Political Science Essay Paper on Democracy, Issues of Democratization and the USA and race


In today’s world, most people belong to one nation state or the other. Due to advancement in the society and the interconnectedness of public life, most adult population has found itself in a position that requires their active participation in the public sphere and politics in one of the major platforms. Participation in political life is necessary not only for the protection of individual interests but also for the creation of an informed, committed and for developing citizenry. Political involvement is essential to the ‘highest and harmonious’ expansion of individual capacities (Held, D. 2006, 116).

As for participation in politics, humankind has invented political institutions to serve towards this end. Political parties, elections, and governments are among other instruments that have arisen from the efforts of politicking. The way these institutions interact with society or the public gives rise to forms of rule. Where there is public participation in government affairs, democracy is realized.

Democracy in a complex society can be defined as a political system, which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the governing officials, and a social mechanism, which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decisions by choosing among contenders for political office (Lipset, M. 1963, 27). Briefly, democracy is the right held universally by all citizens to have a share of political power, that is, the right of all citizens to vote and participate in politics (Fukuyama, F. 1992, 43).

Since in society there is always divergent views and competing interest, the basis of democracy is not maximum consensus but rather it is the tenuous middle ground between imposed uniformity and implacable hostility (Rustow, D. 1970, 363). If this is supported by the majority and done in an open manner leaves all participants satisfied then it can be said such a society or country is democratic. Usually, what supports such efforts are previously laid down laws and institutions.

The laws and institutions bring about the state or republic and the public and therein the individual. There are those who will lean towards having the individual citizens being protected from the excesses of the state where his rights and liberties are respected, the liberal minimalists. They majorly require a responsible government and a situation where political and legal conditions lead to security and stability. Here all citizens maintain equality in all spheres of life. On the other hand, there are those who consider that the republic or their commonwealth reign a little bit more supreme to individuals and the citizenry owes the state certain obligations as paying taxes, obeying the law, among other obligations. Although this point, of civic republicanism, does allow the citizenry their freedoms similar to the minimalists (Stokes G. 2011, 27-34).

Democracy has to be all-inclusive otherwise it is not, it can be declared that a polity is undemocratic to the degree that citizens’ political rights and obligations vary by gender, race, religion, national origin, wealth, or any other general set of categories, that is likewise undemocratic to the extent that large numbers of people subject to the state’s jurisdiction lack access to citizenship (Andrews, R.. & Chapman, H. (Eds.) 1995, 371).

As for democratization to occur, it simply means efforts and attempts towards achieving democracy. Democratization refers to political changes moving in a democratic direction (Potter, D. 1997, 3). Further this have to include; the moving of government from being less accountable to more accountable, from less competitive (or nonexistent) elections to freer and faire competitive elections, from severely restricted to better protected civil and political rights, from weak (or non-existent) autonomous associations in civil society to more autonomous and more numerous associations (Potter, D. 1997, 6). Potter further explains the patterns of democratization  use a set of ideas and explanatory generalizations and comes up with three theoretical approaches namely; the modernization approach which emphasizes a number of social and economic requisites either associated with existing liberal democracies or necessary for successful democratization; the transition approach emphasizing political processes and elite initiatives and choices that accounts for moves from authoritarian rule to liberal democracy; the structural approach emphasizing changing structures of power favorable to democracy.

Universal Suffrage as an end in Democracy and influence on Democratization

Explanations of democratization also refer to group divisions in terms of ethnicity, race tribe, language, religion or any other cultural criteria (Potter, D. 1997, 26). Therborn in The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy identifies the criteria used for the exclusion from suffrage. He identifies class (more or less defined by property, income, literacy or occupation), sex, ethnicity and opinion (34).

A country is democratic if it grants its people the right to choose their own government through periodic, secret ballot, multi-party elections based on universal and equal adult suffrage (Fukuyama, F. 1992, 43)., where such is not enforced, it does not imply the lack of democracy but rather a weakness in the system. Maidment has it clearly, as he states:

The US government, unlike the government of virtually every other Western liberal democracy, operates within a constitutional structure that was created at the end of the eighteenth century and which remains essentially intact. The objectives and the concerns of those who framed the Constitution as the Federal Convention of 1787 were not those of democrats. They were strongly influenced by the liberal writings of John Locke, David Hume and Montesquieu. But they were not wedded to notions of democracy. They endorsed the principles of consent, liberty, political and property rights but not the other key ideas and practices that are central to modern democratic beliefs (Maidment, R. 1997, 121).

This then can be used to make persons understand that disenfranchisement was not a state sanctioned activity in the United States. By the fact that government was run on foundations of rights does not imply it had democratic objectives in term of ensuring that every person liable to participate in polity would have the chance.

When Tilly in his article Democracy is a Lake in the book The social construction of democracy, 1870-1990 postulates that the existence of openings does not guarantee passage through them, what came to mind is the ‘American democracy’ that had not attained universal suffrage. Although there were institutions and practices of democratic principles, it was limited first to white men, later to white people and thereafter after the incorporation of the blacks, to citizens. In the USA an early white male democracy was both entrenched and limited by the outcome of the Civil War and the reconstruction of the South. Women remained excluded from the polity until after the First World War, black Americans remained excluded (Goldblatt, D. 1997,54). The nature of social divisions, particularly ethnic divisions between black and white have provided one of the defining issues of US democratization (Maidment, R. 1997, 119).

The USA was, at its inception the most democratic modern polity with something approaching universal suffrage for white males. Suffrage for women however was not adopted until the aftermath of the First World War, and it took until the late 1960s for the suffrage to be meaningfully extended to African Americans in the southern states (Maidment, R. 1997, 118). This however was majorly influenced with the rights that the citizenry enjoyed.

Citizenship on influencing Democratization

Citizenship as a formal or official status, allows one to exercise political rights such as the right to vote in elections (Stokes, G. 2011, 36). Before that, it had already been identified that citizenship is a vital means for extending citizen’s rights, claiming essential services from governments, and for resisting state incursions into citizen’s lives. Citizenship practice may also be oriented towards promoting peace and human rights (Stokes, G. 2011, 26). Citizens will vote in elections, but also participate in the other non-political associations of civil society. While participation may include relatively unreflective political action such as casting an uninformed vote, it also ought to include participating in informed public discussion and debate (Stokes, G. 2011, 37). This was mainly lacking to black citizen in the US democracy.

By the second half of the twentieth century citizenship and democracy had become a grand narrative about cohesion within mass society and a grand narrative about representation and misrepresentation within the modern state where universal suffrage became a defining feature of citizenship in a liberal democracy (Vandenberg, A. 2000, 6). Race however proved an issue for the suffrage of blacks. They were in one way or another unable to vote as several tactics were deployed at regional government levels. As a way of disenfranchising certain voters ,certain American states continued to employ registration requirements, poll taxes and literacy tests among other practices which played a role in federal elections until 1970 (Therborn, G. 1997, 34).

As such those considering themselves as US citizens, the black and later on other ethnic identities, found this not only discriminatory but also denying them their civil rights as citizens. Citizenship requires a sense of belonging, solidarity or ‘social glue’, some autonomy of thought and action, some element of equality in a ‘realm of rights’ that are universal among its members, and some regime of common obligations. Similarly, various proponents of democracy emphasize one or other of its defining characteristics. For some, democracy rests primarily on wide participation in the making of important decisions. For others, democracy requires means of governing the internal consequences of external developments. In addition, for yet others, it is the rule of law that is central to democracy (Vandenberg, A. 2000, 5).

There is the practical problem on how to deal with claims recognition and right from different cultural, ethnic and religious groups within liberal democracy and even where immigration is not a central issue, in multi-ethnic states localist tendencies give priority to the maintenance of communities and ways of life based upon ethnicity, race or religion, and where these is not managed well may give rise to conflicts (Stokes, G. 2011 25).

Economic Development on Democracy and Democratization

Perhaps the most common generalization linking political systems to other aspects of society has been that democracy is related to the state of economic development. Where race as an issue is of concern, as in the US where majorly the whites were better off than the other races especially the blacks, the blacks wanted to be involved in the political process also to access freedoms and rights that appertain to better socio-economic conditions. In the process democratization becomes possible as this struggle goes on.

The position of any one class on democratization cannot be considered in isolation from others; various class alliances can occur which can be more or less favorable to democratization; and capitalist development changes class alignments and therefore can be fundamentally important for democratic prospects (Potter, D. 1997, 21).

Discussion and Conclusion

In the USA democracy has existed for centuries and though it was practiced throughout the life of the republic, it has oftenly left certain parts of the population disenfranchised, the black population, based on race and thereby has been necessary for democratization to occur. The blacks organized and sought political inclusion and economic inclusion in the general public. Their endeavor has led to the democratization of the republic to reach liberal democracy. By seeking to be treated as equal citizens and allowed universal suffrage, the blacks have helped the USA become truly democratic. This paper has looked at the issues of universal suffrage, citizenship and finally socio-economic and wellbeing to try to relate the well-documented Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (not included in this paper) and how they led to the democratization of the USA by the blacks and later on by other races. This approach can be used to help other groups that feel they have been left out.


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