Doesn’t sound like America is a democracy anymore ……. it sounds like we’re living in an oligarchy! No no . Russia is an oligarchy. What’s the difference? An oligarchy is a country run by billionaires who aren’t American!
American society and American democracy. politicians and other establishment figures should be much more concerned than they appear to be. It is tempting to dismiss this but interestingly, America’s second president—John Adams—warned presciently of the danger that democracy could evolve toward oligarchy. His 1814 letters to Virginia planter John Taylor merit quoting at length:
“Take the first hundred men you meet in the streets of a city, or on a turnpike road in the country, and constitute them a democratical republic. …You will find half a dozen men of independent fortunes; half a dozen, or more eloquence; half a dozen, with more learning; half a dozen, with eloquence, learning and fortune.
Let me see. We have now four-and-twenty; to these we may add six more, who will have more art, cunning, and intrigue, than learning eloquence, or fortune. These will infallibly soon unite with the twenty-four. Thus we make thirty. …Now, if each of these thirty can, by any means, influence one vote besides his own, the whole thirty can carry sixty votes—a decided and uncontrolled majority of the hundred … and they will instantly convert your democracy of ONE HUNDRED into an aristocracy of THIRTY.”
Adams continues this argument to assert that over time, smaller and smaller groups within the thirty “aristocrats” would eventually gain sufficient influence to control the majority needed to maintain power in a democracy. “The republic then becomes an oligarchy,” he writes, “whose sovereignty is in four individuals.” Adams argues that this will lead irresistibly to conflict between two oligarchical factions led by two individuals, which he describes as “the history of mankind, past, present, and to come.”
Adams’ assessment reflects his instinctive rejection of the French Revolution and its aftermath; he considers France to have experimented with democracy but not the United States as many Americans (slaves, women, and the poor) could not vote in 1814. (Indeed, only 6% of Americans could vote in the 1789 election that made George Washington our first president.) It also reflects the fact that Adams was something of an elitist—not unlike many of his peers among the Founding Fathers—and that it was morally and socially defensible in America at that time to defend limited voting rights. Nevertheless, Adams clearly expected that a system permitting universal political participation would inherently give more influence to some and less to others.
The United States has in many ways avoided confronting that problem in the two hundred years since Adams described it precisely because it has, in fits and starts, expanded voting rights to all Americans. Today, however, that task has been substantially completed save for heated debates over technical measures to make voting marginally easier. Now that essentially everyone can vote, it is only natural that public attention should move to the question of whether all votes are equal. The fundamental challenge for America is that such equality is impossible—in the broad sense that Adams outlines—under the U.S. Constitution and in fact conflicts with some of the principles and values it embodies. How will frustrated voters react to this reality?
NOW, LISTEN UP CANADA !