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13. Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy, Readings
Topic Overview Using the Video Readings Critical Thinking Activity Web-Based Resources

 

 

 


 

Readings Unit 13

The Readings for Democracy in America unit 13 are available here for download as a PDF file. You'll need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the files. Acrobat Reader is available free for download from adobe.com.

Download Unit 13 Readings, Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy

  • Introduction—Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy

  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: “How the Principle of Equality Naturally Divides Americans Into a Multitude of Small Private Circles”

  • Machiavelli, The Prince

  • Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia

  • Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (see Reading in Unit 5)

Questions
  1. What did Tocqueville suggest happened to the sphere of private intercourse as the circle of public life was expanded?

  2. Machiavelli compared fortune to several different things, what were they? Why does fortune play such an important role in his discussion of the maintenance of the state? How did he suggest that she can be mastered?

  3. In Query 18, what did Jefferson see as the danger presented by slavery?

  4. Why did Jefferson believe that those who labor the earth are the chosen people of god?

Introduction—Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy


Democracy requires the participation of citizens, virtually everyone agrees. The disagreements arise in debating over the capacities and avenues of participation. How much and in what ways should citizens participate in government? Furthermore, what are the meanings of government? Does it include work, neighborhood, and home?

While his name has become synonymous with a cruel self-interest, Niccolo Machiavelli’s work only really allowed cruelty, at least the ultimate cruelty of death, when it was necessary for the protection and promotion of the nation state. Machiavelli and Thomas Jefferson examined the role of the state in the maintenance of citizens. Machiavelli’s account in The Prince focused on the ways that the prince should treat people in order to turn them into citizens, while Jefferson explored the maintenance of a particular kind of citizenship. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson explains the importance of controlling yourself during work to maintain a properly independent citizenry. While we may build monuments to Jefferson, we obedient wage-earners can only barely understand his disdain for wage labor. In many ways, Machiavelli as much as Jefferson (if not more) shares many of our assumptions about political power and freedom.

Certainly more than those of Machiavelli or Jefferson, we share the assumptions of Frederick Douglass. Douglass’s account of his escape to freedom from slavery, excerpted as a Reading in Unit 5, nicely displays the importance of earning wages as a way to determine freedom in the United States, when the alternative to freedom was literal slavery. Distinct from Jefferson’s conception of wages as teaching citizens to obey by subjecting them to the will of the wage-giver, Douglass believed wages to be the true marker of freedom.

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