Prompt #5 – Guardianship
Modern nation-states are complex and constantly evolving systems that exist today as the products of many rounds of trial and error with various systems of government, ranging from authoritarian dictatorships to democracy. One system of government that has proven ineffective to govern over a modern nation-state is that of a “guardianship.” Respected political theorist Robert Dahl devotes part of his book On Democracy to dissuading his reader from the ideal of guardianship.
Democracy in itself is not a perfect system. Though rooted in principles of total equality, it is impossible to fully achieve, but Dahl insists that political equality be one of the top priorities in a fair government. Many political scientists believe that the closest a society can get to full democracy is a pluralist democracy, in which there are many powerful centers of power. Despite this, Dahl writes of five major standards necessary for a truly democratic process. These are: 1. The ability of all adult citizens to participate in government. 2. Voting equality.
3. Enlightened understanding: members must have adequate time to learn about policies and their alternatives.
4. Control of the agenda: no group or person can control the agenda, and thus the whole group decides what is debated and voted upon.
5. Inclusion of all adults in the democratic process.
With these, Dahl also defines the moral judgment of treating “all persons as if they possess equal claims to life, liberty, happiness, and other fundamental goods and interests” (Dahl 65) as intrinsic equality. It is what a democratic government should be based upon, although difficult (if not impossible) to fully achieve. The fact that intrinsic equality is so hard for a society to master leads to a counterargument, known as “guardianship.” In essence, the system of guardianship would violate all of the above conditions, as well as the simple idea of intrinsic equality, to some degree.
Since the development of democracy thousands of years ago, many leaders of societies have avoided democracy and tried to justify this by making the “persistent claim that most people are just not competent to participate in governing a state” (Dahl 45). These leaders also cite the idea of tyranny of the majority, which is that any attempt at full democracy will eventually end up as “tyranny of the poor,” and the lower classes will actually end up damaging society more than equalizing it. This often prompts the idea of guardianship. Guardianship is a political practice in which a single person or group of similar-minded people is totally in charge of an entire society. In theory, that leading entity would keep in mind the concerns and needs of all under its rule. The person or group would have the knowledge and mental competency to make the most rational decisions that positively affect the most people at once. This begs the question: Who, then, possesses all these superior qualities in order to perform the duty of making fair and well-intentioned decisions for an entire group of people? In order to work according to this theory (that is, to keep a fair and equal society under the government), the person or group in leadership would not become corrupt in their vast and unmatched power. Although strong in theory, this idea falls short when applied in the real world: power, in any amount, tends to corrupt. Even the most levelheaded, knowledgeable, and considerate of guardians would eventually evolve into a dishonest ruler or rulers in some regard. Practical judgment is also needed in order to make the best decisions for a society to function. Often, this involves a set of trade-offs in which certain groups of society have to compromise some of what they demand in order for the best decision to be agreed upon. Compromise is a major part in ensuring as many needs of the people are met as possible, and guardianship strips this critical aspect from politics. Dahl further...
Cited: Dahl, Robert. On Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. Print.
Diamond, Larry. The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the
World. New York: Times/Henry Holt, 2008. Print.
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