Challenges to Democracy: Reasons for Counselor Vigilance

Article excerpt

Introduction

The main assumption of this statement is that democracy is being forced to adapt to the post-modern world culture and those adaptations have significant implications for counseling. Therefore, counselors can benefit from staying abreast of society's challenges stemming from the general press for potentially historic alterations of democracy.

According to the New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Democracy was created by Cleisthenes in Athens, Greece, at about 510 BC. It has endured as a powerful idea for more than two thousand years yet, it is being questioned seriously and fundamentally by some of today's responsible thinkers. Elshtain (1995) wrote, "The vote and other markers of democratic citizenship have fallen on hard times ... the vote only cajoles us into thinking we have power ... votes may matter but not very much (p. 115)." Toffler (1990) asserted, "While we are busy celebrating the end of ideology, history and the Cold War, we may find ourselves facing the end of democracy as we have known it - mass democracy. The advanced economy, based on computers, information, knowledge, and deep communication, calls into question all the traditional defenses of democracy (p. 255)." West (1993), a philosopher, addressed democracy's current situation by stating, "The recent revival of pragmatism provides a timely intellectual background for the most urgent problematic of our postmodern moment: the complex cluster of questions and queries regarding the meaning and value of democracy (p. 107)." Surely, it behooves all of us to consider seriously these responsible concerns about democracy in our time.

Defining Democracy

Democracy is difficult to define. Kennon (1995) wrote, "Democracy can be, and has been, defined in a number of different ways (p. 89)." Apple and Beane (1995) asserted, "We live in a time when the very meaning of democracy is being radically changed (p. 101)." Since there is not an official consensus it seems appropriate to list a variety of them.

Elshtain (1995) cited Pericles' definition of democracy.

Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another inpositions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses (p. 95).

Franklin Roosevelt listed six foundations of a healthy and strong democracy (Ravitch, 1992).

1. Equality of opportunity for youth and others.

2. Jobs for those who can work.

3. Security for those who need it.

4. The ending of special privilege for the few.

5. The preservation of civil liberties for all.

6. The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living (p. 182).

In his 1949 inaugural address President Truman (McCullough, 1992) said: Democracy is based on the conviction that man has the moral and intellectual capacity, as well as the inalienable right, to govern himself with reason and fairness ... Democracy maintains that government is established for the benefit of the individual, and is charged with the responsibility of protecting the rights of the individual and his freedom in the exercise of those abilities (p. 730).

Kennon (1995) formulated a list of what he believed were consensual characteristics of democracy. He wrote:

Despite their differences and inconsistencies, most people in the developed world would probably define democracy in a way that would be recognizable to the men of 1776. Such a definition would be based on the election of representatives, under broad suffrage, to make laws and carry out policy. It would also include some guarantee of "natural rights" (essential beyond the reach of the democratic process) to protect unpopular individuals and groups (p. …