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Why America is not a Democracy -Ancient Greek Democracy vs. the American Republic

By Andra Fofuca

Why America is not a Democracy

Contrary to popular belief, the United States of America is not a democratic country, but a republic. In order to establish the difference between the two, the terms must first be defined: a democracy relies on the vote of the people. Those who live in the allotted district have the right to vote for every political decision which occurs. A republic, however, has citizens vote for representatives who then make political decisions on behalf of the people along with other elected officials. For example, if the United States Congress were to propose a bill concerning education, a democratic country would have citizens vote directly, rather than it being voted by officials. The objective of a republic is to protect the rights of both the minority and the majority in the country by protecting the ability to vote and the outcome of legal and political decisions.

The Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that the future of America does not lie solely within the hands of the citizens, since the likelihood of what is called mob rule, a term which defines the idea that a mob, or a majority, could use their power through forms of intimidation, which could risk the premise of free voting. This term was initially created under the Ancient Greek democracy as ochlocracy, by Polybius, a Greek historian. This influenced the Founding Fathers to establish America as a republic, written directly into the Constitution.

Along with this, another reason for which America is not a democracy is the manner in which votes are counted in each election. In a classic democracy, each ballot of a citizen counts as one individual vote. However, the American system follows what is called the ‘Electoral College’. Electors are individuals selected by each state party in order to cast their vote on behalf of their state. The Electors usually select whomever wins the popular vote in their state, but the Constitution does not force them to do this.

Here is how this is broken down:

435 Representatives + 100 Senators + 3 D.C. Electors = 538 Electors

With this system, a party requires 270 votes to win. With this being said, some states have more electoral votes based on their population density. For example New York State has 29 Electoral College Votes while Delaware has 3. Because of this, the popular vote is not equivalent to the electoral vote. The Founding Fathers strategically set this into place to not neglect certain states or to grant certain states with too much power. This method ensures that the elections are as fair as they could possibly be.

For these reasons, America is considered a republic, which contains elements of traditional democracy, but protects the potential abuse of these rights in a means that still allows people to vote and participate in their political futures.

Ancient Greek Democracy

In Ancient Greece, democracy was prevalent. Everyone was encouraged to vote and expected to participate in their legal and political systems. The ideology of democracy was mostly implemented in the Athenian court, where juries could include thousands of Greek citizens at a time. Athenian leaders believed that the say of political and legal decisions should belong to everyone equally. As stated by Herodotus, a Greek historian, “In a democracy there is, first, that most splendid of virtues, equality before the law.” This demonstrates the importance of democracy in the Ancient Greek legal system, and enforces its efficacy in certain time periods or places in the world.

However, not everyone believed this. Celebrated philosophers Plato and Socrates were known for being against traditional democracy. Though it is not clear exactly which system they preferred, it is likely closer to a republic, which allows citizens to vote, but leaves important decisions to professionals.

Which is More Effective?

In essence, most politicians can likely agree that there is not one system which prevails since each country requires its own which responds to their needs. However, many believe that the republic system is preferable for America, considering its immense population. The Founding Fathers did an excellent job in preventing the issues of democracy and ensured that America’s electoral system will be preserved for centuries to follow.



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