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Success or Failure of Democracy Essay


The dimensions of democracy are widely viewed in terms of civil liberties and political rights as noted by Tilly in his book (2007). Further, a democratic nation is summed loosely in terms of equality, freedom of individuals and institutions, the principle of majority and the emphasis on personal freedom.

In addition, the presence of a public opinion guides against despotic tendencies. In an antagonistic platform autocracy hinders against equality, personal freedom as well as the public opinion. This may be perpetuated by a few or the majority. In this paper, the focus will be to analyze sociological theory concerned with success or failure of democracy through Kant, Tocqueville and Habermas.

Democracy failure

According to Immanuel Kant, enlightenment revolves around the power in an individual to use his own intelligence in order to guide his path at all times which he equates as freedom. Immaturity is the lack of using intelligence which is explainable through laziness and cowardice. As a result, immature persons become minors who are held hostage by guardians as people who have attained maturity. This is to say that the immature individuals cannot attain this level (Calhoun, Gerteis, Moody, Ptaff, & Virk, 2012a).

The public, on the other hand, is most capable of freeing itself from immaturity to attain enlightenment through freedom. There are people who always think for themselves and for those who act as guardians after attaining freedom.

However, Kant observes that prejudices arise in the public turned guardians in order to control the same public and this hinders enlightenment. Hence revolution cannot lead to enlightenment since the mind is not fully reformed. Therefore, the only way the public can achieve full enlightenment is by ensuring public freedom, the capacity to use public reasoning.

In this observation, Kant observes that a scholar has all the freedom to achieve enlightenment and thus congregations, religion, governments, groups and even families only hinder freedom in the private use. By analyzing Kant, it becomes obvious that modern form of democracy is based on his theory.

However, the danger lies in the private use of reason. As espoused by Tocqueville, democracy may be as a result of the view point of the majority. The majority expect a certain performance from the world and the political leaders it has elected. This forces them to behave and work to so as to appease the public opinion.

In terms of equality in democracy, Tocpeuville observes that this becomes the form of government in a democracy since no one becomes right than the other. It is the same problem that Kant conspicuously outlines by saying that, in the private use of reason; individuals may be forced to accept ideals and situations passively. These individuals do not, in their private capacity, recommend for the ideals and situations they are forced to accept. In this sense, the two scholars read from the same script. Hence this can lead to failure of democracy.

Tocqueville made an observation that those in power do not perform due to the question of public opinion. Therefore, the public gets tired of cycles of inefficiency and ineffectiveness. This leads to the abandonment of democratic systems. More so, the preference of equality leads to chances of failure in democracy. The formation of decisions through the will of the majority has problems due to differentiated boundaries as stated by Habermas in the public sphere.

These boundaries, though not powerful to stop the interactive, communicative space; they are derived from private life histories. In this case, the translation means that democracy faces the problem of deciding which the most right opinion to rule is. Tocpeuville observes that this insistence on majority may have despotic tendencies once conceived in terms of Habermas. Therefore, they must be kept on checks to avoid its effect.

Kant observes that the lack of use of public reason, which in all of its form leads to enlightenment, is lost when measuring what is right. Measuring what is right is usually done using a group known as “the majority” that stands for immaturity. The lack of freedom indicates a case of failed democracy.

In Habermas concepts of civil life in the public sphere, he observes that each person contributes to the communicative process that forms the public sphere (Calhoun, Gerteis, Moody, Ptaff, & Virk, 2012b). The public as a collection of network of communicating information and points of view does not recognize by differentiated roles regulations or memberships. Rather, it is through permeable shifting horizons either negative or positive that coalesce to form the bundle of public opinions.

This allows for failure of democracy as is conceptualized by Tocqueville in that the idea of equality encourages individualism. The collection of these individualistic tendencies results to people getting interested in their own perspectives thus forgets the public good by absconding civic duties.

In this process, again the minority who are not part of the large group get sidelined in the search for equality due to the process of social space. In this connection, a democracy becomes a failure to the same principle of equality by following what groups and individuals advocate for since in Habermas words they already have influence to public opinion. Democracy again fails due to the insistence of individualism which focuses on materialism in the pursuit of equality hence leading to obsession.

Success in Democracy

In contrast, democracy can succeed through following certain aspects in Kant, Tocqueville and Habermas opinions. Kant observes that the insistence of personal freedom allows enlightenment and hence intelligence. Therefore, a society that allows the public use of reason can comment on the ills of a democracy.

At most, it can allow criticizing the installed forms of governance if they take democratic tendencies as a scholar. In the process, public space is left only to control the private use of reason. In this case, every person through freedom has a capability to discern an awry form of governance.

According to Tocpeuville, the formation of institutions helps attain liberty against despotic tendencies. This is reinforced by Habermas who wrote that influence cannot gain political power if there is no presence of the public. The public is organized into institutions that that filter an opinion in order to reflect the communicative interaction that arises from free discussions and clarified issues.

Therefore, in this sense, institutions may act as sources of strength to a democracy or even make it succeed. However, the institutions may have many problems in the determination of democracy analyzed from this point of view. Nonetheless, an institution like the judiciary acts to help in the success of democracy.

Habermas observes that those who influence public opinion in a large magnitude wield power in the form of money, knowledge, resources, materials or wealth. In this statement, they may be viewed as enlightened lot that controls the minor, immature people as conceptualized by Kant.

However, if these persons have gained their influence due to their authority and explanation of convincing ideals then they may serve to help democracy forge forward or even be realized leading to its success. This may be cited by icons like Mandela of South Africa or Mahatma Gandhi of India.

An autonomous media form a sure way to democracy, as opposed to one that is swayed by political and audience interests. Habermas notes that the media as a new symbolic, abstract communicative tool may have adverse impacts to democracy if left to managers of interests of the audience. The influence of political power is the most detrimental to democracy. Therefore, through analyzing quality by freedom, the media can promote democracy where the opposite is true.

Freedom of associations either through faith based forums or other means that are soul satisfying, offer the possibility of love which supports democracy as Tocqueville observes. In this process then an individual gains a universal pleasure of love that one spread to all hence the need to be turned away from material satisfaction to soul satisfaction. Religion stands above all in Tocqueville terms.


Therefore, in conclusion, Kant, Tocqueville and Habermas theories provide the basis for analyzing and understanding the way modern governments should conduct democracy. Tocqueville observes that democracy is a universal phenomenon that is achievable all over. Therefore, if these ideals are followed, then autocracy may be curbed completely for the benefit of humanity. This leads to prosperity and increase of knowledge towards freedom.


Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Ptaff, S., & Virk, I. (2012a). Classical Sociological Theory. Garsington road, Oxford: John Wiley and Sons.

Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Ptaff, S., & Virk, I. (2012b). Contemporary Sociological Theory. Garsington road, Oxford: John Wiley and Sons.

Tilly, C. (2007). Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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