Sunday, September 16, 2012

The audacity of democracy

by Akhil Reed Amar

Los Angeles Times

September 16, 2012

Monday marks the 225th anniversary of the turning point of the world — the hinge of modern human history.

On Sept. 16, 1787, kings, czars, sultans, princes, emperors, moguls, feudal lords and tribal chieftains dominated most of Earth's landmass and population. Wars and famines were commonplace. So it had always been. Democracies had existed in a few old Greek and Italian city-states, but most of these small-scale republics had winked out long before the American Revolution. While Britain had a House of Commons and a broad-based jury system, hereditary British kings and lords still retained vast powers. A small number of Swiss yeomen governed themselves, and the Dutch republic was on its last legs. That was about it for democracy in the world.

Today, roughly half the planet lives under democracy of some sort. What happened to precipitate this stunning global transformation?

Here's what. On Sept. 17, 1787, a small cluster of American notables who had been meeting behind closed doors in Philadelphia went public with an audacious proposal. The plan, signed by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and 37 other leading statesmen, began as follows: "We the People of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."


Steve Brodner