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The Democratic State Essay Sample

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The Democratic State Essay Sample

Michel Foucault’s Panopticism begins with a detailed description of the measures to be taken against a seventeenth century plague.  The government was meant to exercise absolute control over all citizens during such time, as spaces were to be partitioned and houses were to be closed off.  Stray animals were to be killed, and human beings were to be advised that they could only leave town if they wanted to be killed too.  Moreover, guards were to be positioned on duty to keep a constant eye on the people.  Every guard was to be informed that “if he leaves the street, he will be condemned to death.”

     The government aimed to create a pure and disciplined community through these orders.  What is more, as Foucault point out, it was a “political dream” to create such an obedient community, even for a brief period of time.  The author describes the “Panopticon” next.  Based on Jeremy Bentham’s nineteenth century architectural figure, Panopticon on the part of the government is a state of mind of strict discipline and absolute control.  Foucault explains the state of mind thus: “without any physical instrument other than architecture and geometry, it acts directly on individuals; it gives ‘power of mind over mind’.”  Just like this oppressive state of mind – which is actually also meant to make the economy perfectly efficient – Bentham’s architectural diagram of the Panopticon represents perfect control.  In the building called the Panopticon, there is a central tower allowing perfect scrutiny of the prisoners at all times.  The prisoners cannot know that they are being watched from the tower, and neither could they communicate with one another.  In perfect isolation, the prisoners cannot even communicate with the warders.  This is the classic police state, as opposed to the constitutional state as a form of governance.

     The constitutional state, as opposed to the Panopticon/police state, is characterized by democracy, and defined as the following:

        [A constitutional state is] any free democracy that positively encourages participation from all sections of society in the creation of political opinion has to be structured in the form of a constitutional state. Taken together democracy and the constitutional state form an inseparable unit. The rule of law in a democratic state should be understood as meaning all the basic rights and procedures that ensure individual freedoms and guarantee the individual’s participation in the political process. The constitutional state is the complete opposite of the police state (“Constitutional State”).

The United States constitution is open to interpretation and reinterpretation by all equally intelligent citizens of the nation who may guide the Supreme Court to changes, as time evolves minds.  As is obvious from the definition of the “constitutional state” above, even the definition of this form of governance requires interpretation and reinterpretation.

     In any case, most Western nations today, including the U.S., have the right to claim that they are constitutional states as opposed to brutal, police states (the enemies of democracy).  Constitutional states necessitate democracy in addition to leaders elected by the people.  Certainly, most friends of globalization would like to be characterized among constitutional states.  Time would tell which is truly better among the two: the Panopticon or the constitutional state model of governance.  We have to remember, though, that in the Panopticon form of governance, the police force is meant to assume “the Napoleonic character…who looms over everything with a single gaze which no detail, however minute, can escape…” (Foucault).  Even when the police force is not watching, people assume that they are being watched.  Hence, policing turns automatic, and the object has been achieved – that is, the society becomes perfectly obedient because people start to believe that they cannot escape the laws of the land.  Is so much obedience necessary on the part of the people?  The “constitutional state” form of governance provides the answer: No, democracy is better.

References

Constitutional State. Dadalos. Retrieved 8 May 2007, from

http://www.dadalos.org/int/Demokratie/demokratie/grundkurs3/rechtsstaat/rechtsstaat.htm.

Foucault, Michel. Panopticism. Classic Text. Online. Internet.

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