Democracy and the Problem of Non-democratic Institutions

Charles - North Creek, New York
Entered on June 29, 2008
Age Group: 65+
Themes: democracy

The notion that a benevolent democracy was the most humane form of government was instilled in me at an early age by my paternal grandfather. Now as a former healthcare professional I have been appalled by the fact that millions of our citizens still go without adequate health care. As a consequence we have fallen behind other first world countries in a number of healthcare statistics, including infant mortality and longevity. This has occurred in spite of spending a greater percentage of our GDP on healthcare.

I believe the reason for this state of affairs is that, in spite of our Constitution, we been transformed into a plutocracy. We and our elected representatives have failed to halt the arrogation of our government by corporate interests, in part because our founding fathers failed to realize how much the corporate establishment resembled, in its intrinsic structure, both military and religious institutions.

Our forebears understood that military and religious establishments were prone to favor governments that were greatly at odds with democratic ideals. They countered the proclivity of these organizations to seek unrestrained control over others by constructing a constitutional government designed to prevent any one person, organization or branch of government from having unchecked and unimpeachable power. But they did not foresee that wealthy industries and special interest groups might well seek to undermine democracy in a more insidious manner.

In retrospect it is easy to understand our vulnerability to corporate power because there is an important structural similarity between religious, military and corporate establishments. Although all three organizations can provide many benefits to a society, they are also all hierarchical, generally non-democratic, institutions. They all encourage competent but usually authoritarian personalities to gravitate to the top where, as leaders, they customarily rule by fiat rather than by referendum. Although our Constitution explicitly forbids military and religious organizations from assuming the highest seats of power in our government, it is not similarly explicit regarding corporate organizations. However, given their present wealth, corporations have not needed to overtly assume control of government they have only had to seduce our elected representatives with sufficient money to influence the legislative process in their favor.

It is true that our country has never been a pure and unadulterated democracy. We have a history of slavery, brutal exploitation of immigrants, and the disenfranchisement of women and minorities. But it has seemed to me that throughout much of the Twentieth Century we were making progress, albeit slowly. Tellingly much of this progress was initiated and fostered by grass roots organizations rather than by our religious, military, corporate, or political leaders. We citizens must now mount another effort to take back ownership of the legislative process. If we are successful, we might finally be able to offer the world an example of a just and transparent government – in short, a real “by the people, for the people” democracy which is something I like to believe is still possible.