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And it is not that we must fear “tyranny of the majority,” because a genuine political majority of a populace rarely exercises power.It was not a majority of the American citizenry that favored or fought for slavery; it was not a majority of the French citizenry that authorized the Reign of Terror; it was not a majority of the German citizenry that elected Hitler.Americans may wonder whether greater democracy is even desirable, since few in the echelons of society that dominate public communications and our capitalist economy are prone to entrust more power to the many who are often seen as uncouth—incapable of political judgment and likely to threaten their positions.
Besides this historical truth, political action in democracies and all other political orders occurs amid conditions of uncertainty.
When citizens engage political dilemmas, they have reason to wonder exactly what the two conceptual pillars of democracy—freedom and equality— mean.
This critique puts a moral and intellectual burden on the understanding and practice of democratic citizenship and governance: How can one be sure that becoming more democratic means that society and its citizenry will become better?
These questions of how and whether democracy produces goodness are serious and longstanding.
And yet everyone can learn the basic skills of political navigation, given the requisite general education and political experience.
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This is why democracy can’t be only an ideal; it must be a practice of ongoing political activity wherever possible and practical to acquire this education and experience.
Practical roots of this misunderstanding recur to the American founding.
The drafters of the American Constitution did not intend to create a democracy—thus, the Electoral College and the Senate (although having two houses of Congress can have democratic benefits).
When citizens’ political participation exclusively involves voting in official elections, it is reduced to being an adjunct to the agendas of the few individuals who both seek public office and have the wherewithal to be serious candidates.
What I call the “political activity” of citizenship does not entail “activism” for all citizens, but it does require constant attention to the well-being of democracy.