We always hear the word “democracy” and believe that it is the only world’s system of governance that has a full right to existence. It sums up all the important social beliefs and moral sides of life. Still, as democracy has undergone serious transformations, it is vital to explore the history of democracy by turning to its origins.
So what is democracy? History reminds us that the term is coming from the combination of Greek words demos (people) and kratos (rule) that first appeared somewhere in the middle of the 5th century BCE. This way we often assume that the Greeks were the first example of the political power that has been handled by the people, creating rights and duties. It was also the first time when it was assumed as the rule of the people and not the ruling of a certain political elite.
Once the talk of democracy comes up, one must mark the red line between what we perceive as the modern democracy and the system that existed in Ancient Greece or elsewhere during those distant times. Taking an example of a hypothetical tribe or a group of people as an example, one can see that there is still a hierarchy where the tribal elders or the group leaders are the ones to have a final say in certain decisions. In sociological terms, such governance was a natural continuation of life with all the daily activities until the classical Greek period has taken things to another level. This is exactly when the term democracy gained its political association and became a part of the state.
Exploring the theoretical side of things, we can see that the foundations of democracy must be based upon four general principles: Authority, Privacy, Responsibility, and Justice. It should act as a system that helps elect a governmental system with the help of free and fair elections where active participation of people takes place. It should reflect both political and civil life and protect the citizens and their rights.
Without a doubt, the foundation of the democratic state is an ongoing process where the supreme power must be invested in the people by allowing them to become a part of the state and the governance. Unfortunately, even the Athenians have shown that it’s not always possible to achieve immediate success as democratic citizenship has been made available to the elites or the free people. Exploring these foundations of democracy is essential as it helps to avoid the dictatorship and tyranny that we see so often through the decades of life.
While we could see the rise of democracy in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages was a period of democratic decline. It’s safe to say that the rise of democracy has taken place only in modern times. Even though we had a representative democracy until the middle of the 20th century, it finally became based on written laws that had to be followed.
Starting with the importance of universal suffrage, a national movement in India, independence campaigns, fighting against the military regimes to multi-party elections that have taken place in Iraq in 2005, the history of democracy has undergone numerous changes to the way how it manifests itself.
Although Cleisthenes (570 BC – 558 BC) has been credited with the democracy that came out of Athens somewhere around 507 BC, it was an example of the Athenian democracy. In the modern political practice, we also have direct, representative, constitutional, and monitory types of democracies that have been influenced by certain personalities and the changes.
One of the key personalities to understand the concept correctly was Abraham Lincoln, who has cleverly defined democracy in a single sentence as being “of the people, by the people, for the people”. It’s the perfect democracy ideology that sums up the principles that must be followed.
Then we have personalities like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi who have implemented moral constituents to reflect on individual autonomy and equality by stating that everyone should have an equal opportunity to affect various processes in society and control one’s life within reason.
Democracy is always good in theory as the government by the people is definitely appealing as we define it, yet it poses us a question about the pros and cons of the system. Under ideal conditions, democracy is not autocracy or a form of dictatorship where only one person or a group has a right to rule, yet democracy is often understood in a wrong way as it becomes the rule of the majority. Even though democracy must share common features, there is no single model per se that will work for every social group or each country in the world. It leads us to the conclusion that democracy should be improved all the time.
As Albert Camus once said, democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority that we have. Taking a look at the modern world, we are dealing with democratic nations in the making, which makes it evident that every system is unique.
In our current system of democracy, we have presidential elections, voting systems, majoritarians, and monarchies that affect the final decisions. Unlike those ancient tribes, we vote and elect the people representing the system and we use these representatives to voice our thoughts and opinions.
Still, there’s a lot to improve! The Nedonline (National Endowment for Democracy) reminds us that Saudi Arabia has only allowed women to vote since 2011. It shows that there’s a long way to go to establish a proper type of democracy where democratic validity and the law work together.
The threats to democracy are always within the challenges faced by the democratic government. They include dealing with the foundational challenge, the expansion matters, and the instruments that are used for the deepening of what can be defined as democracy. The other threats include political instability, voter ignorance, and corruption. The only efficient solution is political education and a constant improvement of the current democratic governance system across social groups and institutions. Essentially, democracy is only a system that cannot govern itself automatically and achieve immediate success. It’s the journey that matters way more than the destination!
The modern democracy is also known as the representative democracy as it’s based on individuals that represent the will of the people and certain political parties. It is also the opposite of the ancient system as one requires the presence of legislation and a constitution that must be followed.
However, we also have the land of direct democracy, which is Switzerland. Here we have a presence of independent news media outlets and the labor unions that function beyond the governmental structures. Essentially, a true composition of a democracy society must come down to being educated and having the right skills for the job and the people who work together.
It is a reason why modern democracy is always a complex process where socio-emotional bonds and creative thinking must work well. It’s a process of cooperation, listening, and getting heard where every person must have a right to speak their thoughts. Does it work in practice? Both “yes” and “no” because it is the rule of the people and the honesty of every person involved. Only by working hand in hand and listening to each other, we can create a true democracy the way it was meant to be!
The most prominent example of a successful democracy is represented by South Africa where Nelson Mandela became the first president that has been elected in 1994 according to the main principles of democracy. As people were dealing with a multi-racial land, it also marked the end of Apartheid and became an important endowment of a new era for the land. It also proves that democracy can become successful not only in small countries like Iceland or Switzerland but also in those complex and turbulent geographic areas where people of different cultures and ethnic groups must co-exist together.
Speaking of other successful democracy examples, one can learn from the Indian Independence of 1947, which has paved the way towards a successful democracy where India finally became a republic with the largest democracy to exist up to this day.
Finally, turning to the US examples, we have the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the racial legislation, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the modern Black Lives Matter movement, which is not only a symbol of freedom and equity but also an important element that sets the rules and principles of true democracy in our society.