Saturday, July 30, 2011

Roussseau: Democracy is for the gods

Jean-Jacque Rousseau favored republics as the best form of government, although he did not think a pure democracy could be successful.  Nevertheless, he did present several thoughts on what he thought a successful republic or democracy required. 

Rouseau believed that John Locke's idea of a representative democracy would not work because the representatives would only support local interests and their own experiences and not work toward the "general will" of the country.  He felt the best social contract is one in which everyone participates in politics. However, Rousseau's idea of a republic was even broader than Montesquieu's. Rousseau thought a "republican government" could be administered as a democracy (the many), an aristocracy (the elite few) or a monarchy (the one) as long as all the citizens could write the laws.

Given that Rousseau tolerates a monarchy it is not surprising that although he supports a republic he is not wedded to the idea of democracy being the best form of government.

"If we take the term [democracy] in the strict sense, there never has been a real democracy, and there never will be. It is against the natural order for the many to govern and the few to be governed....there is no government so subject to civil wars and intestine agitations as democratic or popular government, because there is none which has so strong and continual a tendency to change to another form, or which demands more vigilance and courage for its maintenance as it is..."

I would agree with Rousseau on his first point; there never has been a true democracy in any state larger than a small village. His second point is supported by Montesquieu who said that virtue and love of country are required for a successful democracy. 

A real Greek democracy - how did that work?

"Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a government is not for men"

Rousseau is saying what many of us know. A pure democracy is not a reality, but something that we strive towards. It is an idea that takes continual work, dedication and discipline for us to approach this form of government, but it is the highest form of governance.

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