At Yale University, Robert Dahl was a sterling professor of political science. The notion of perfect democracy is discussed in Dahl’s book On Democracy. Democracy, according to Dahl, is where laws and guidelines are set in a position called a constitution that specifies how choices are taken and enforced by a selected association (Dahl). The most significant concept is that in a democracy, democracy considers all members as though members are fairly eligible to engage in decision-making relating to policies adopted by the aforementioned association, i.e. democracy should accept all members politically equal. Aristotle was a Greek thinker and philosopher who advanced several ideas of politics in one of his publication called politics. In work, Aristotle significantly examined the concepts of governance by utilizing his hometown as a case study for his work. Particularly on democracy, Aristotle defined democracy, as the rule of the people. However, Aristotle did not like democracy for he viewed democracy as a form of governance that allowed poor masses have control of the institution of management and use the body and use it to serve their own needs (Aristotle (384-322 B.C)). This essay will examine the concept of ideal democracy in comparison to Aristotle’s political ideas then look at the views of the former Democratic Senator Mike Gravel on the ideas analyzed.
One dissimilarity between liberal views of Dahl and Aristotle’s is that whereas Dahl praised democracy as the best form of governance, Aristotle saw democracy as an inferior form of governance. Dahl says in his book that the last half of the 20th century proved to be a period of the triumph of democracy as some of the harmful forms of non-democratic governments like communism, Nazism, and Fascism phased out. Dahl strongly asserts that democracy is the best functional structure of governance (Gravel). Aristotle, however, claimed that since democracy is the rule of the people, when masses control the government they bring about poor governance because giving full sovereignty to a governing body creates room for abuses of power. Therefore, Aristotle considered democratic governance as a despotic system of government since he felt that it triggered competition between the classes. Hence, it was susceptible to leaders presiding by emotion rather than firm adherence to the law (Aristotle (384-322 B.C)).
Secondly, it is worth reviewing Aristotle’s view on democracy. Many might understand Aristotle as being anti-democratic. However, that was not the case. In his Politics, Aristotle separated governments into six kinds, three good and three bad. The proper forms of governments are aristocracy, monarchy, and polity, whereas the wrong systems are oligarchy, tyranny, and democracy (Aristotle (384-322 B.C)). Now, polity will be the primary area of concern since a polity, in other words, is the constitutional government. Interestingly, a polity resembles the modern democracy that exists in many current governments, but by Aristotle’s view, polity was an idyllic democracy. Constitutional democracy as seen now is a firm, systematic institution that protects and represents the people of a nation. So, by democracy, Aristotle meant “mob rule.” A rule that the many subdued the rest. Aristotle did not oppose democracy by any means, and in fact, Aristotle sought to build a model that opposed Plato’s idyllic model of the nation ruled by philosophers or kings. Aristotle’s model was the constitutional government, and he thought that such a model was the best practice for a government. Since the polity compares to the modern ideal democratic government advocated by Dahl, then Aristotle was ahead of his time for the proposed the same form of administration advocated by the modern political scientist, i.e., Robert Dahl. Aristotle asserted that, for the constitution to be good, the constitution must attain the principle of distributive justice: people are treated equally according to the contributions they provide the society. Dahl’s views on the constitution democracy are similar to Aristotle’s because in the book, Dahl a constitution ensures that in a governing democracy, the democracy treats all members as though the members equally qualify in partaking in the course of making decisions.
Under the subject of ideal democracy, Dahl outlines the criteria that government should meet to be referred to as democratic. The criteria are the standards that a governing body must satisfy so that all members in the administrative area equally entitled to take part in the administration’s decisions on policies. The first criteria are the effective participation. Effective participation ensured that all member have adequate and equal chances to make their perspectives known to the rest of the members on policy-making issues. Secondly, voting equality is a criterion that ensures that at the moment of voting for a new policy, all the members have effective and equal opportunities to vote and the body strictly count the votes equally. Third criteria are the enlightened understanding that states how the governing body should provide effective and equal occasions for learning about policy alternatives and the policy consequences. Fourth criteria are the control of agenda. Agenda control ensures that members retain an exclusive right to decide the issues to be placed in the agenda even more importantly, the policies in the agenda are opened to change as per the will of the members. Finally, the adult inclusion principle stated that a majority of the adult permanent residents of the political setting should enjoy the full privileges of citizens that the first four criteria imply (Dahl). Some of the above criteria compare to Aristotle’s concepts on an ideal governance of a city or in Dahl case the ideal democracy of a nation. Aristotle admitted that giving full authority to either the laws or governing body might lead to abuses of power. Therefore, Aristotle suggested that a polity (constitutional structure) is perhaps least vulnerable to corruption when the citizens give the laws a higher authority than the governing body (Aristotle (384-322 B.C)). Similarly, the Dahl’s criteria for ideal democracy agree to the idea that a constitutional democracy is best suited against corruption as the members come together in policy making phases and implementation. Furthermore, the suggestion of giving the laws (constitutional rules) a higher precedence than the governing body concurs with Dahl’s view on the constitutional mandate.
The mentioned principles of effective participation and voting equality differ from the Aristotelian view of ideal governance. Aristotle proposed a standard of distributive justice. The standard holds that roles should be consulted upon different citizens differently as per the contribution a citizen makes to the well-being of the government (Aristotle (384-322 B.C)). Aristotle observed that the top tension in any political system is the mutual bitterness between the well-off and the poor. Consequently, Aristotle proposed that a strong middle class should keep a state in equilibrium and guard against oppression and corruption. However, Aristotle further proposed that since for a constitutional government, the majority determine governance, the middle class can allow both a roughly equal amount of power and so the interests of the poor majority and the wealthy minority. In such a plan, each distinct rich person would have more political authority than each poor being, but the rich and the poor as a collective will then get balanced against one another. Also similar to the criterion of enlightened understanding mentioned above, Aristotle stated that education is critical in a political setting for education helps the citizens (members for Dahl’s case) to make best of work in governance because the citizens acquire understanding through education.
In the book Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change by Mike Gravel, extensively speaks of the need to give more power to the citizens of the U.S. Gravel talks of how democracy intended to give the people in a political boundary the final say on matters of governance (Gravel). Therefore, Mike Gravel would applaud the ideal democracy by Dahl because ideal democracy basis is on the people making the final decisions on policy implementation. Mike would see Aristotle’s polity views as impractical and unforeseeable because a society can never allow a section of the middle class to make decisions for the rest; inclusivity is paramount.
In conclusion, an apparent disparity between Dahl’s views and Aristotle perspective come in the issue of ideal democracy. Ideal democracy according to Dahl is when all the members of a political system are equally involved in policy making and in overseeing the policy implementation by the existing association. For Aristotle, an ideal democracy is a polity where an association governs for the benefits of all, not just the leadership and consequently, the triumph of a polity is reliant on the quality of the leadership and their description of the shared interest. Personally, the idea of an ideal democracy by Dahl is the preferable because of its feasibility. Furthermore, the members choose the body that creates and implement policies and the members and also the members supervise all the aspects of the policies and finally some aspects of the ideal constitution already exist in the actual democracy. Aristotelian polity views are unrealistic because never a middle-class cannot rule over the rest of the members in a government setting and common interest is an incredibly dynamic concept, especially in the current society.
“Aristotle (384-322 B.C).” n.d. Sparknotes. Document. 12 December 2017.
Dahl, Robert A. On Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
Gravel, Mike. Citizen Power: A Mandate for Change. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008.