This first chapter acquaints the student with the basic focus of the text: democracy is an
ideal and the process of approaching democracy is continual. The chapter identifies
situations in the United States and around the world that illustrate the evolution of
societies toward democratic ideals. The term "democracy" is defined along with specific
distinctions between direct and indirect democracies. The foundations of democratic
systems and the importance of the core values that underpin all democratic systems of
government are discussed. Finally, elements that are integral to institutionalizing core
democratic values in the American system are identified.
Approaching Democracy Case Study; Introduction: Democracy as an Evolutionary
Democracy encompasses ideas of freedom and dignity. Although American democracy
has experienced setbacks, over the long run it has expanded rights and liberties for its
citizens – and this process is ongoing. The theme of the text derives from a statement by
Vaclev Havel who, after having been elected president of Czechoslovakia, described
America as "approaching democracy." Although America has been approaching
democracy for more than two hundred years, it is still in the midst of this evolutionary
process. The case study deals with the career and efforts of Cesar Chavez to organize
Mexican migrants and his historical impact upon contemporary Hispanics in America.
Forming a Picture of Democracy
While all democracies entail rule by the people, such rule may be either direct or indirect.
In a direct democracy, it is assumed that the people can govern themselves and make
their own policy decisions, for example, in the form of a town meeting. While such direct
rule by the people may be feasible in a small polity, larger nations have found such a
system extremely cumbersome. Larger populations require more indirect methods of
representation. An indirect democracy allows the people to rule through representatives;
this may also be called a representative democracy. The framers of the American
Constitution chose what they called a republic, a system that places government officials
at least one step away from the citizens. So, for example, in the original constitution,
voters elected their state legislators, but it was the state legislators who chose the U.S.
Senators and it was the state legislators who appointed the electors that comprised the
electoral college that chose the president.
The Roots of Democracy
Although the origins of democracy were in ancient Athens, this city-state was far smaller
than America, allowed citizens to vote on political decisions, and barred most of its
residents from participating in the political system. America’s system is immense and
extremely complex. In addition, equal political rights are guaranteed to almost every
adult citizen. However, we do derive the notions of consent, political debate, elections,
and majority rule from the ancient democracies – and our system has been much more