American Democracy (What is it, What Does it Mean?)

When Alexander Hamilton signed the Constitution of United States in 1775, he defined democracy and freedom in the following way: “The sacred rights of mankind, [human freedom,] are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”

All the founding fathers of the US democracy knew this intuitively, that out of all the possible alternatives, only liberal democracy has shown itself able to satisfy the deepest yearnings of human nature. And because of their intimate knowledge of the human heart, they drafted the foundation of what is to become the strongest and the most prosperous nation in the world.

However, in the recent decades, a new hand has been writing into our Constitution. Contemporary American author Walter Lippmann describes the current practice of American democracy the following fashion: ‘A revolution is happening in the practice of democracy in America. The common interests and the general wellbeing of the society largely elude the public opinion; this domain can be managed only by a specialized class of citizens.’

Moralist and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr elaborates: ‘…because of the stupidity of the average [American] man, he follows not reason but faith. This naive faith requires necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplification which are provided by the myth-makers to keep the ordinary [citizen] on course.’

Lippman and Niebuhr’s words are not without empirical grounds. Phillip Converse, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, explains that the current political ignorance of the American masses is largely due to lack of education. “There are extreme differences between how a well educated person and the mass public understand politics,” says Converse. ‘A low level of education correlates with a lack of political awareness as well as a lack of belief system.’

And today in America, 1 in 3 high school students drop out. Many of those high school students who do not drop out are “sounding the woes of fragile knowledge and poor thinking… and cannot compete with the students of other nations” according to Harvard Project Zero, nation’s foremost research center for children’s learning. When these children grow up, they fulfill Lippman and Niebuhr’s description of the “average stupid American,” which ‘the majority currently does not vote, does not understand the issues at stake, does not care, and are what politicians call depoliticized. In fact, we have a rate of depoliticization in this country that must make a tyrant in despotic regime envious.’

If we as a nation truly believe in the values of democracy, freedom, and the wisdom of collective-decision making, we must do more than just hold a banner and a flag to hide the depoliticized nature of our country. We must pay new regards to Thomas Jefferson’s old instruction for this country: “Whenever the people are well [educated and] informed, they can [then] be trusted with their own [democracy].”

Today as a nation, we have many decisions to make as individuals and as a community; these decisions are far more complex than it has ever been in a world of unnerving globalization, economic crisis, terrorism, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Today, our nation is also at war, where our soldiers are enlisted to sacrifice their lives on enemy territories far away from home. In fact, recently, a friend of mine had lost his father in this war, a US colonel and an honorable and respected man of our community.

Our soldiers perform their duties for our country, despite of their personal lives and that of their families, done not out of foolishness but out of faith in the American democracy, in its people’s collective judgment that has sent them into war. Our soldiers believe in the American people, in us, to have sent them into war for a just cause, and that we have not lent them into meaningless death. And so do the foreign civilians who trust in us to liberate their country: they are entrusting their lives, their families, and their children on the decisions made by the common Americans, the same Americans described by Lippman and Niebuhr.

Our job then as intellectuals and some here as teachers in a democracy is to provide our fellow citizens with the skills and the knowledge to help them do their job in a democracy, which is to approve or disapprove of their government’s policies and decisions. “Government in a democracy derives their just power from the consent of the governed,” another Jefferson’s line. But the common people need to be educated and as informed as possible to make that consent meaningful.

This is the actual substance of a democracy beneath all the whistles and bells, banners and flags — which are the well educated and informed individuals. It is these qualified individuals that we need in this country who can make the best decisions, not only for themselves, but also for the nation and for the world as a whole. And it is part of our duty to help make that happen for our communities to substantiate America’s democracy. Otherwise Lippman and Niebuhr’s description of the ignorant masses will betray our soldiers overseas and even more, the strong foundation that America is built upon — that our founding fathers have envisioned.

Shortly after the tragic event of September 11th, 2001, the New York’s Eta Kappa Nu Chapter decided that we were no longer going to be a sideliner of American politics and global events. We, as an institution that has been dedicated to academic excellence and educational services, personal character for well over a century now, has a duty to the American people, more now than ever, to heed to the words of Thomas Jefferson to “educate our citizens” and make them better and more informed decision-makers in a country that is currently engulfed in a endless and a failing war against terrorism, and a country that is crippled by the worst economic crisis since the Stock Market Crash in 1929. In a world where its complexity is on the exponential rise, our citizens need to be better equipped, better educated, and better informed to become responsible members of this democratic nation.

After much internal officer deliberation, we decided to team up with Hope Worldwide tutoring, the number one ranking tutoring service here in New York. With this joint venture, we hope to insert our scholastic influence with an age group whom are still defining their life’s identities, values, and attitudes in the most apolitical, non-academic, and impoverished area of our community, the Bronx. We strive, with Hope, to equip these members of our future democracy to restrain intuition with critical thinking, to refine judgmentalism with compassion, and to replace anger, impatience, racism, and vengeance with understanding and wisdom.

In doing so, Eta Kappa Nu believes that we are training the next generation of decision-makers of our country to be competent and compassionate from an early-age. We believe that in doing our part, we are helping to protect the freedom and the democracy that our founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson, have envisioned and sacrificed to build, which many of our soldiers are fighting overseas right now to guard.

And finally, we believe that we can stop this hideous new hand that has been writing into our Constitution before it writes something even more hideous such as Fascism, the right to torture prisoners, and other outrages against personal dignity and certain inalienable rights.

Right now, let’s have a moment of silence for the 5161* deceased American soldiers of this war (one of them happens to be my close friend’s father), as well as for 1,033,000 violent deaths due to the Iraq War conducted Opinion Research Business (ORB) poll August 12-19, 2007 estimated, and Afghanistan: 49,600 deaths.


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