What is democracy, and what are the benefits and disadvantages of it? This paper will focus primarily on three essays: The Social Contract by John Locke, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, and The Democratic Age by Fareed Zakaria. Each essay chosen is similar because each discusses what the advantages and disadvantages of free society are.
The Social Contract primarily focuses on 17th century liberalism and expounds on Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathin. Locke gives the vision of mankind living in a state of anarchy before formal government was established. In Chapter II, Of The State Of Nature, Locke focuses on the natural equality of mankind:
To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider
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In other words, law is a social contract created by the majority to serve the well being of the community. The Social Contract is regarded as the grounds for modern day democracy. Unlike Locke who promotes majority rule, Henry David Thoreau dismisses it as ineffective in his essay Civil Disobedience. “I heartily accept the motto that government is best which governs least” (Thoreau 372). Thoreau spends the majority of his essay belittling big government and the loss of personal sovereignty. Thoreau criticizes the American government for its mishandling of slavery and the Mexican American War. Thoreau criticizes the government because it obtains its power from the strongest group (majority) instead of what is morally correct. He prompts readers to follow their intuition on what is right and not simply abide by the crooked law that the majority has established. His greatest example of the problems with American democracy is slavery. Thoreau criticizes the U.S. for condoning slavery, although the constitution clearly opposes it in Article I: Section 9.
Thoreau’s solution to government evil is not to eliminate it, but rather to rebel and not participate in it. For example, Thoreau was imprisoned for a night for not paying his taxes which was his way of not contributing to the misconduct of the government. He believed