Democratic ideals of US government
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Democratic ideals of US government


– [Instructor] What we’re
gonna do in this video is discuss some of the foundational ideas for the United States of America. And we could start at the
most foundational of ideas and that’s the notion of natural rights. John Locke, one of the
significant Enlightenment thinkers describes rights like life, liberty and you might expect me to
say pursuit of happiness, which is what we see in the Declaration of Independence, but John Locke refers to
life, liberty and property. But even though his version
is a little bit different than what ends up in the
Declaration of Independence, most historians believe
that Thomas Jefferson was heavily influenced
by John Locke’s idea of natural rights when Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. And the idea here is that these are rights that people should be born with, that should never be taken away from them. And in the video on social contract, we talk about the idea of why someone would form a government. They would form a government,
they would give some rights to a government in order to
protect these basic rights, things like life, liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness. And so you might have some other rights that one would say in a state
of nature people might have, the right to do physical harm on others, the right to imprison others, the right to tax others. But in a social contract, we decide, hey, instead of everyone trying to figure out things on their own, let’s give these rights to a government and in exchange, the
government should protect all of these rights for the individuals. And, once again, this is review from the
social contract video. This is a notion of a social contract. Now the next question is, all right, so if we are willing to engage in the social contract with a government, what type of a government should it be? And throughout most of human history, governments have been
things like monarchies, where you have a single individual, maybe a king or queen, an emperor some type of a conqueror,
who is the sovereign, who rules over the state. But you could have, you
could instead of having one, you could have a small group,
which would be an oligarchy, or you could go to the other extreme, where the people are sovereign. And the word for that, and this is a key idea
for the United States, is popular, popular sovereignty, the people are sovereign. The government is
accountable to the people. Sometimes this could be
referred to as democracy. Now the Founding Fathers
of the United States were a little bit
suspicious of pure democracy or direct popular sovereignty. They were afraid that if
you start having factions and a majority faction
were to come to power, if you have a straight
democracy, then they might use that power to strip some
of the natural rights of say their political enemies or people that they just don’t agree with. And so you have this other
idea of limited government. Limited government. And some of the key things
that limit the government, you could just say
generally the rule of law, things like the Constitution, including how the government is structured, the checks and balances in it. The Bill of Rights, clearly
is a check on government. And you don’t just have limited government when you have a democracy, you could have a limited
government even in a monarchy. The United Kingdom is officially a constitutional monarchy, where you have a monarch who’s sovereign, has very limited powers
because of things like the rule of law. Now the last idea, that we’re gonna talk about in this video, is the notion of a republic,
or the idea of republicanism. Because the Founding
Fathers didn’t actually like calling the United States a democracy. Instead, they favored
calling it a republic. And the word republic
can mean different things to different people today, depending on what context you use. To some folks, today, it
means any form of government that’s not a monarchy. To other folks it means,
okay, you have a democracy, you have popular sovereignty, but you have limited government. You still have rights
that protect minorities, rights that make sure that
even if people are not in the majority, they are protected. To the Founding Fathers, they had a version of
this notion of republic. They did view a republic as something that would prevent the
passions of an unfettered pure democracy. But they thought it came mainly by having a representative democracy, that if you had a smaller group
of elected representatives, as opposed to everyone getting
involved in every issue, that they could calm the
passions of the crowds, so to speak. They also thought it was
logistically more practical. Sure, ancient Athens could
have something closer to a pure democracy, but that
was just a small city state. Well, here, even the 13
colonies were significantly more vast, and obviously the United States would become even more vast than that. And to appreciate this notion of republic, right over here is a
quote from James Madison in The Federalist Papers, Number 10. And just for some context on the what The Federalist Papers even were, as we mentioned, shortly after the
Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers start drafting the Articles of Confederation. They go into effect in 1781. But this is really a loose
confederation of states that each, individually,
think of themselves as sovereign states. And it’s really a pact that they’ll engage in war together, diplomacy
together, free trade. But you have Shays’s Rebellion, and it’s very clear, and
we’ll talk about this in other videos, that the
Articles of Confederation are not powerful enough. And so you have a
constitutional convention in mid 1787, in which James
Madison is a central figure. Some people discuss him as the Father of the US Constitution. They draft what is today the Constitution, but then they have to
sell it to the states in order for it to be ratified. Alexander Hamilton has the idea of, “Hey, why don’t we publish
a series of papers?’ And they eventually publish 85 papers, which will collectively be
known as The Federalist Papers. And Hamilton writes most of them, but he also recruits James
Madison and John Jay. And Federalist Papers, Number 10, which is perhaps the most famous, is James Madison’s discussion
of how do you avoid factions taking over the government and doing things that are not
in the interest of the people. And I encourage you to read all of Federalist Papers, Number 10. But I have a very small quote here. And this is James Madisons’ notion of what a republic was, and he thought the United
States should be republic. “The two great points of difference “between a democracy and a republic are: “First, the delegation of
government in the latter,” so he’s talking about a republic, “to a small number of
citizens elected by the rest.” So he’s really talking about
representative democracy. But he thought this was a key
component of being a republic. “Secondly, the greater number of citizens “and greater sphere of country “over which the latter may be extended.” That only through a
representative government could you actually
govern over 13 colonies, or even beyond 13 colonies. And that’s why, today,
obviously you might’ve had something closer to a pure democracy in ancient Athens, which was a city state. But, today, almost any democracy is some form of representative democracy, which James Madison would
consider to be a republic. But if you wanted to classify
the United States today, a fair term might be it
is a democratic republic. You definitely have popular sovereignty, the people are considered sovereign, but they don’t rule directly, they rule through representatives, which by Madison’s definition
would make it a republic. So now that you’re armed with
some of these basic ideas, I encourage you to engage even more with some of the founding
documents for the United States. And on top of the
Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution,
I encourage you to read as many of the Federalist
Papers as possible, because it’s really an
explanation of the ideas behind the US Constitution. And you should start with
Federalist Papers, Number 10. As you’ll see, James
Madison is quite insightful. He predicts how factions might form, how parties might form,
and not always do things in the interest of its people. But I’ll leave you decide
whether he was right, whether forming a republic helps this notion of factionalism. And look at the world that we are in today and think about whether
James Madison would be happy, or maybe he would be
a little bit uncertain about how things turned out.

15 Comments

  • Faith Marks

    Thank you Kahn Academy for your amazing content! I'm home-schooled, and your videos are simply the best for me! They are amazing, reaching the areas most people don't even teach. God bless. And also, say hi to Pippy, 'Head of Food Safety'. 😀

  • freesk8

    I have some problems with the social contract. In order to have a valid contract, you have to be able to read all of the terms. If some of the terms of the contract are hidden, or hard to find, or if it is just too long to be read practically, then someone can be trying to fool you. Well, there are way too many laws for anyone to read them. Also, it should be possible to refuse to agree to a contract. If you are forced to agree to it, then it is not a valid contract. But how is it possible to refuse the social contract? Ya can't. And it is unfair to require that someone leave the land of her birth in order to opt out. Another problem is that people have to give consent to the contract, either in writing for more important contracts, or orally for less important ones. Well, where does one sign the social contract? Ya just can't point to the signature. And no, a drivers license or voting doesn't count. Nowhere is there verbiage stating that when you vote or get a license you are agreeing to the terms of the social contract. It seems to me that the social contract is not a valid contract at all. It really should be called something else.

  • Dennis Wicker

    Elected representatives are failing the people of the United States today. The reason congressmen try so hard to get re-elected is that they would hate to make a living under the laws they passed.

  • Alexandru Gheorghe

    These videos put into a better light why I think the current form is outdated. With the advent of technology this will be more and more obvious. If now social media is used to enforce the "we the people" part, in the future it may be that the governing will be done be different systems (A.I. for example) which wouldn't be predisposed to corruption etc. Yes, it's a long way there but if done properly it'd change everything on a global scale. We could even more to a resource based world economy as was put forward by Fresco.

  • I Love You All

    +Khan Academy Do individuals have the right to tax? Clearly they do not. If all just powers are derived from the people, and the government is nothing more than a collective of individuals with the same rights as all individuals- then where did they acquire the right to tax?

  • I Love You All

    Social contract debunked in one blow.

    "Children cannot enter into contracts – and adults cannot have contracts imposed upon them against their will. Thus being born in a particular location does not create any contract, since it takes a lunatic or Catholic to believe that obligations accrue to a newborn squalling baby.

    Thus children cannot be subjected to – or be responsible for – any form of implicit social contract.

    Adults on the other hand, must be able to choose which contracts they enter into – if they cannot, there is no differentiation between imposing a contract on a child, and imposing a contract on an adult. I cannot say that implicit contracts are invalid for children, but then they magically become automatically valid when the child turns 18, and bind the adult thereby."

  • StarLord Jae

    You keep on confuse what a right is. Your rights are: life, liberty, and property and you don't have the right to infringe on anyone's own right to such things.

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