Today, most of the countries in the world are democracies. Knowing what is a democracy is really important, especially for those who live in a democracy. It allows you to understand what is the rule that the government plays in the society and know what are your rights and duties under a democratic administration. This essay will seek to define Democracy, the meaning of the word, the system and the history, and describe two of the most famous democracies: Direct democracy and Representative democracy.
Democracy is a form of government where people have power to participate in the government. The word “democracy” comes from Greek and means demos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule’. According to Oxford dictionary, democracy is a “a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives: a system of parliamentary democracy. ” Democracy principles are: All citizens are equal—they have equal rights and duties. The rules are applied equally and fairly to all and not just a few.
The majority rules but the rights of the minority and absent members are protected. Citizens have the right to know what is going on within the government. Politicians and leaders are elected through the process of election. In this process, any individual or group can be favored, as Lincoln said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters. ” (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865).
Aristotle also gave his view when he said that “in a democracy, the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme” (Aristotle, 384 – 322 BC). What he said define the most basic principle of democracy, which is equality before the law, it means that a rich and a poor will have the same rights and duties, any of them will be favored. The first democracy recorded was in the Greek city-state of Athens around 550 BC and was called Athenian Democracy.
The Athenian democracy was a direct democracy, which means that the citizens participate directly in decisions of government, through voting. In the ancient Athens, only 20% of the population could vote because only adult male who had completed the military training was considered citizen, what means that the majority of the population, women and children, could not vote. The others city-states of Greece followed the example of Athens, but the was not as powerful as the Athenian Democracy.
As happened in the ancient Athens, others places started to have systems involving elections and assemblies during the middle ages, places such as Gopala in Bengal region of Indian Subcontinent, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Althing in Iceland, the Logting in the Faeroe Islands, certain medieval Italian city-states such as Venice, in Ireland, the Veche in Novgorod and Pskov Republics of medieval Russia, Scandinavian Things, The States in Tirol and Switzerland and the autonomous merchant city of Sakai in the 16th century in Japan.
What happen in all those places can be called an Oligarchy because the participation of the elections and assemblies was restricted for few citizens, for example in medieval Europe only land Lords had the right to vote unlike our existing democracy. Around the year 1789, the French population, dissatisfied with the privileges of the nobility and high clergy and influenced by Illuminist philosophers, had begun the France revolution that would end the monarchy and establish a republican regime, based on the Illuminist ideal of equality of all before the law.
After this event, democratic rules spread around the world, in each place is different, but any of them can distort the basic principles of democracy. There are many kinds of democracy. These are: Parliamentary democracy, Participatory democracy, Liberal democracy, etc. But, instead of all, the two most famous are: Direct democracy and Representative democracy. Direct democracies are used in small population. In this kind of democracy, citizens vote directly on the policy initiatives and they can. One nation that uses this system is Switzerland. In a direct democracy, citizens have the right to challenge the law.
They have three ways of doing it: Referendum (also called plebiscite it is proposal passed indirectly by representatives and taken to the voters for approval or rejection), Initiative (a minimum number of voters has direct proposition for approval of other voters), and Recall (the mandate of a legally elected representative is resubmitted to the direct vote of the voters, who decide to maintain, or forfeiture, this mandate, although in modern democratic government this is infrequent). Representative democracies (or Indirect democracy) are used in mass population.
And, unlike direct democracy, people elect candidates that represent the people in the voting on policy initiatives. The “people’s representatives” are grouped in institutions called “Parliament”, “Congress” or “Meeting of the Republic,” according to the writers of the Republic (Plato and Aristotle). There are a lot of nations that use a representative democracy system, such as: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia and the oldest, Greece.
In the video “Direct and Representative democracy,” Professor Josh Stumpenshorst pointed out the biggest differences between Representative democracy and direct democracy is that in a Representative democracy all citizens over 18 can vote for officials to be elected, otherwise, in a direct democracy all citizen over 18 can vote) directly for or against laws (while in Ancient Greece, only adult land owning males born in Greece could vote) [Direct and Representative Democracy, 2011).
Thomas More describes a perfect society in his book “Utopia” (More, Thomas “Utopia,” 2003). He describes a society where there are no private properties and people do not work too much and they do not consider jewelry and expensive objects. More describes the people as respectful, loving and peaceful. More make the readers think about a perfect society, but would this “perfect society” fit in our existing society?
In my opinion, it wouldn’t because in our existing society people are ambitious, they will always want more. This is not a mistake; this is just the way people are. But thinking about it, is our present democracy a perfect society? The answer is definitely NO, but democracy is the system that fits the best in our current society. People want to have freedom to choose whatever they want and this is the main idea of a democratic system. Democratic system is not perfect, because people are not perfect.
There are failures. In a representative democracy, for example, voting became the only effectively voice of the citizens and it is, sometimes, even more important than the politicians elected by the people to actually fulfill their proposals exposed during the campaigns because there is nothing that obligate them to do it. The philosopher and historian Russell mentioned, “Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man”(Bertrand Russell, 1872-1970).
He refers to the honest as a stupid man because he’ll work harder to accomplish what he promised, while the clever won’t have to worry about promises. Otherwise, as well as developing processes happens in everywhere, generation-by-generation people are improving the democratic system in which they live, in other words, the system is being adjusted by the society. Completing, the actual president of the United States said once “although democratic process is messy, it does work,” (Barack Obama, 2003).
What he meant was that our present government system has complications. Problems can be created because the system is unreliable, but it works because, until today, democracy system have: successful elections to chose representatives to make decisions and policies, protected individual rights, such as different backgrounds and religions people respecting each other, has promoted the common good, such as citizens working together to improve the community and it also have provided better conditions than other types od government, dictatorship and monarchy.
The British politician, Churchill, gave the same opinion when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others” (Winston Churchill, 1874-1965, speech, Nov. 11, 1947). However, if you examine the humanity history, you will see modifications, transformations and revolutions generation by generation. The ex-Minister-President of Prussia, Otto von Bismarck, expressed the same idea, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best,” (Otto von Bismarck, 1815-1898) as has been the custom of humans, people change and we won’t stop here, we will keep changing until the end of time.
This essay sought to define the meaning of the word and analyse democracy. It also brought information about the history of the democracy and gave an explanation about Representative and Direct democracy and showed different views. Concluding, Democracy is the best system of government known until the present days, but it can change one more time. Bibliography: “Direct and Representative democracy”, YouTube video, Josh Stumpenhorst, retrieved November 16, 2011, http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=BnYmB2zStFA Lecture at Hilla University for Humanistic Studies, retrieved January 21, 2004, “What’s a democracy? ”, http://www. tanford. edu/~ldiamond/iraq/WhaIsDemocracy012004. htm McConnell, Robert, “Basic Principles Of Democratic Government” http://www. parli. com/newsletter/basic-principles-of-democratic-government Thomas More, 2000, “Utopia”, kindles edition, Library of Alexandria, Alexandria Unknown author, retieved in February 10, 2006, “why doesn’t Representative Democracy work? ” http://harmonization. blogspot. com. au/2006/02/why-doesnt-representative-democracy. html Unknown author, retrieved 2013, “Democracy”, http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Democracy WikiAnswers, “Why democracy is good” http://wiki. answers. com/Q/Why_is_democracy_good