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Uses the concepts developed in the works of Aristotle, de Tocqueville, and Emerson to answer the following questions: How is democracy defined in America? What are the precepts or assumptions American democracy is built on, and how are they manifested (or not present) in today’s American society?

Aristotle, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Ralph Waldo Emerson seemed to believe an optimal democracy elected qualified people to office and didn’t get carried away with individualism. Right now, many of the concerns voiced by those three authors seem to be prevalent in America’s democracy. You could argue that there’s too many people involved, too much individualism, and not enough officials with qualifications or special abilities.

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The Greek philosopher Aristotle, the French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville, and the American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson each grappled with the idea and implementation of democracy.

For Aristotle, the best type of democracy was highlighted by the agricultural population. Remember, Aristotle was writing during 300 BC, so agricultural was crucial. For Aristotle, the typical agricultural worker didn’t have time to debate politics and take part in government, nor did they really want to. They cared more about their job. Instead of being forced to attend assemblies, they could elect someone to represent their interests. These representatives would have “qualification” or a “special ability,” which meant the “citizens are sure to be governed well.”

Now Alexis de Tocqueville was writing in the 1800s. Quite a bit of time has passed between him and Aristotle. Yet de Tocqueville shares Aristotle’s concerns about the adverse impact of a democracy where, as Aristotle says, “the citizens are very numerous.” For de Tocqueville, America’s emphasis on individualism was something of a bad omen. It could lead to a kind of homogeneous muddle where everyone gets “lost in the crowd” of their own rights, their own opinion, and so on.

Emerson too shared de Tocqueville’s and Aristotle’s fear about the onslaught of unchecked democracy and individualism. Emerson warns of “selfishness.” He also recognizes that democratic institutions contain the same “practical defects” of other kinds of institutions.

If you combined all three writers' thoughts on an optimal democracy, you’d probably arrive at a definition in which an ideal democracy guards against becoming too “numerous” by having citizens elect qualified, capable leaders who ensure that all are governed decently.

Right now, however, it seems like you could argue America’s mostly manifesting the concerns that all three writers expressed about democracy.

You might see de Tocqueville’s concern about the homogenizing effects of individuality with social media. Think about how social media encourages conformity and a “hive mind.”

You might also see what happens when people in government don’t possess what Aristotle called “qualification” or “special ability.” In 2016, Barack Obama told voters: “There has never been a man or woman—not me, not Bill, nobody—more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.”

Perhaps something has happened between 300 BC and 2020. Now, it appears as if American democracy is not in favor of qualifications. Although, maybe Clinton didn’t have the right qualifications. Perhaps qualifications aren't as simple and objective as Aristotle made them seem.

Finally, you can link Emerson’s warning about the “defects” of democratic institutions with contemporary Americans decreasing confidence in their own institutions.

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