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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What is Democracy?

Lecture at Department of Political science ,Govt Brennen College April, 2012

What is Democracy ?

Democracy unlike those of Federalism or Presidentialism is not a deliberate institutional design.It evolved in Britain over several centuries.

It’s a way of life.

Democracy is a life skill, a life style, a way of living, but how?

I just ask you friends how many of you are really bothered about absence of good toilets in your schools, if you have really thought about it or even submitted a protest regarding it to your principal or head master.

If you ever feel that you are not able to make a doubt to your teachers while they are lecturing for fear of being battered or do you think teachers will not accept while you are making doubts when they take lecture classes?

If you have ever looked after and be bothered of your friends when they fell down while attending school assembly and if you have taken them to the nearest hospital?

If you girls ever complained to your class teacher or tutor that some of your boy friends are kidding you on road regularly and if you ever felt ashamed of your teacher while they said no, you should not provoke ,because boys are different and girls are to bear the burden of fate because you are girls.

It’s a political order.

We are not nomads. Every morning we have some fixed places to go. For students its school, Court for the lawyers, field for farmers, etc.

Morning we have a place to go and evening we have a place to be back at.

Even for Robinson Crusoe of Daniel Defone had a well ordered life? Even though he was the only person in the Island of Trinidad, he had a structured social life.

But what are our political orders then?

By birth we are born to a political order,

We are born to a family system, we are born to a political system and a nationality, we are indebted to a plethora of rules and regulations, we never dare to move against society ,and even if some one goes against the order we are insisted to bring them back to normalcy.

It’s an institutional Practice

As a political practice, parliamentary democracy involves institutional practices. You might heard about Clock Tower of Big Ben[i], the largest bell in the clock tower at the Houses of Parliament in London is amongst the most famous bells in the world, just as the tower itself is the most well-recognised aspect of one of the most iconic buildings on the planet. A symbol of Parliamentary democracy.


"[D]emocracy is a form of institutionalization of continual conflicts . . . [and] of uncertainty, of subjecting all interests to uncertainty . . . ." (Przeworski 1986, 58).

"Democracy [is] not majority rule: democracy [is] diffusion of power, representation of interests, recognition of minorities." (John Calhoun, as paraphrased by Roper 1989, 63).

Democracy is "the substitution of election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few." (G.B. Shaw, quoted in Danziger 1998, 155).

What is democracy ?

Democracy comes from the Greek word, “demos,” meaning people. In democracies, it is the people who hold sovereign power over legislator and government. Democracy is a political form of government in which governing power is derived from the people, by consensus (consensus democracy), by direct referendum (direct democracy), or by means of elected representatives of the people (representative democracy) . A form of political organization of society based on a recognition of the people as the source of power, their right to participate in the resolution of state affairs, and the provision of a rather broad range of rights and liberties for citizens.

The term comes from the Greek: dēmokratía "rule of the people",which was coined from dêmos "people" and Kratos"power", in the middle of the 5th-4th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BC.

Even though there is no specific, universally accepted definition of 'democracy', equality and freedom have been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no restrictions can apply to anyone wanting to become a representative, and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution.

Although nuances apply to the world's various democracies, certain principles and practices distinguish democratic government from other forms of government.

• Democracy is government in which power and civic responsibility are exercised by all citizens, directly or through their freely elected representatives.

• Democracy is a set of principles and practices that protect human freedom; it is the institutionalization of freedom.

• Democracy rests upon the principles of majority rule, coupled with individual and minority rights. All democracies, while respecting the will of the majority, zealously protect the fundamental rights of individuals and minority groups.

• Democracies guard against all-powerful central governments and decentralize government to regional and local levels, understanding that local government must be as accessible and responsive to the people as possible.

• Democracies understand that one of their prime functions is to protect such basic human rights as freedom of speech and religion; the right to equal protection under law; and the opportunity to organize and participate fully in the political, economic, and cultural life of society.

• Democracies conduct regular free and fair elections open to all citizens. Elections in a democracy cannot be facades that dictators or a single party hide behind, but authentic competitions for the support of the people.

• Democracy subjects governments to the rule of law and ensures that all citizens receive equal protection under the law and that their rights are protected by the legal system.

• Democracies are diverse, reflecting each nation's unique political, social, and cultural life. Democracies rest upon fundamental principles, not uniform practices.

• Citizens in a democracy not only have rights, they have the responsibility to participate in the political system that, in turn, protects their rights and freedoms.

• Democratic societies are committed to the values of tolerance, cooperation, and compromise. Democracies recognize that reaching consensus requires compromise and that it may not always be attainable. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”

Classical democracy

Democracy has its origins in Ancient Greece. However other cultures have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy such as Ancient Rome, Europe, and North and South America. The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment and in the American and French Revolutions. Democracy has been called the "last form of government" and has spread considerably across the globe. The right to vote has been expanded in many Jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups (such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group), with New Zealand the first nation to grant universal suffrage for all its citizens in 1893.

Democracy first flourished in the Greek city-state city-state, in ancient Greece, Italy, and Medieval Europe, an independent political unit consisting of a city and surrounding countryside. The first city-states were in Sumer, but they reached their peak in Greece.
..... Click the link for more information. , reaching its fullest expression in ancient
Athens Athens , Gr. Athínai, city (1991 pop. 2,907,179; 1991 urban agglomeration pop. 3,072,922), capital of Greece, E central Greece, on the plain of Attica, between the Kifisós and Ilissus rivers, near the Saronic Gulf. Mt.
..... Click the link for more information. . There the citizens, as members of the assembly, participated directly in the making of their laws. A democracy of this sort was possible only in a small state where the people were politically educated, and it was limited since the majority of inhabitants were slaves or noncitizens. Athenian democracy fell before imperial rule, as did other ancient democracies in the early Italian cities and the early church. In this period and in the Middle Ages, ideas such as
representation representation, in government, the term used to designate the means by which a whole population may participate in governing through the device of having a much smaller number of people act on their behalf...... Click the link for more information. Crucial to modern Western democracy were developed.

When the Greeks created the first democracy known to mankind, they envisioned it would be one with much citizen participation. Citizens would express their opinions, debate, and vote in a system now known as a Classical Democracy.

Athenian Democracy: an Overview

The democratic government of Athens rested on three main institutions, and a few others of lesser importance. The three pillars of democracy were: the Assembly of the Demos, the Council of 500, and the People’s Court. These were supplemented by the Council of the Areopagus, the Archons, and the Generals. Actual legislation involved both the Assembly and the Council, and ad hoc boards of “Lawmakers.” This summary will describe the Assembly, the Council, and the process of legislation in the greatest detail, along with a shorter description of the Council of the Areopagus. The People’s Court will be covered briefly and then left for fuller treatment in other resources. While Generals and Archons will appear here and there in the descriptions of other institutions, they were really servants of the Demos and do not require extensive discussion in this relatively brief introduction to Athenian Democracy.

The Greek meant rule of people when they talked of democracy. In the 5th century BC Athens pioneers an experiment in direct democracy, as opposed to the representative democracy of modern societies. It is copied by her Greek allies and colonies at the time, but it has rarely been attempted anywhere else since (Switzerland in the 13th century is one example).

Democracy of this kind has two preconditions. The community must be small enough for citizens to be capable of attending debates and voting on issues. And its economy must give these citizens enough leisure to engage in politics; in the ancient world this means that there must be
slaves to do most of the work. Both circumstances prevail in Athens.

The citizen democrats of Athens are those males, over the age of eighteen, who are sons of an Athenian father (after 451 BC the mother must be Athenian as well). They number no more than 50,000 in the whole of Attica. In addition to these citizens the population includes about 25,000 metics (metoikoi, or foreigners trading in Athens, for this is a major commercial centre), together with free women and children and perhaps 100,000 slaves. This gives a total of about 300,000 people. So the voting citizens form at most 20% of the population.

Democracy is achieved in several stages, through reforms linked with
Solon in 594, with the Ten tribes of Cleisthenes in 508, and with Pericles in 462.

Modern democracy

Now the Western governments are called democracies. Democracy only works if voters are active and informed.Now modern democracy has found profound changeas and transformations in ideal and practice.It has wide variety of elements.Modern democracy is drafted to fit the modern political life of humanity.

Democracy - Key Elements

In order to deserve the label modern democracy, a country needs to fulfill some basic requirements - and they need not only be written down in it's constitution but must be kept up in everyday life by politicians and authorities:

Guarantee of basic Human Rights to every individual person vis-à-vis the state and its authorities as well as vis-à-vis any social groups (especially religious institutions) and vis-à-vis other persons.

Separation of Powers between the institutions of the state:
Government[Executive Power], Parliament [Legislative Power] und Courts of Law [Judicative Power]

Freedom of opinion, speech, press and massmedia

Religious liberty

General and equal right to vote (one person, one vote)

Good Governance (focus on public interest and absence of corruption)

The "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy, but without governmental or constitutional protections of individual liberties, it is possible for a minority of individuals to be oppressed by the "tyranny of the majority". An essential process in representative democracies is competitive elections that are fair both substantively and procedurally. Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are essential so that citizens are informed and able to vote in their personal interests.

Popular sovereignty is common but not a universal motivating subject for establishing a democracy. In some countries, democracy is based on the philosophical principle of equal rights. Many people use the term "democracy" as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include additional elements such as political pluralism; equality before the law; the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances; due process; civil liberties; human rights; and elements of civil society outside the government.

In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a supporting attribute, but in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the dominant philosophy is parliamentary sovereignty (though in practice judicial independence is generally maintained). In other cases, "democracy" is used to mean direct democracy. Though the term "democracy" is typically used in the context of a political state, the principles are applicable to private organizations and other groups also.

Freedom of speech is the foundation of democracy. Governments are held accountable by free speech, every decision must have a reason, every cent must be accountable, bad decisions are punished at election time. The free flow of information allows both people and governments to make the best informed decisions.

At a minimum, an ideal democracy would have the following features:

Effective participation. Before a policy is adopted or rejected, members of the dēmos have the opportunity to make their views about the policy known to other members.

Equality in voting. Members of the dēmos have the opportunity to vote for or against the policy, and all votes are counted as equal.

Informed electorate. Members of the dēmos have the opportunity, within a reasonable amount of time, to learn about the policy and about possible alternative policies and their likely consequences.

Democracy consists of four basic elements:

I want to begin with an overview of what democracy is. We can think of democracy as a system of government with four key elements:

Political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.

The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.

Protection of the human rights of all citizens.

A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

I want to talk about each of these four elements of what democracy is. Then I will talk about the obligations and requirements of citizens in a democracy.

I. Democracy as a Political System of Competition for Power

Democracy is a means for the people to choose their leaders and to hold their leaders accountable for their policies and their conduct in office.

The people decide who will represent them in parliament, and who will head the government at the national and local levels. They do so by choosing between competing parties in regular, free and fair elections.

Government is based on the consent of the governed.

In a democracy, the people are sovereign—they are the highest form of political authority.

Power flows from the people to the leaders of government, who hold power only temporarily.

Laws and policies require majority support in parliament, but the rights of minorities are protected in various ways.
The people are free to criticize their elected leaders and representatives, and to observe how they conduct the business of government.

Elected representatives at the national and local levels should listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions.

Elections have to occur at regular intervals, as prescribed by law. Those in power cannot extend their terms in office without asking for the consent of the people again in an election.

For elections to be free and fair, they have to be administered by a neutral, fair, and professional body that treats all political parties and candidates equally.

All parties and candidates must have the right to campaign freely, to present their proposals to the voters both directly and through the mass media.

Voters must be able to vote in secret, free of intimidation and violence.

Independent observers must be able to observe the voting and the vote counting to ensure that the process is free of corruption, intimidation, and fraud.

There needs to be some impartial and independent tribunal to resolve any disputes about the election results.

This is why it takes a lot of time to organize a good, democratic election.

Any country can hold an election, but for an election to be free and fair requires a lot of organization, preparation, and training of political parties, electoral officials, and civil society organizations who monitor the process.

II. Participation: The Role of the Citizen in A Democracy

The key role of citizens in a democracy is to participate in public life.

Citizens have an obligation to become informed about public issues, to watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their powers, and to express their own opinions and interests.

Voting in elections is another important civic duty of all citizens.

But to vote wisely, each citizen should listen to the views of the different parties and candidates, and then make his or her own decision on whom to support.

Participation can also involve campaigning for a political party or candidate, standing as a candidate for political office, debating public issues, attending community meetings, petitioning the government, and even protesting.

A vital form of participation comes through active membership in independent, non-governmental organizations, what we call “civil society.”

These organizations represent a variety of interests and beliefs: farmers, workers, doctors, teachers, business owners, religious believers, women, students, human rights activists.

It is important that women participate fully both in politics and in civil society.

This requires efforts by civil society organizations to educate women about their democratic rights and responsibilities, improve their political skills, represent their common interests, and involve them in political life.

In a democracy, participation in civic groups should be voluntary. No one should be forced to join an organization against their will.

Political parties are vital organizations in a democracy, and democracy is stronger when citizens become active members of political parties.

However, no one should support a political party because he is pressured or threatened by others. In a democracy, citizens are free to choose which party to support.

Democracy depends on citizen participation in all these ways. But participation must be peaceful, respectful of the law, and tolerant of the different views of other groups and individuals.

III. The Rights of Citizens in a Democracy

In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them.

These rights are guaranteed under international law.

You have the right to have your own beliefs, and to say and write what you think.

No one can tell you what you must think, believe, and say or not say.
There is freedom of religion. Everyone is free to choose their own religion and to worship and practice their religion as they see fit.

Every individual has the right to enjoy their own culture, along with other members of their group, even if their group is a minority.
There is freedom and pluralism in the mass media.

You can choose between different sources of news and opinion to read in the newspapers, to hear on the radio, and to watch on television.

You have the right to associate with other people, and to form and join organizations of your own choice, including trade unions.

You are free to move about the country, and if you wish, to leave the country.

You have the right to assemble freely, and to protest government actions.

However, everyone has an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others.

IV. The Rule of Law

Democracy is a system of rule by laws, not by individuals.

In a democracy, the rule of law protects the rights of citizens, maintains order, and limits the power of government.

All citizens are equal under the law. No one may be discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, ethnic group, or gender.

No one may be arrested, imprisoned, or exiled arbitrarily.

If you are detained, you have the right to know the charges against you, and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law.

Anyone charged with a crime has the right to a fair, speedy, and public trial by an impartial court.

No one may be taxed or prosecuted except by a law established in advance.

No one is above the law, not even a king or an elected president.

The law is fairly, impartially, and consistently enforced, by courts that are independent of the other branches of government.

Torture and cruel and inhumane treatment are absolutely forbidden.

The rule of law places limits on the power of government. No government official may violate these limits.

No ruler, minister, or political party can tell a judge how to decide a case.

Office holders cannot use their power to enrich themselves. Independent courts and commissions punish corruption, no matter who is guilty.

V. The Limits and Requirements for Democracy

If democracy is to work, citizens must not only participate and exercise their rights. They must also observe certain principles and rules of democratic conduct.

People must respect the law and reject violence. Nothing ever justifies using violence against your political opponents, just because you disagree with them.

Every citizen must respect the rights of his or her fellow citizens, and their dignity as human beings.

No one should denounce a political opponent as evil and illegitimate, just because they have different views.

People should question the decisions of the government, but not reject the government’s authority.

Every group has the right to practice its culture and to have some control over its own affairs, but each group should accept that it is a part of a democratic state.

When you express your opinions, you should also listen to the views of other people, even people you disagree with. Everyone has a right to be heard.

Don’t be so convinced of the rightness of your views that you refuse to see any merit in another position. Consider different interests and points of view.

When you make demands, you should understand that in a democracy, it is impossible for everyone to achieve everything they want.
Democracy requires compromise. Groups with different interests and opinions must be willing to sit down with one another and negotiate.

In a democracy, one group does not always win everything it wants. Different combinations of groups win on different issues. Over time, everyone wins something.

If one group is always excluded and fails to be heard, it may turn against democracy in anger and frustration.

Everyone who is willing to participate peacefully and respect the rights of others should have some say in the way the country is governed.

In brief,democracy is both an ideal and a set of institutions and practices.

As an ideal, it expresses two very simple principles: first, that the members of any group or association should have the determining influence and control over its rules and policies, through their participation in deliberations about the common interest; second, that in doing so they should treat each other, and be treated, as equals.

[i] bryanglass, Big Ben: The Great Clock and the Bells at the Palace of Westminster, http://britishscholar.org/publications/2011/04/01/big-ben-the-great-clock-and-the-bells-at-the-palace-of-westminster/

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