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October 11, 2011

Where Would We Be Without Democracy

If there is any way to make us appreciate what we have, it is by envisaging what life would be like without it. This same concept can be applied to democracy. It is a thought provoking experience, to imagine your life without something you take for granted day by day. To aid you in that experience and to hopefully offer a new appreciation for the liberties we are granted today, here are some examples of how life would be different.

Without democracy, the demographic of Britain today would be entirely different. Some might argue that without documents such as the Magna Carta, or the English Civil War, democracy would have inevitably emerged as the dominant political form. This owes to movements such as the Enlightenment, which represented a drastic shift in philosophical thought. It was at the time of the Enlightenment, for example, that the French Revolution took place – the monarchy was disposed and many in Britain felt its influences would spread. However, consider if neither this change in philosophical thought nor such rebellions occurred – it is possible that the English Civil War might have never taken place.

If, for example, Oliver Cromwell had not led the parliament after the execution of King Charles I, we would not have the parliament we have today. It is worth extensive consideration; the stepping stones that lead to a state becoming democratic are precarious and can even seem coincidental.

It can start to look like a chain reaction. The events in France acted as an impetus for increasing political reform in England. Additionally, without this, the philosophical belief that underpinned the Declaration of Independence, born out of Enlightenment principles, may have never come to existence. In this vain it is even feasible to suggest that modern day American would not exist, but rather exist as colonial subjects to English monarchy.

Without this, then, we would still be subject to Monarchical law and judgement. It presents an odd image in the mind, and it is hard not to imagine the Black Adder depiction of Queen Elizabeth sitting in a 21st century context demanding the heads from her subjects.

Lastly, as democracy has become an intrinsic characteristic to capitalist society, we would be without our modern day luxuries. Forget your iPhone, if Britain had remained ruled by its monarchy then private business practice would have existed in a much smaller, diminutive form. Private entrepreneurship wouldn’t really have existed and today’s industries would have remained affiliated to state, rather than encouraging individuals to achieve their own power.

October 6, 2011

What Democracy Means To Us Today

To many of us democracy is a term that just gets thrown about in our lives, with the strained understanding that it constitutes individual freedom and the power to a voice. It is probably fair to say that we take it for granted and consider it a natural privilege, rather than an earned right. It is worth taking a moment to consider what it really means to the way we live in the 21st century.

Obviously, the whole concept of democracy is political in origin. Yet its principles are something that each of us share day by day. What it means to us is the freedom to do as we choose; it is the opportunity to vote, to get any job of our choosing and to not be discriminated against due to our position at birth. It is something that is being constantly refined over time. A democratic existence isn’t always guaranteed, despite being the core foundations of today’s society.

In these cases, it is easy to become satirical of its institution. However, within such moments it is important not to forget the otherwise unprecedented freedoms and equalities that it grants us. The worth of democracy becomes self-evident through how we live our lives; from the moment we awake in the morning to the moment that we fall asleep. In allows us to control our present and future. This is not only by being able to vote for political representation but, more importantly, being able to face the challenges of 21st century society without the heavy obstacle of inequality.

This might be a touch idealistic – for issues of inequality are still rampant within many sects of the world. Nevertheless, whereas in the past people were silenced due to their race, wealth or position at birth, under democratic states they are still given a voice with which to be heard. Under its protection all individuals are empowered to act and to speak, it does not subjugate and it does not silence.
Its failings, if it has any at all, are derived from its principle that the majority rule. On paper, this seems fair as it caters to the needs of the majority and not a select few. However in ways this can become another form of subjugation – for the needs of the few are unheeded and outweighed by the will of the majority. This can raise issues in countries that have smaller ethnic populations, who may seek different forms of representation to the majority.

Despite these arguable short-comings, however, it is a concept that embraces some of man’s most idealistic qualities and traits. Seldom are ideological institutions flawless or perfect, but it is necessary to credit them for their founding principles. In the case of democracy and how we see it today, remember it is a force and power that gives each individual the right to political expression and freedom of speech. Without it, our modern day existence would be an entirely different reality.

Magna Carta And The Pillars Of Democracy In England

The Magna Carta was a document that marked one of the first instances of democratic change in England’s history. For most of history, the nation has existed under monarchical rule. Often foreign imaginings of England are incorporated with idealised images of quaint country settings, courtiers, dukes and kings. Whilst there is some gravity in these beliefs, it certainly serves to only represent a small vain of the country’s history.

These notions lend themselves to the fantastical, and indeed, the majority of modern day conceptions of fantasy have their origins deeply rooted in English cultural tradition. It is furthered by the global appeal of Shakespeare, plays that depict the lives of kings and members of the aristocracy. Behind the scenes of all this bliss, however, remained the austere face of the country’s social and political condition. The feudal system saw England’s peasantry subjugated by the land-owners. They were not able to own land, but were able to make their living by working the land of another. This was not exclusive to England; similar hegemonic rule could be seen across the rest of the world.

However, when discussing the pillars that formed democracy in England, it is essential to illustrate where the issues existed – and for what reason change was brought about. The Magna Carta represents the beginning of such change. It was a document issued in 1215 to King John. It ordained that no freeman could be punished except through the law of the land. In this sense, it attempted to impose limits on the King’s power – a tenuous, though unmistakable beginning to the principles of democracy.

This legislation did not affect the serfs (i.e. those that were bound to work the land, representing a form of slavery in the feudal system). In hindsight, the document served more as a symbol to the people that change was possible, in addition to a warning of what was yet to come. The document was presented by the some of the King’s closest subjects. It carried profound implications, and its impact can be seen within England today and the events of the following centuries.

Yet whilst the document did a lot to incite the beginnings of change, it did not serve to catalyse any significant rebellions, actions or even permanent changes. Arguably, however, it did enough to trickle the first stones of an avalanche – influencing a series of events that over the next 500 years would result in drastic political and social changes.

It is often said that democracy is built upon certain essential pillars. Whilst it would be hard to say the Magna Carta served as one of these pillars in England, it is certainly evident in the forming of their foundations.

The Seeds Of Democracy

Like a plant susceptible to winter’s grasp, the growth and fruition of democracy as a political ideology has not survived without a fair bit of struggle. As with any belief that opposes the status quo, it has a turbulent history that is stained with violence and blood-shed. Nevertheless, its seeds were sown in fertile soil, and across the world it survived amongst a variation of conflict and political shifts.

At the turn of the 20th century, Russia was facing extensive political and social issues. By the time the First World War had finished, Nicholas II, the last Tsar (Emperor) of the Romanov dynasty had abdicated his throne. In the aftermath of his abdication, a civil war sparked between the Bolshevik party and the anti-Bolshevik parties (aided by certain Western countries). At the point that the Bolshevik victory was secured, the fate of Russia as a communist state was sealed. Whilst on paper this form of socialism seemed to share the same sense of individual equality that democratic states embraced, its political system compromised of a single party state – the Bolshevik party. After Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin took over and chaos followed. It was not until 1989 that communism ended in Russia. Today it exists as a multi-party representative democracy.

For Russia, the road to becoming a democratic state was a turbulent one, to say the least. It took the deaths of millions for the change to occur, and tore at the nation’s cultural heart throughout the 20th century.

America, too, arrived at being a democratic republic through similar strife and hardship. The Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776, has become one of the most recognized documents of democratic ideology. It marks the beginnings of modern day America. Before this time, the British Empire had dominion over the Thirteen Colonies that comprised mid-18th century America. By the end of the century, however, these colonies had secured their independence and gained autonomy.

England saw a similar struggle to achieve democratic right. Since the middle-ages discontent had grown and the subjugation of the people through the feudal system had resulted in increasing social and political unrest. By the time of the 16th and 17th century, this had escalated drastically, taking the form of numerous rebellions. By 1642, England was set in a civil war which saw numerous instances of armed conflict between the Royalist factions and the Parliamentarians.

It resulted in the execution of King Charles I and the establishment of the republican Common Wealth. It formed the foundations of England’s modern day political system and symbolised the growing strength of the people’s voice. In essence, these three instances depict the struggles that followed hand-in-hand with the arrival of a democratic world.



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