What do you believe a democracy to be?what you believe a democracy to be?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The following definition from Wikipedia seems to explain democracy as well as any other definition:

Democracy is a form of government in which all citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal (and more or less direct) participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law. It can also encompass social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self determination.

This of course is the textbook definition. Democracy is not perfect. Although it does allow for participation by its citizens and typically reflects the will of the majority, that majority may not always be right. It may disregard the basic rights of minorities, as has often been the case. One must remember that the majority is not always correct. For many years, the majority in this country supported the institution of slavery. The Weimar government of Germany was a democracy; yet it managed to allow Adolf Hitler to take power by completely legal and constitutional means.  Democracy did not prevent or even postpone the U.S. Civil War which, although couched in terms of a debate over slavery, also entailed heated disagreement over the rights of the people to speak through their individual states as opposed to the rights of the people of the United States as a whole.

Having said all that, one must remember that democracy is an institution created by imperfect human beings, so it of necessity is itself imperfect. Still, it is a workable system of government which is perhaps superior to the alternatives. Winston Churchill said it best:

- Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

bigdreams1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Actually, if we are to be narrow in our definitions, I think I would say that America is a Republic, not a democracy.

Snippets taken from The American Ideal of 1776:The Twelve Basic American Principles make the distinctions between the two forms of government this way:

A Democracy

The chief characteristic and distinguishing feature of a Democracy is: Rule by Omnipotent Majority. In a Democracy, The Individual, and any group of Individuals composing any Minority, have no protection against the unlimited power of The Majority. It is a case of Majority-over-Man.

A Republic

A Republic, on the other hand, has a very different purpose and an entirely different form, or system, of government. Its purpose is to control The Majority strictly, as well as all others among the people, primarily to protect The Individual’s God-given, unalienable rights and therefore for the protection of the rights of The Minority, of all minorities, and the liberties of people in general. The definition of a Republic is: a constitutionally limited government of the representative type, created by a written Constitution--adopted by the people and changeable (from its original meaning) by them only by its amendment--with its powers divided between three separate Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Here the term "the people" means, of course, the electorate.

But if we do choose to call ourselves a democracy, we still need to realize that (in truth) with the electoral college, that often whomever is elected by the majority of the people sometimes still does not win power.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An important part of democracy is the right of the people to choose their own lifestyles. In the early years of American settlement, it may be argued that citizens and new immigrants had a great and unhampered democratic right to choose their own lifestyles: witness the great immigrations from the East Coast to the Midwest and the West, witness also the great Gold Rush frenzies and immigrations. It may be argued that in today's high-industrialized society, we have a far lessened degree of this choice--we shop for and buy what is marketed (the equation is most assuredly supply first then demand as there is no other choice!) regardless of the toxic chemical content that is creating a chemical body burden in all, including infants, who accumulate toxins, like phthalates and dioxins and other VOCs, directly from their mother's fingers as their mothers feed and care for them. We have a far lessened degree of these earlier freedoms of choice because we have little or no access to influencing corporate and industrial decisions and policy--recall the cigarette catastrophe. Democracy demands we attain such access and regain control of our lifestyles.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A democracy, in the true sense of the word, is a type of government in which the people select their leaders so that their own benefits and freedoms can be guaranteed. Like the previous post said, it is a government for the people, and by the people. It is different than any other type of government in that it is not supposed to meddle in the ways of the people, and is meant to allow the people to make choices. The most important thing about a democracy is that it must guarantee our freedoms and completely follow the statutes of the constitution under which it governs. This is what causes so much friction in the action plans of some major politicians: That sometimes they mean well, but they miss on these two very important points.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most important thing that has to be present in a democracy is a set of attitudes.  People in a democracy have to believe that their fellow citizens are their equals.  They have to believe that their opinions are worthy of being heard.

A country can have elections and bills of rights and such, but without the proper attitudes, it cannot be a real democracy.  When elections are simply competitions of one tribe against another, that is not democracy.  When one race or religion does not see other races or religions as their equals, you lack democracy.

If a country does not have enough of the right attitudes, it cannot truly have democracy, regardless of what its official laws say.

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As others have alluded, the United States was founded as a Constitutional Republic, wherein the purpose of government was to safeguard rights. Democracy, or the concept of majority rule, however romanticized in Greek history, demolishes rights because there is no mechanism to prevent the majority from (legally) violating an individual's rights. A lynch mob exemplifies majority rule; the one dissenting vote is cast by him hanged on the end of the rope.



amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Democracy is a government for the people, by the people.  As Ronald Reagan once said, the people tell the government what to do, not the other way around.  The government (in a democratic society) is the CAR and the people are the DRIVER.  The government is a vehicle by which we accomplish things.  WE tell the government what to do and how to do it.  The government does not act without us.  It does not appoint tzars to act without any checks and balances or consequences for their actions.  The government does what the majority of us say to do.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The only kind of democracy that really matters is the practical kind.  This means some form of representative democracy where the government is accountable to the people in a consistent and real way.  Such a democracy must be based on universal suffrage for the population with regular elections, and individual rights must clearly spelled out in a Constitution.  Lastly, the courts must be independent of outside influence so as to uphold rights and interpret the law in a way that is as fair as possible.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think #6 makes a very valid point about the necessarily practical nature of democracy. The basics are all listed there, no matter what the varying presentation of those basics might look like or appear. As long as the government is accountable to the people with independent courts, this can be counted as a democracy.

milindbhardwaj511 | Student

people believes tht democracy is for the people but i do think that it is elected by peple but as in india for five years the right to rule is in hand of the ruling party.

krcavnar | Student

I believe that democracy in its pure form is simply "one person, one vote".  We have a representative democracy in that with the freedom to vote we elect representatives to run the government.  It can never be said that democracy is perfect because it is run by imperfect humans,  however, I don't honestly imagine a better system of government than the one established by our founding fathers.  My concern with democracy today is for those people who don't vote because they believe their vote doesn't count.