Is US the oldest democracy?


    Somebody referred to USA as the oldest democracy.Is it so? US has a problem of “make believe”, which at least I am not going to fall in the trap.

    Let us get the facts clear. The word democracy in the first place was not coined by US. It was coined by the Greeks but there many would argue that on the basis of Hellenic Democracy.

    The roots of Democracy itself have been there in India before the Greeks or anybody else got to it. Kalinga was ruled by the people. There are democratic rules in the Buddhist setup.

    Let me quote from “Sarasavi Sandaresa“:

    The Buddha’s teaching definitely encourages democratic ideas and institutions. He made the Sangha, the community of monks, an absolutely democratic institution. The Marquess of Zetland, a former Viceroy of India, writes in the introduction to The Legacy of India:

    It is probable that the tendency towards self-government evidenced by these various forms of corporate activity received fresh impetus from the Buddhist rejection of the authority of the priesthood and further by its doctrine of equality as exemplified by its repudiation of caste. It is, indeed, to the Buddhist books that we have to turn for account of the manner in which the affairs of these early examples of representative self-governing institutions were conducted. And it may come as a surprise to many to learn that in the assemblies of Buddhists in India two thousand years and more ago are to be found the rudiment of our parliamentary practice of the present day. The dignity of the Assembly was preserved of the preserved by the appointment of a special officer the embryo of ‘Mr. Speaker’ in our House of Commons.

    A second officer was appointed whose duty it was to see that when necessary a quorum was secured – the prototype of the Parliamentary Chief Whip in our own system. A member initiating business did so in the form of a motion which was then open to discussion. In some cases, this was done once only, in others three times, thus anticipating the practice of Parliament in requiring that a Bill be read a third time before it becomes law. If discussion disclosed a difference of opinion the matter was decided by the vote of the majority, the voting being by ballot.

    Even the modern idea of voting by proxy is found in the Buddha’s code of discipline, Vinaya.

    Then there are European countries as well standing tall to claim themselves to be the world’s oldest democracies. While the United States likes to boast that it’s the world’s oldest democracy, Icelanders drew up a constitution in 930 A. D. and provided for the Althing, or general assembly, which despite periodic interruptions over the last millennium, still meets. Legend has it that Columbus stopped here on one of his journeys and learned of Leif Eriksson’s explorations of the North American continent. In the 13th century, Iceland came under Norwegian rule, then passed to the Danish in the 15th century. In the 19th century the Icelanders regained their own constitution. Early in the 20th century, Denmark recognized Iceland as a separate state with unlimited sovereignty.

    Now coming back to the US. Is it really the oldest democracy?: Quote from

    In his first inaugural address in 1993, President Clinton spoke of the United States as the “world’s oldest democracy.” Is it? Presumably, this history starts the clock of democracy in 1787 when the Constitution was ratified. But many would consider this problematic, since this Constitution excluded as much as a sixth of the country’s population–its slave population–from any of the rights of citizenship. Can we then start the clock of democracy in 1865 when slavery was abolished, or in 1868 when the Confederate states re-entered the Union with a commitment (in their state constitutions) to equal rights for all citizens? That too is dubious.

    For another hundred years, the United States was not a democracy for all its citizens. At first through terrorist methods, and, later, starting in the 1890s, through amendments in the state constitution, the Southern states pressed ahead in their effort to exclude blacks from the political process. This resulted in “the disfranchisement of nearly all black citizens and the removal from office of nearly all black legislators in the former Confederate states by 1910.” Arguably, we might start the clock in the 1960s, when the blacks launched the Civil Rights Movement to regain their political rights. However, this process is far from complete. Under felony disenfranchisement laws, still on the books since the days of segregation, some 4.7 million Americans are denied their voting rights. Under these laws black men are disenfranchised at seven times the rate for all Americans.

    THINK FOR YOURSELVES: Is US the oldest democracy?

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    A perfect story-teller, who is madly in love with the hills. Shimla is his first love, and probably the last too. Won't get tired reading Rudyard Kipling. Hopes to pick up poetry again soon.

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