A Critique of Carl Becker’s “Ideal Democracy”
As one of the most renowned historians of American history, Carl Becker advocated profoundly for the inculcation of democracy into the prevailing American government in the early 20th century. According to Becker, the American Revolution did not only incorporate independence as its main objective, it strived to change the conventional institutions in the government that did not involve nor concur with the spirit of the public. Thus, Becker advocated for an ideal democracy. A democracy in which the will of the people is respected, a government created by the people, for the people and by the people. Expounding more on the nuance of the ideal democracy based on Becker’s assertions requires a critique of his discussion, “Ideal Democracy”.
Becker exemplifies the meaning of democracy by comparing its definition with other systems of leadership that existed at the time. Through a comparative assessment of other forms of government, Becker’s full definition of government was based on a government that did not impose autocratic leadership on the people. Moreover, he borrows from the standard definition of democracy, which is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Hence, according to Becker, a democratic government is a government in which citizens, or a sufficient number of them, are accorded rights and responsibilities to determine intricate procedures and regulations that are valid for the governing of a country or state. Becker illustrates this by adding that the citizens are accorded with the privileges of common will in which they are able to appoint or summon magistrates, enact or annul the rules by which the community is governed (Becker, 108).
Regardless of the euphoric definition that Becker attaches to democracy, Becker also notes that such a definition, although positive in nature, stands to be contradicted by the present condition of the citizens. However, Becker offers enumeration for this rhetoric. Simply, Becker acknowledges that for democracy to survive, certain conditions need to be observed. Additionally, Becker bases these conditions by using examples of regimes in which democracy flourished. For instance, Becker acknowledges that democracy flourished briefly in parts of Greece. Thus, through examples of ancient Greece and France, Becker acknowledges that the conditions required for democracy to prosper comprise mobility, necessity for economic security, ease of communication and industrial prosperity. Apparently, Becker describes these three conditions as the fundamentals required for the success of any democratic government (Becker, 108-109).
Apart from the conditions that Becker presents as platforms to ensure success of a democratic government, Becker emphasizes that there are certain qualities that are required on top of the conditions provided. According to Becker, democracy is a type of economic luxury. He reiterates by using an example in which he alleges that democracy was a major factor of development of novel and probable rich nations. Moreover, Becker adds that the dwindling of economic prosperity led to weakened democracy. Relating to this assumption, Becker alleges that citizens need to possess certain virtues and competencies, such as capability of managing affairs, reconciling conflicts of class and individual interest, rationality and good will. Such moral standards and qualities are factors coupled with the previously mentioned conditions that will make democracy function (Becker, 110).
In conclusion, the ideal democracy based on Becker’s nuances referred to a liberal system of government that integrated morals and values with the governing of people. The assumption behind democracy is based on an assumption that incorporates important means and ends joined with the freedom of contemplation and self-government. Regarding the qualities and facets that Becker attaches to an ideal democracy, it is evidently clear that what is described as democracy presently is entirely different from Becker’s definition of democracy.
Becker, Carl. “Ideal Democracy.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 101- 120. Print.