What is majority rule? Majority rule is where a group, party, or faction has more than half the votes (Websters). The statement In theory and in practice, majority rule is not a reliable guarantee of democracy is true of the US government today. It is hard for the majority to rule in the United States government, even with the system of checks and balances. There are so many interest groups and organized groups of citizens who can undermine majority rule in our government. These groups cut into our democracy and buy their way into our government, thus influencing policy.
Especially in todays government where there is not a clear majority, and the era of candidate politics exists, interest groups have a great advantage. Not to mention that our government is a republican democracy, not a pure democracy, which means that the people elect the person who gets the majority of the votes to represent them in government. In a republican democracy the candidate is more susceptible to flaws and is more likely to take money from major corporations to win an election.
In the paper I will be looking at articles that illustrate arguments for and against the statement that majority rule is not a reliable guarantee of democracy. In the essay Why We Still Need Real Political Parties, Kay Lawson argues that the political parties of the United States have moved from party politics to candidate politics where there is more emphazisis placed on the candidate, which makes them more susceptible to the mercy of elites, interest groups, and other small groups of organized citizens, rather than the issues.
Lawson says that the modern day political parties do not perform the tasks that they were given since the day they were founded. She says that they used to aggregate interests, recruit candidates, structure the vote, and they provided a means of holding elected officials accountable. Her argument is that now is that the elites and interest groups have the candidate by the throat, making it hard for them aggregate interest, even though it may look like they do. Thus, the candidate will not aggregate his or her interests to that of the constituents, but rather to the interests of the interest group or elites that are supporting them.
Next, Lawson says that parties recruited and trained candidates and now, she says, that they do not do this any more because the candidate is recruited by the interest group, not by the party, todays parties do not perform the second function of recruiting candidates. Her third argument is structuring the vote. She says that todays parties do structure the vote, but not by using the party label. She says that the parties of today do not control their own nominations, and that their party label is now associated with the interest group they represent which have become their nominations.
This idea is almost one hundred percent true in the party system today. For example, The National Rifle Association is known for its representation by the GOP, and the Pro-Choice interest group is represented by the Democratic Party. Finally, Lawsons fourth argument is that the only thing that holds the elected officials accountable is the force that is needed to open a wallet. In other words, the elected official is only accountable to the interest group, not to his party. They have to represent the interest group other wise the money is not going to be there.
Over all Lawson believes that the government has been taken over by the elites and interest groups, therefore not representing the majority in government. The counter argument to Lawsons essay is that a system of checks and balances protects the majority from the factions that may undermine democracy. In The Federalist, No. 10 the author James Madison forewarns the people to watch out for factions, especially majority factions. Madison knows that factions are sown in the nature of man, so by destroying factions he says you destroy liberty.
He also says that if you could give the citizens the rights of the factions to even out the playing ground between the citizens and the factions, but that is irrational and impossible. So what to do? Madison created a system of checks and balances to neutralize the power of the factions. So if an interest group had its way on the congress, there would still be the President and the Supreme Court to keep the Congress in check. The point is that in theory and maybe fifty years ago this would be true, but now, in practice this idea of checks and balances does not work.
The problem is that Madison designed this idea of checks and balances over two hundred years ago. The question is does this system still hold up today, with the overwhelming amount of interest groups in America today? I think that the system of checks and balances does not work today, with over seven hundred interest groups in America today that have deep pockets and an enormous amount of resources, they can tap into each division of government and influence them all, thus canceling out the system of checks and balances and overruling the majority.
Next, with the low number of citizens participating in government it is hard to call them a majority. Only about forty nine percent of Americans vote in a presidential election, even less in non-presidential elections. So how is it possible to call these forty nine percent of Americans a majority, when clearly it is not a majority? In the essay Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam describes the problem of declining citizen participation in government and social activities, which he believes is harmful to our democratic values.
Less and less, voter turnout is decreasing, so less and less people are not caring about government. A generalization could be made that the people who participate and care about government have a high socioeconomic status and are more likely the people being represented by the interest groups or have a strong stance on a certain issue. They give them money and support to back up their ideas, which threatens majority rule. Everett Carll Ladd, made another point in the essay The No Majority Realignment Continues, which says that there is not a clear majority in todays political parties.
If there are not any clear majorities between the two parties, then that meant that there is not a clear majority between the participating citizens of the United States who are represented by the parties. So this essay helps to support the Bowling Alone essay by Putnam. Putnam says that there is low citizen participation and that hurts the US democratic values, so even if there is only a small number of citizens participating and who care about the government today, and there is not a clear majority between them to set one group aside and say they are the majority leader, which in practice does not guarantee democracy to them.
The essay Of Political Parties Great and Strong by Everett Carll Ladd argues against the idea that less citizen participation threatens democratic values. Ladd says that since there is not a lot of voter participation he seems to think that the people are happy with the status quo, and if there was more participation and stronger parties then that would mean that the people would want a stronger government… right? How so?
This essay counters the Putnam essay by the way that Putnam believe that less citizen participation in government is bad and threatens democracy, while Ladd seems to think that the reason why there is a low number of citizens participating in government is because they like the government the way it is. They do not want a strong government, otherwise if they did they would participate more. This may be true for some people, not everyone though. So not having a large number of citizens participating in government can lead to interest groups undermining the majority. In conclusion, majority rule does not always guarantee democracy.
The growing number of interest groups and organized groups of citizens who can buy their way into government and make it hard from the majority to rule. Looking at essays about interest groups and voter participation you are able to see how you do not have to be in a majority group to rule. Kay Lawsons essay suggests that the political parties of today have been captured by elites and other insiders; these elites and other insiders do not represent the majority, but a small number of citizens. James Madison suggests that factions will not be able to take over government and undermine the majority.
In theory the idea of checks and balances sounds good, but in practice it does not work now a days because the interest groups and insiders play a part in every area of government, congress, president, and Supreme Court. Low voter participation also plays a key role in having interest groups run government. If people really do not care about what is going on in government and the only people who do care belong to an interest group. Again, interest groups have the high hand over the majority in democracy. So in theory and in practice, majority rule is not a reliable guarantee of democracy.