The former president of the United States of America,Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) defineddemocracy as ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people’ 1.The term democracy originates from Greek literature. It is the combination ofthe two words, ‘demos’ (citizens living in a particular state) and ‘kratos'(meaning power or rule). In essence, democracy literally is defined asgovernment by the people as a whole rather than a section, class or interest2. Democracy is a set of ideas about the concept of freedom however isalso includes practices and procedures that have been implemented over time.Democracy is the action of establishing freedom. There are two typesof democracy, direct and representative democracy. Direct democracy is otherwiseknown as pure democracy.
Within a direct democracy, citizens are able to propose,decide, and change constitutional laws, call for referendums and choose andremove public officials who are not carrying out their role effectively. Adirect democracy a form of government where the citizens of the state have adirect say in the formulation of laws and issues that affect them whereas in arepresentative democracy form of government, the citizens vote for or elect representativesto represent them in Congress or the Senate for their opinions to be voiced. A directdemocracy could be argued to be ideal for a smaller country as it is easier toform and organise however a representative democracy is best suited for a largepopulation. This is due to the fact in a larger country, having a representativedemocracy is easier to group citizens interest as they can bind together basedon common interest.There have been debates regarding whether or not democracyis the ideal form of government. Amongst the advantages that have been claimedfor democracy is firstly it protects the individual form of government andtherefore it defends freedom by ensuring power is subjected to popular consent.
It also promotes personal development by enabling citizens through politicalparticipation to be aware of changes and actions taking place around them. Thishelps them become aware and engaged of political matters as when they areparticipating they are stating their individual opinions as a citizen. Thisalso will enrich their knowledge in areas they show an interest in. Democracyalso strengthens the community cohesion by allowing citizens to have a voice inthe decision-making process. This is as citizens can join together based onshared ideologies to voice their opinions as a collection of shared interest.On the other hand, the criticism of democracy is that it could result in the rulingby the ignorant and poorly informed masses as knowledge is unequallydistributed in society. Also, another flaw with democracy is that it results inan excessive government and state control as it articulates the interest of acollective body rather than an individual.There are certain characteristics that form the make up ofdemocracy.
The first core characteristic is that democracy is form ofgovernment where power and civic responsibility is exercised by citizensthrough elected representatives or directly. Another characteristic is thatdemocracy depends upon principles of majority rule and individual rights. Allthe levels of government must be accessible and responsive to the citizens ofthe state.
Democratic states should also have an understanding that one of theprimarily features is to protect basic citizen needs such as the fundamentalhuman rights, equality protection under the law and the opportunity toparticipate in matters the effect them such as political, economic and culturalaspects of society. Within a democracy there should also have conducted regularfree and fair elections open to citizens who are eligible. Finally, the lastcharacteristic that helps define a democracy, is within a democracy the citizensdo not only possess the rights but also have the responsibility to participatein the political system in return it protects their rights and freedom.A democracy is based upon the key principles of the majorityrule and minority rights. The politicalprinciple of the majority rule provides that a majority usually constituted byfifty percent plus one of an organized group will have the greater power to exercisein decision making. According to American essayist E.B White, he said ‘Democracyis the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the of the people are rightmore than half of the time” 3. Regardless the majority rule in itself is not alwaysdemocratic, this is because it could result in an oppression of the minoritywho would not be able to give opinions if the democracies consisted of majorityrule.
You won’t call a democracy fair if it permitted 51 percent of thepopulation to oppress the remaining 49 percent in the name of the majority. Withina democracy, amongst the majority rule there must be a guarantee of induvial rights,so it protects the rights of the minorities. The rights of the majority shouldnot depend on the will of the majority but should protected. The minority groupneed to trust the government to protect their rights and safety. If this is achieved,they are able to participate and contribute to their country’s democraticinstitutions.In a democracy, by voting in elections, it is a form of citizenparticipation within the democratic society. Be enabling elections to beconducted regularly in a free and fair way to eligible citizens is an essentialelement in a democracy. ‘In Schumpeter’s (1883–1950, an Austrian economist) view,democracy is simply a ‘political method’.
It is the arrangement for reachingpolitical decisions. Since all governments ‘discriminate’ against some sectionof the population such as age eligible to vote, discrimination as such is notundemocratic. It all depends upon how you de?ne the demos, the people.Schumpeter accepts that in contemporary liberal societies, all adults shouldhave the right to vote, but this does not mean that they will use this right orparticipate more directly in the political process 4′. According toJeane Kirkpatrick, “Democratic elections are not merely symbolic…
. Theyare competitive, periodic, inclusive, definitive elections in which the chiefdecision-makers in a government are selected by citizens who enjoy broadfreedom to criticize government, to publish their criticism and to presentalternatives.”5. The meaningof this is that democratic elections are competitive.
The opposition partiesmust be able to exercise a freedom of speech to voice their opinions. By allowingthe opposition to access the ballet box is not enough. Elections in which the oppositionis not able to exercise their opinions is not democratic.
The issue with the analysis of democracy is that it makes assumptionsthat democracy is a form of state. There is contradiction if religion and stateis best for democracy. Democracies ideally should allow religious freedoms andideally should not be dictated by religion. Democracy should be free ofinfluence from the church for example. The churches and the state havedifferent goals and ideologies, churches seek to further their own religion whilethe government is supposed to be serving the interest of the citizens.
Binding thechurch and state would reduce the impartiality of the government, and push onereligion or group of the population, reducing choice and freedom.Democratic states can be divided up into full democraciesand flawed democracies. A flawed democracy is a country where there are freeelections but is criticized due to the weak governance, it has an underdevelopedpolitical culture and low levels of political participation.
The U.S. has beendemoted from a full democracy to a flawed democracy, according to the EconomistIntelligence Unit (EIU) 6. The U.S. score fell to 7.98 which is belowthe 8.
00 threshold to consider a full democracy. This shows the U.S. is nottruly democratic as it does not portray the features of being a democracy.Democracy is a way of governing, to many it is claimed theideal form of government. Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst formof government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from timeto time.” Essentially speaking democracy has its flaws however so do othertypes of government.
Democracy is said to be the ideal form of government as firstly,it allows freedom. It allows citizens to express freedom of speech. Also, itprotects and promotes human rights. However, the issue with a democraticgovernment is that it is possible the electorate is not motivated. This isbecause they don’t have the same interest.In summary, the main characteristics that make up the faceof democracy and are the essential features are: political freedom, equality ofcitizenship, free and fair elections, guarantee of human basic human rights andsovereignty of the people. Democracy is the way how most governments tend to operatein the modern era. As quoted by GeorgeBernard Shaw (1856-1950), ‘Democracy is a device that ensures we shall begoverned no better than we deserve’7.
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2: Scruton, R. (2007). The Palgrave Macmillan Dictionaryof Political Thought 3ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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(2017). US demoted to ‘flawed democracy’by The Economist’s research arm. online CNBC. Available at:https://www.cnbc.
com/2017/01/25/us-is-no-longer-a-full-democracy-eiu-warns.htmlAccessed 5 Dec. 2017.7: Telegraph.co.
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