Home / Tag Archives: democracy

Tag Archives: democracy

The Greeks Lead the Way


If you had been a citizen of the ancient Greek city of Athens on a fine spring morning in 409 B.C., you would have gathered with thousands of your fellow citizens on a hillside inside the city. You would then have listened carefully to the discussion of various matters of business, conducted by the chairman and secretary of the meeting from a platform below and facing you. You would have seen an Athenian citizen thread his way from the hillside to this platform. This was a sure sign that he had a proposal to make to the voters. The citizen turned toward the assembled throng and spoke in a strong, clear voice. A man named Thrasybulus, he said, should be rewarded with a golden crown for his services to Athens. When the speaker paused, another citizen came to the platform. Yes, by all means thank Thrasybulus and give him a golden crown, urged the second speaker. He went on, these acts were not enough, because Thrasybulus was a foreigner, the best reward for serving Athens so faithfully and so well would be to make him an Athenian citizen. Would the voters of Athens do this? he asked. The chairman called for a vote by a show of hands and tellers counted the votes. A majority was in favour of the proposal and it was declared officially to have been approved by the voters of Athens. The secretary had a copy of the proposal carved on a marble slab to make the record permanent and there the record is to this day, over 2800 years later, but still readable! This old record tells us that Athenian citizens held meetings, discussed their own problems, and decided for themselves What they would do. The voters, instead of a pharaoh or a king, made …

Read More »

China and Revolution 1912 – 1962


Like Gandhi and Nehru in India, one of China’s greatest leaders, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, learned from the West as well as the East. Born in 1867 of a Christian family, he received most of his education in Hawaii; while an exile, he lived in Europe, America and Japan. Although Dr. Sun had been educated to be a surgeon, he soon gave up the practice of medicine to lead his people against their Manchu rulers. The Chinese were successful in overthrowing the Manchus and in 1912 they proclaimed their country a republic. Dr. Sun, who became known as the “father of the Chinese revolution,” was named president, but he turned the office over to Yuan Shih-kai, a general who had a number of followers. Dr. Sun believed that Yuan would be better able to keep order and unify the country. Instead, Yuan made himself a military dictator and when he died in 1916, China was more divided than ever. Local war lords, or military governors, controlled the provinces. Each of the war lords had his own soldiers, collected taxes and ruled his territory as he pleased. Seeking for a way China could become a free and independent nation, Dr. Sun worked out his “Three Principles of the People‚” or, in Chinese, San Min Chu I. The first of the three principles was nationalism. Chinese society had always been based mainly on the family; now the Chinese must think of themselves as a great and unified nation with a long history of civilization. They must rule themselves and have the same power as other nations. They must stop giving concessions and special privileges to foreigners and they must do away with the war lords. The second principle was democracy. The government and the people must be responsible to each other. The people …

Read More »

Totalitarianism Versus Democracy


AS THE 1930’s drew to a close, only eight countries in Europe, besides Great Britain and France, were still democracies. They were Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Three of Europe’s most important nations were dictatorships. The Soviet Union was communist; Germany and Italy were fascist. There had been dictatorships before, but these went further; they were totalitarian. The word “totalitarian” comes from the word “total,” and total control is what these dictatorships were after — total control of their people, total control of their actions and thought. There were differences between the totalitarian countries. While Stalin exterminated his opponents as ruthlessly as the fascists, he sought to spread his power less by war than by internal revolt. Nor did the Soviets openly preach racial war and genocide. In Germany, however, the Nazis loudly boasted that the Germans were the master race, destined to conquer all other, inferior, peoples. “Today Germany,” they said, “tomorrow the world.” Furthermore, the fascists claimed to be the only ones who could stop Communism and the communists considered the fascists their worst enemies. As a result, the communists in some countries found themselves lined up with the defenders of democracy against fascism. In France they were part of the Popular Front. In the United States they supported Roosevelt and the New Deal. In Spain they fought against Franco side by side with men who believed in democracy, although the communists later betrayed the Spanish democrats. Three ideologies competed for control of the world and as events turned out, one totalitarian nation — the Soviet Union — would finally be forced to stand with the democracies against the totalitarians of Germany, Italy and Japan in the most terrible war in the history of the world.

Read More »

The Election of 1936


As Roosevelt’s first term in office neared its end, many people in the United States — and in other countries — wondered if the New Deal could really solve America’s problems. More than that, they wondered if Americans would continue to follow the path of democracy. A wave of totalitarianism was sweeping the world; would it reach as far as America? There was no doubt that there were some Americans who supported Hitler and the Nazis. Members of the German-American Bund paraded in brown shirts and held a mass meeting in New York’s Madison Square Garden, but there were comparatively few Bundists. Many people felt that a more serious threat to democracy and to the Roosevelt administration came from three native American political leaders — Huey P. Long, Father Charles E. Coughlin and Dr. Francis Townsend. Most colourful of the three was Huey Long, a senator from Louisiana. Calling himself the Kingfish, he had come to power in his native state and he ran it, his critics said, as a dictatorship. He was a rousing orator and in front of a crowd he would spout folksy humour, crack sharp political jokes and play the simple country boy. His opponents, however, charged that he was a combination of brutal hoodlum and a shrewd political boss who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. He would promise the people anything — and he did keep some of his promise. He saw that Louisiana got better roads, schools and hospitals. In return, he got power. Huey Long was not satisfied with the power he had won in Louisiana; he had his eye on the White House. At first a supporter of the New Deal, he turned against it and began attacking Roosevelt. He called Roosevelt a “scrootch owl,” explaining that “a …

Read More »

The United States and Victory 1915-1918


FEW AMERICANS noticed the advertisement that appeared in the New York newspapers on May 1, 1915. Signed by the Imperial German Embassy in Washington, it reminded Americans that Germany was at war with Britain. It warned that British ships in the water near the British Isles were “liable to destruction,” and that “travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.” That same day, the British steamship Lusitania sailed from New York and among the 1,250 passengers were 188 Americans. On May 6, when the Lusitania was off the coast of Ireland, she was attacked without warning by a German submarine. She was struck by torpedoes and within fifteen minutes she had sunk. Of the 1,154 persons who died, 114 were citizens of the United States. Many Americans were horrified, but they agreed with Woodrow Wilson, who had been president since 1915, that the United States should not take sides in the war. Wilson was re-elected in 1916, after campaigning on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Since the beginning of the war, agents of both the Allies and Germany had been trying to influence Americans. Although Wilson faithfully carried out his policy of neutrality, he was personally sympathetic to the Allies. As a matter of fact, most Americans favoured the Allies. At the same time, American citizens of German descent had no wish to fight against their old “fatherland,” and Irish-Americans, who disliked British for its treatment of Ireland, felt that the England should be given no aid. Then the German submarine commanders asked their government to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. By that, they meant that once again they would be free to sink ships of all nations‚ including neutrals, in the waters around the British …

Read More »

Europe Divided 1825 -1881


IN EUROPE and North America, nationalism generally led to the creation of larger states and the centralization of power. In the Austrian Empire, however, nationalism had the opposite effect; it led to the break-up of the empire and the creation of a large number of small states. The reason was that the Austrian Empire was made up of people of different nationalities, each with its own language and customs. Although the German-speaking Austrians were only about one-fifth of the total population, the ruling family, the Hapsburgs, was Austrian and Austrians held most of the important government positions. The German-speaking people lived mainly in Austria and parts of Bohemia. The Czechs lived in Bohemia and Moravia. The majority of the people in Hungary were Magyars. The empire also included many Italians, Rumanians and Slavs. The Slavs, all of whom spoke Slavic languages, were in turn divided into Czechs, Slovaks, Poles and Yugoslavs. The revolutions that took place in the empire in 1848 failed as the different national groups quarreled among themselves. When Vienna was retaken from the rebels, the old leaders — the army officers, the nobles, the wealthy landowners, the churchmen — knew they would regain their power, but Emperor Ferdinand had promised the people too much. He was forced to step down so that his son Francis Joseph could take the throne and Francis Joseph would not be bound by the promises made by his father. The government then became more oppressive than ever. It did away with constitutions and took a firm stand against any form of liberalism or democracy. It called out soldiers to strike down any demonstrations of nationalism. Although the government did make some effort to improve business conditions, it was unpopular with the people. AUSTRIA-HUNGARY In 1867, the two leading national groups, the German …

Read More »

Nationalism and the Germans 1848-1870


DESPITE THE development of democracy in some parts of the world, several of the most important nations established in the nineteenth century went in a different direction and among them was Germany. In the early part of the century, the Germans lived in a number of small states and two large ones Prussia and Austria. France was at least partly responsible for this, for it had long been her policy to keep the Germans weak and divided. Napoleon, too, had followed this policy when they came under his rule, but he had given some of them practical governments and a good system of laws called the Napoleonic Code. Many Germans had been influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution. At the same time, they were becoming more and more nationalistic; they felt that all Germans belonged together in one large, united nation. This feeling increased when they fell under the rule of the French. Only by uniting into one nation could they be strong enough to rule themselves. After the French Revolution of 1848, the German liberals broke out in open rebellion. They, too, wanted a constitutional monarchy. Joined by the radicals, who wanted a republic, they threw up barricades in the streets of Berlin, acting so swiftly that King Frederick William of Prussia was taken by surprise. When he went out on the balcony of his palace to talk to the people, they refused to listen until he had removed his hat as a sign of respect. Trying to calm them, he promised them a constitution. The revolutions of 1848 gave the liberals control of the smaller German states. As the first step toward unification, these states elected representatives to an assembly at Frankfurt. Some members of the assembly were in favour of a republic similar to that …

Read More »

Democracy in Great Britain 1789-1884


BY 1789, the first year of the French Revolution, England had traveled further along the road that would one day lead to democracy than had any other country in Europe. She had a law-making body called the Parliament which was more powerful than the king. She had a two-party system which gave the voters a choice of ideas as well as a choice of candidates. Members of the conservative party, who were called Tories, were chiefly nobles, wealthy landowners and people who strongly supported the Church of England. The Whigs, as members of the liberal party were called, consisted mainly of middle-class business and professional men and the Dissenters, religious groups which had sharp differences with the Church of England. The king’s cabinet of ministers were chosen from the party with the most votes in Parliament. The cabinet was responsible to the people’s elected representatives in Parliament and therefore indirectly responsible to the voters themselves. The chief member of the cabinet was called the prime minister; he and other members of the cabinet actually took care of most government business in the name of the ruling king or queen. The English monarch had become a ruler with very limited powers. In addition, the people of England were protected by a Bill of Rights. The king could not change or suspend laws passed by Parliament. Elections were to be held frequently and the king was not to interfere with these elections in any way. Any person charged with a crime had a right to a speedy trial before a fair-minded jury. Cruel and unusual punishments were forbidden, as were extremely high Fines. Yet, England still did not have true democracy, for the right to vote was granted only to those who owned a large amount of land. Since most of the …

Read More »

Jackson and the Common People 1812-1833


ALTHOUGH THE Federalists continued as a party for some years after their defeat in 1801, they would never again be strong enough to threaten American democracy. Jefferson’s party remained the only strong party in the country during and after Jefferson’s two terms in office as President. Still many citizens were not satisfied. They felt that they should have the right to vote even though they were poor and did not own property. Some of them won the right to vote by moving westward, into one of the new western states. All the new states gave every white man the right to vote whether he was rich or poor. This was so because in the frontier states no one was very rich and everyone wanted as much opportunity as possible to get ahead. Six western states entered the Union between 1812 and 1821, during the same period four of the older states did away with the requirement that men had to be property owners in order to vote. By the time Andrew Jackson was elected President in 1828, only five of the original thirteen states still limited the right to vote to those who owned property. Jackson owed his election to the rising strength of the common people, who looked on him as one of their own. He first won fame as an Indian fighter and he became the nation’s hero when he turned back the British in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. That war helped draw Americans closer together and to strengthen their feeling of nationalism. Jackson won the support of both the workers in large eastern cities and the settlers in the new western states and his election was regarded as a victory for democracy. So, in the United States, democracy and nationalism continued …

Read More »

Democracy and Nationalism 1815-1848


WHILE THE Industrial Revolution was transforming England and creating a new kind of society, the continent of Europe seemed to be going backward instead of forward. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1815, the monarchs and aristocrats brought back the principle of “legitimacy.” Legitimacy meant that only kings, aristocrats and the established church had the right to rule and that the people must obey them without question. The American and French revolutions had been fought to overthrow the principle of legitimacy. The idea behind these revolutions was that governments were created by the people. As the Declaration of Independence put it, all men were born equal and had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”– and governments were set up to help them secure these rights. Legitimacy and the ideas of the revolutions were completely opposed to each other. At first it looked as though legitimacy would win out, at least in Europe. In 1814, the four nations that had defeated Napoleon — Austria, Russia, Prussia and Britain — met in a peace conference called the Congress of Vienna. They gave the throne of France to Louis XVIII. They changed the map of Europe to produce a balance of power that is, groupings of states that were roughly equal to each other in strength. They saw to it that Germany and Italy were divided and did not become great and united nations. To carry out their agreements and keep down revolution, Austria, Russia, Prussia and Britain formed what was known as the Quadruple Alliance. Later, in 1818, they became allied with France and formed the Quintuple Alliance. The British, however, did not support all the policies of the alliance; they believed that every country had the right to change its form of government. The result was that Austria, Russia …

Read More »
Translate »