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Modern Democracy


Modern American society is built on the principles of liberty and equality. Today, democracy means that the majority decides how the society should live and develop. In fact, it means that the minority has to accept the way of life chosen by the majority. However, the ancient vision of democracy was different. According to that vision, democracy was to be built on the principles of liberty, but not on the principles of the majority’s will. According to Aristotle, the political liberty means ruling and being ruled. In this way, every citizen should participate in the ruling process; he/she has a right to introduce his/her own ideas that can be realized by the society. When the majority rules, it means that the minority has to accept what is promoted by this majority, even if it is not right. In other words, individualism loses its influence and the direction of the society’s development is predetermined by populace. Hence, the main difference between the modern and ancient democracy is the loss of core democratic principles, such as the ability of every citizen to take part in the government processes of his/her country.

The modern principles of democracy do not predetermine those values and views, which were promoted by the philosophers of the past. John Lock and Wilson Carey McWilliams introduced their own vision of democracy and citizenship. Their ideals of citizenship and democracy can shed light on the challenges and dilemmas that the modern democracy faces today. The analysis of the democratic ideas of the past may help to find answers to the questions about the effectiveness of the democracy today and what one can change to make modern democracy more democratic.

John Locke’s and Wilson Carey McWilliams’s Ideals of Citizenship

John Lock, a famous British philosopher, was one of the first people who argued that kings had a divine right to rule. He developed a theory which stated that people were the source of power. Lock stated that people had some natural rights that were given them when they were born and the government could not give or take away these rights. Lock referred to these rights as life, liberty and property. People are those who form the government to protect these rights. In order to protect these rights, people create a social contract with the government. The government provides the protection of these rights; as a result, people have to obey this government. If the government fails to provide protection of the natural rights, people have a right to replace the government. Hence, according to Lock, the government and people are in direct dependence; people need government to protect their rights, while the government may exist only if it satisfies people’s demands. Lock stated that all people are born equal; therefore, when they become part of the society, they also should be equal (Goldwin & Schambra 1980). Every person should have equal rights, not more or less. According to Lock, liberty has a direct association with equality. His perception of freedom predetermines not being ruled by others against agreement.

McWilliams had a different view on natural rights and equality. For instance, McWilliams as well as Lock outline three main aspects of natural rights, which are life, liberty and property. However, he states that an individual should be ready to sacrifice or limit some or all natural rights if it is necessary for the wellbeing of the society. As one can see, McWilliams does not view a society as a guarantee of the natural rights´ protection. Instead, he puts social needs above natural rights of every individual (Goldwin & Schambra 1980). McWilliams’ perception of equality also has a different perspective. He views equality as something that belongs to the society. For instance, he says about the equality of spirit and sacrifice for general good. Lock believes that society is formed by people to live in it and protect their rights. The main function of the society is security of life, freedom and property. McWilliams states that people should sacrifice their rights for the sake of the society, but not vice versa.

The ideals of these two philosophers demonstrate that they have similar perception of the democratic principles, but their vision of these principles and their roles in the society are different. Lock views natural rights as the supreme condition of the society. If the government does not protect natural rights, it should not exist at all. McWilliams also views natural rights as an important component of the democratic society, but he believes that the society is more important than natural needs of the individuals. Hence, according to his vision, people should protect the society, but the society does not have to guarantee the protection of people’s rights. Their perception of equality is also different. For Lock, equality means equal rights in everything; every person’s voice is important. McWilliams views equality as something that each individual should sacrifice for the wellbeing of the society in an equal manner; the contribution of every individual should be equal (Goldwin & Schambra 1980).

Modern Democracy

Modern democracy has become majority-oriented; it means that the majority decides what is good for all individuals. Today, the will of the majority has become a clear indicator of liberty and democracy. Nevertheless, the philosophers of the past did not pay special attention to this aspect; they believed that the main criteria of democracy are satisfaction of natural rights and equal participation of every individual in the social life and ruling of the state. The ideals of John Lock may help to implement the required changes in the modern democracy and make it more effective and liberal. First, it is the voting process and taking a decision according to the will of the majority (Goldwin & Schambra 1980). Unfortunately, the majority always reflects the quality or wisdom. In contrast, the percentage of those people who are able to make a wise decision is very low. In fact, they always represent the minority, but not the majority.

John Lock believed in democracy as a supreme form of government, but only citizens were able to have a right to vote. Hence, the modern democracy should be revised in terms of its perception of citizenship. Today, any adult person at the age of 18 has a right to vote. A person might not have any degree or minimal level of education; the only criteria are to be a citizen of the country and be over 18 years old (Goldwin & Schambra 1980). As a result, we can see the majority which has a right to vote but cannot use it wisely.

Second, it is natural rights. Lock states that life, liberty and property are three key elements which the government should protect. These rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of the government; instead, the government should be changed if it cannot protect these rights. Modern democracy is oriented on the wellbeing of the majority. For instance, during the World War II, the government of the United States, due to the democratic voting, came to a conclusion that Japanese, who lived on the territory of the country, could be dangerous for the society because of the war. In order to protect the majority, it was decided to relocate 120, 000 Japanese to special camps (Goldwin & Schambra 1980). One should take into account that more than half of those people were citizens of the United States. According to this fact, this type of democratic government has broken the main principles of John Lock’s social contract which led to neglecting liberty.


Above stated facts prove that modern democracy should be based on natural needs. If any of these needs are violated, the government cannot guarantee the protection of these rights anymore and should be replaced. Modern democracy requires revising its core principles. Today, the democracy promoted by the United States is far from the one that was developed in the past. The current principles and vision of the democracy have changed. Democratic society predetermines that everybody has a right to vote and every citizen rules and is ruled. However, the reality shows that the decisions are made by the majority; it means that there is always a minority which is limited in its right to rule. The decisions made by the majority are not an indicator of democracy. In fact, the majority may decide to limit the rights of the minority; this decision will be rightful and democratic because it was adopted by a greater number of voices. Democratic society predetermines the participation of all citizens equally, so if the rights of the minority are limited, this society cannot be viewed as a democratic one.

The United States have always promoted the principles of liberty and equality. However, the decision-making process is limited by voting. In fact, the majority may decide to ignore one of the core democratic principles, such as property; as a result, this decision will be democratic. According to this fact, modern democracy should be oriented more on the obeying of natural rights and active participation of every citizen, but not only the chosen elite.