Democracy has always been understood as the rule of people - not some groups of people, but rather all people. Ethics on the other hand, is associated with the science of human duty, which stipulates right morals. Therefore, enjoining the two terms, ethics of democracy can be understood as considering the morals and rights upon which democracy must be established, relinquished and practiced in accordance to right and just attitudes. Evidently, the idea of democracy has always been applied by people on demanding government’s equality of basic fundamental rights. People do believe their governments are always naturally endowed to provide for their rights.
The equally of all people can be translated as the fundamental root of democracy (Clancy, 2010). This equality is not related to size, strength, intellect or will of every person, but is more determined by endowment of equal rights, including life, liberty, and need for happiness. Significantly, democracy can be translated as being more than the structuring of any states in demonstrating the act of liberty or freedom. But rather it entails each and every individual having equal status and rights with respect to the government. Tocqueville (2007) argues that each member of a democratic community should have equal status or rights in respect to that enjoyed by others. In this perspective, individual rights or status should not be developed by the government, but should rather be recognized and secured by the government.
However, for any community to achieve this democracy, its members must take up their responsibilities. Dewey and Tocqueville offered recommendation in denoting what such a community is required to do. This paper, thus, discusses what is required of a democratic community as illustrated by Dewey and Tocqueville. It also assesses whether the requirements, as established by the two authors, on any democratic community imply that members of that community have specific responsibilities.
Tocqueville (2007) identifies the principle of equality as one of the required elements of a democratic community. Normally this principle ensures that every person within the democratic society is independent of his or her own will. He notes that, at times, the principle of equality has been translated as referring to offering equal rights of participation especially in decision making processes. This indicates that equality is grounded on equal positive freedom that enhances the condition of self-development. Positive freedom means that the community is not structured in a manner that creates constraints conditions, which affect individual’s choice, thereby deviating from self-development (Clancy, 2010).
Tocqueville (2007) further argues that a democratic community should be constituted by the decisions of agents that effectively engage in deterministic manner of which amounts to shared ends. Significantly, their engagement should be based on free corporation towards these desired ends. Tocqueville believes that social relations of care or mutual concern are key requirements of any democratic community. This social relationship is essential as it enhances active civic participation of each member of the society interactively, thereby resulting in shared interests or goals.
Drawing from his writings, Dewey tends to argue on the importance of civic participation that denotes a democratic community. He concedes on his argument that powerful forces within a community, such as general selfishness and powerful corporate capital among others, have widely affected the rational participation of each member of any non-democratic community. However, this is captured differently in a democratic community. His vision of such environment tends to depict it as one that ensures democracy throughout its entire social fabric. This would enhance every life with equal and greater opportunities for human involvement (Dewey, 1954). Doing so, members of a democratic community would be envisaged with habits and tastes that would follow their own private action. It is a notion of complete independency within a democratic community that has seen such a community looking upon the state authority in advocating for political freedom.
Dewey and Tocqueville never believed in the machinery of government as central to enhancing democracy, but they rather took deeper understanding in the issues that surround a group, which form the heart of a democratic community. Indeed for Dewey, the concept of democracy is ultimately coincident with that of a community. That is what forms a clear consciousness in any communal life, and all of its equitable implications widely constitute to the concept of democracy (Clancy, 2010). This means that, ideally, democracy is a projection of communal patterns, which are related to life, but characterized by both joint and mutual efforts. These are devised through common assent in order to be undertaken for the benefit of all. From this stand, it can be reflected that a democratic community is required to incorporate and encourage social institutions and other forms of association that help to effectively sustain it.
On the other hand, understanding what is required of a democratic community can well be captured through the significant characteristics of Deweyan community that results into democracy. According to Dewey (1954), a community can be interpreted as a way of living, which binds a group of people together by mutually interpenetrating interest. This means that each agent of a community acts in a manner that is congruent with the interest of the others. By this, a democratic community is depicted as that which should achieve outcomes that are not merely coherent, but rather optimizes the individual interest of all members as well.
From Dewey’s perspective, a democratic community should not be authoritarian and hierarchical both on its political and social policies. It means that political and social policies should not be made on high ranks, with their social and industrial decisions being forced on people down the line. In a democratic community, a change within its policies and structure should not be directed from above, but rather should be communicated inclusively by individuals (Dewey, 1954). Breaching this hierarchical and authoritarian structure is essential, because it allows all manners of social groupings that are equitably shaped by the interest of those who would be affected by such policy indulgence. While this aspect is important, it denotes the responsibility of members of a democratic community in enhancing democracy, which will be discussed later on this paper.
Moreover, a democratic community should involve effective communication. Dewey believes that communal life is more than associated activity, but rather involves consciousness of its consequences associated with individuals, and their desire to effectively sustain life activities. For him, this individual consciousness is more than self-awareness as it is a social consciousness, based on mutual knowledge that makes people to interact and communicate. It means that in a democratic community, there should be an improved means of disseminating information by such methods as conducting open inquiry into communal matters of public interest. These forms of communal and communication acts enables people to make informed opinion and consciousness thereby drawing common knowledge on certain issues. Doing so, inclusive communication within a community setting can be reflected as resulting into democracy.
Dewey speaks of democracy as a community by connecting communication with inquiry in forming what he calls the “Great Community”. He describes the “Great Community, a democratic community, as one in which each informed and articulate individual enjoys the consequences of associated life in order to expand into abundance” (Dewey, 1954). Therefore, it is this democratic community that is entitled to give in robust expression to democracy that allows members to enjoy life as a free and enriching communion. By this it means that democracy can only be achieved if free social inquiry is mutually wedded to the art of full and participatory communication. Therefore, a democratic community should ensure that public inquiries are continuously, systematically, and freely conducted with their results effectively communicated to every individual in a society. Failure to do this will mean that the passing public opinion will have derogative sense rather than enhancing public truth irrespective of how widespread the opinion is channeled.
While Dewey and Tocqueville illustrate requirements needed for a democratic community, yes, it is true that there are specific responsibilities that members of the community have. Communicating social and political policies requires participation of each member of the society in order to enhance democracy. However, this requires different forms of communication by individuals. This can in turn only be enhanced both within and between social groups through members’ participation.
Dewey believes that members of the community have specific roles, which can only be played by ensuring that they are actively involved in building of the community through sharing the responsibility for its growth and development. This as it stands denotes empowering. Specifically, each member of the community has the responsibility of constantly helping individuals to adjust to each other in order to promote inclusiveness.
Dewey uses the term “public” in demonstrating the role played by members of a democratic community in their attempt to achieve a common interest. The public normally requires awareness of common interest that enables them to connect with multifarious consequences of their interaction (Dewey, 1954). However, by not recognizing the effects of their common interest especially in controlling the consequences of their interaction, each member of the community will independently seek what selfishly interests him or her. What is important to note is that the selfish interactions are actually manipulated by individual’s powerful interest for private gain. It is, therefore, the responsibility of every member of the society to ensure that he or she rightfully and effectively socially connects with a view of enhancing public interest.
In fact, in his book The Public and Its Problems, Dewey laments heavily on the selfish interest associated with the public due to their inability to enhance social inquiry and communication. According to him, democracy means inclusion; socially, systematically, politically, culturally, and economically. In this respect, members of a democratic community have special duty of ensuring that there are systematic and continuous social inquiries and communication channels. This can be achieved by having the individual members of the community making themselves decision agents and advocating for effective association and dissemination of important information equitable among all in the society.
In democracy, the role of individual liberty is usually a test of morality (Clancy, 2010). It means that immorality, as captured in persons, normally entails the imposition of one person’s will upon the will of another. This can be translated as undermining the democratic process of an individual, or completely recognizing the liberty of each simply because of the insurgence of distractive elements. Members of a democratic community have sole role of being more vigilant not only on their affairs, but their rights as well. Tocqueville (2007) argues that in doing so, they would prevent suppressive representatives from abandoning the general line of conduct that only prescribes to their own interest.
Lack of love for freedom, excessive drive for equality, individualism, and more are forces that amount to the problems associated with democracy (Tocqueville, 2007). Countering the effects of forces requires effective combats contributed by members of the community in. Tocqueville (2007) believes that through well-educated women in a society, the issue of political and social discrimination associated with excessive drive for equality can be addressed. Usually, the doctrine of sovereignty of the people and their powers of public opinion are essence of the idea of equality. It means that if all people are equal, then no one has the authority to claim the right to rule others. Therefore, the only way to rule a community is only by basing decisions on the will of the majority.
However, this can lead to despotism. That is, any failure by members of the community to check on powers of the decision made, based on the will that is supported by the majority, would render these large numbers of people despotic. It means that the major population can always influence the way their government uses its power. The side of the majority can, thus, acquire absolute power that in turn renders the minorities helpless (Tocqueville, 2007). From this perspective, the opinion of the majority has a moral force on the society. In so doing, people tend to abandon the freedom of thoughts in a democratic society due to the inclusion of majority opinion held by larger population. By this, opinion of the majority is seen as indirectly claiming the superiority on individual’s own opinion. It is in this respect that members of the community are obligated to check powers of any decision made out of majority influence.
By conceding to the arguments of the modern democracy, Dewey believes that the inability of members of the community to understand all powerful forces at work has importantly prevented them from articulating their needs (Dewey, 1954). Failure to specifically address these powerful forces makes it difficult in achieving a democratic community, as would be the desire of the majority members of any community. For instance, numbing and distracting entertainment has deliberately made public communication difficult to enhance (Dewey, 1954). However, it only requires members of the community to take actions aimed at regaining the sense of self in order to improve communication. This is based on the fact that it is only through communication that the public is able to find itself cohesive enough to work towards a common interest for all people.
In addition, members of a democratic community have a responsibility in ensuring that the main perpetrators of modern societal distraction of individualism, such as technology, are rightfully used within the community. While technology is an important tool in democracy, as it enhances equitable dissemination of information and offers sites for individual participation, it is dangerous especially in preventing the public from finding itself. This is due to the fact that technologies tend to draw people’s attention from serious issues that affect the community. For example, watching movies through laptops or even playing computer games can be translated as enhancing freedom, but doing so makes people deviate their attention from political issues (Dewey, 1954). Members of a democratic community should therefore use technology in order to improve communication. This way, technology will help enhance public interest in matters, such as politics that are sensitive for democratic process.
In conclusion, Tocqueville and Dewey have provided essential pre-requisites for which a democratic community can best be understood. However, while democracy calls for equal status with respect to one another, it can amount to unethical moral standards as contributed by excessive agitation for freedom. It, therefore, requires the work of each member of the community in ensuring that a democratic community is constituted in a manner that best serves all the people.