Which of the following speakers supports the ideals of democracy?

Speaker A: "By nature, men are free, equal, and independent. No one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent."

Speaker B: "The question arises about whether it is better to be loved more than feared or feared more than loved. The reply is that one ought to be both feared and loved, but it is much safer to be feared than loved."

Speaker C: "Society's interests are best served by open and free competition. The laws of nature dictate that the struggle of the marketplace produces the best results."

Speaker D: "Does anyone believe that the progress of this world springs from the mind of majorities and not from the brain of individuals?"

Expert Answers

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Of these quotations, the only one that (in my view) specifically supports democracy or democratic ideals is speaker A.

John Locke, from whose writings speaker A's quote is drawn, is the philosopher most often identified as expressing the theoretical underpinnings of British and American democracy. This statement was largely paraphrased by Thomas Jefferson almost a century later in the Declaration of Independence. The essence of democracy can be defined as the principle that governments obtain their power from the consent of the governed, as is the case (however imperfectly) in the UK and the US.

The quote from speaker B, drawn from the work of Niccolo Machiavelli, might be viewed as the antithesis of democracy. Machiavelli, however, in The Prince was not so much stating a political philosophy as describing what autocratic leaders—kings and princes—have historically done in order to stay in power. So, the "precepts" of The Prince are by definition irrelevant to democratic thinking (though the work itself, concerned with the discussion of political power, is not).

Speaker C is referring more to the economic ideal of capitalism than to political democracy. We can see from the example of present-day China that capitalism and authoritarianism are not mutually exclusive, since China has what is essentially a free-enterprise system under a non-democratic government.

Finally, speaker D in some ways suggests the opposite of democracy, seeming to deny that the will of the majority has any validity as a basis of government. However, unless we see the context of the statement, it's difficult to see the overall implications of the idea that the individual—and not the "majority"—creates progress.

The quote could easily come from the writings of Ayn Rand, whose principal ideas revolve around laissez-faire capitalism (often associated with democracy, though not inherent to it) as the only valid economic system. Yet Rand's social and political thinking—which suggests that a caste system in which elites rule the "lesser " members of the populace is ideal—is the opposite of democracy.

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