This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
Though the term "democracy" means government by the people, we no longer hold the fatuous notion that all men are equally fitted to administer those institutions which a people establishes for the necessary conduct of its affairs. Our government has at times been run on the theory that every citizen was qualified to be at least a cabinet officer if not indeed president. . . . - American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 23, p. 763, C. H. Grabo, "Education for Democratic Leadership."
Democracy has sometimes been taken to mean equality, Thomas Jefferson's statement in the Declaration of Independence being the most notable example. But everybody knows that men are not equal in stature, or strength, or mental ability, or moral character; nor is it either possible or desirable to make them equal by any kind of education. Equality before the law is a useful principle for legislators and courts to follow, and equal opportunity is a useful principle for the educator to follow. But it is well to remember that identically the same law affects two men differently: equal treatment by the law does not make the men equal before the law. Identically the same opportunity before two boys, say, to learn a trade, is equal only in such externals as the equipment and teachers provided; viewed as opportunity of which the boys can avail themselves, it is a different opportunity to each. Men are equal simply in being men and citizens;in other respects they are different and have different needs. Society can meet these needs only in proportion as it is well organized, and that, as we have seen, means recognizing the differences between individuals and making suitable provision for each. Perfect adjustment to the needs of each person is a splendid goal to work for, but as impossible of attainment in practice as any other kind of perfection. The government of an institution can only do its best to give each of its members a fair chance; the interest of all as well as of each demands that he should have it.
. . . Schools, universities, libraries, galleries, operas, and circuses may yet be open to all, but they will not be really open for those who cannot appreciate them. Picture-galleries are no opportunity to a blind man, nor to a man aesthetically blind. Symphonies are no opportunity to a dull man, nor bull-fights to a refined man. Even if all wealth were possessed by the community and public provision were made for all wants, there could be no equality. . . .
Opportunities can be equal only if men are equal. . . .
. . . Democracy should replace the aristocracy which depends on accident of birth by the aristocracy of merit, should set aside the aristocracy which buys place with gold for that which earns place by capability and distinguished service. But when democracy stands for a great leveling down and a slight leveling up, when it will have no aristocracy at all, its doom is sealed. - Harris, Inequality and Progress, pp. 100-101.
It was through the Declaration of Independence that we Americans acknowledged the eternal inequality of man. For by it we abolished the cut-and-dried aristocracy. We had seen little men artificially held up in high places, and great men artificially held down in low places, and our own justice-loving hearts abhorred this violence to human nature. Therefore, we decreed that every man should thenceforth have equal liberty to find his own level. By this very decree we acknowledged and gave freedom to true aristocracy, saying, "Let the best man win, whoever he is." Let the best man win! That is America's word. That is true democracy. And true democracy and true aristocracy are one and the same thing. If anybody cannot see this, so much the worse for his eyesight. - Owen Wister, The Virginian, Chapter XIII (Natural Selection).
. . . Modern democracy, accordingly, depends for its success upon inner freedom of thought and judgment in the individual, upon freedom of intercommunication among individuals, and upon the untrammeled expression of public opinion. ... It strives to secure "an adequate life for all." The growth of barriers that obstruct sympathy and understanding among different elements of the population will, in the long run, probably be just as fatal to democratic society as the growth of barriers limiting the free interchange of ideas and the free expression of popular will.
... In a world where efficiency counts, absolute or dead-level equality in any social group would be fatal. What democracy protests against are the artificial inequalities produced by artificial social distinctions. It recognizes the potentially equal social worth of every man, and it would give to every man an equal chance to demonstrate his social worth; but it does not object to such class distinctions in society as are based upon individual merit and fitness. No system of social control could work for long that did not recognize fully the social importance of individual merit, that is, of original and acquired differences among individuals, and that did not give different rewards for different services. . . . There are movements, to be sure, in all democratic countries toward absolute social equality and absolute social liberty - known as "egalitarianism" and "anarchism" - but these should not be confused with democracy. They may be mistaken interpretations of its spirit; but they are menaces of democracy, for they both negate social control. - The International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 28, pp. 501, 503, Charles A. Ell-wood, "Democracy and Social Conditions in the United States."