short-lived commonwealth (republic). The English revolution of 1688 established the supremacy of Parliament. John Locke, the philosopher of the revolt, declared that final authority in political matters belonged to the people. Parliament passed the Bill of Rights in 1689, assuring the people basic civil rights. During the political unrest of the Industrial Revolution the larger factory towns were not represented in Parliament until after the adoption of the Reform Bill of 1832. Property and wealth qualifications for voting disappeared only gradually. In 1918, for the first time, all men were permitted to vote and not until 1928 could all women vote. French contributions to democracy were made in the 1700's by such political thinkers as Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The French Revolution of 1789, an important event in the history of democracy, promoted the ideas of liberty and equality. American democracy took root in the American Revolution of 1775, which wanted self government and no taxation without representation. The Declaration of Independence is a typical document of democracy. It established human rights as an ideal by which government must be guided. Thomas Jefferson favored a government that would pay more attention to the common citizen and encouraged self-reliance, individual liberty and the promise of equal opportunity. Yet, women and slaves, who by then had acquired a color, they were black, could not exercise their democratic rights. The Industrial Revolution and the advancement of the nation-state as a political entity brought the working classes demands and ideals in the foreground of democratic reform. New laws gave more citizens the right to vote. The freedoms of speech, the press, assembly and religion were extended and enlarged. In Russia, 1917, and later on in China and the Asian Far East, a group of revolutionists, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Mao Tsetung, set up a Communist democracy based on Karl Marx's philosophy, where work for all and equal profit from labor became a hard sought obligation by the citizens. Germany adopted a democratic government in 1919, but Adolph Hitler's rise to power brought a fascist dictatorship in 1933, when absolute obedience to a single chosen ruler becomes authority. Several newly independent nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America are trying to develop democratic institutions but there the people are not allowed certain basic freedoms, such as those of speech and of the press, or competitive elections. Most governments today claim to be democratic, but the non equal distribution of wealth promoted by globalized economy and the sometime hilarious attempts by politicians to “sell” democracy “abroad”, will make historians of the future laugh while describing our present age as a reinvented form of slavery.
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