“It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically
equal before the law. They must have the liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature.” –
Henry George, (1839 -1897)
Some people usually consider human beings as the pinnacle organism in
this world. Many religions also say the same; almost united in expressing that we are
‘perfect’. But that is far from true. Since we are social beings, we needed something to
govern us in a justified way. And so, one of the systems we devised, in the name of free and
equal opportunity for all, is democracy. We exist in a period of questioning. Everyone is
questioning everything that is happening in our world. In that case, aren’t we a bit too
confident in asserting that democracy is perfect? Don’t you think that this puzzle is
Our world and everything within is far away from being perfect. Though in practice one
might not be able to predict a perfect plan for anything, it’s always worth trying to be perfect.
Analysis of any issue at hand requires a peep into our past; the various ideas that evolved and
their successful (or disastrous) implementations. A look at modern systems and ideas. Then
followed by our vision for the future.
Democracy: A brief history
We are yet to establish a proper definition of democracy. Legal equality, political freedom,
and rule of law take the centre stage. One ancient form existed in Athens. The system was
patriarchal and discriminative. Women, slaves, foreigners, and men under the age of 20
weren’t considered citizens. It was yet a direct government. The people could assemble as
they pleased on all political occasions. They took great care in being active in politics as well.
Democracy is often coupled with a republic identity. The history of republics is old. One
example is in the year 6 BCE in Vaishali, the capital of the Vijjain Confederacy. Some of the
Roman democratic principles are in use even today. The Greek model does not give such
powers to the people and the elected representatives. But during the Roman Empire, the vote
weightage was unequal.
When we jump into the middle ages, we see a period dominated by feudal or clergy rule.
Even as elections existed, only a small section of the population had the power to cast votes.
Most notably the Magna Carta signed in 1215. This paved a restriction to the king in the
British empire. It has since played a pivotal role in the establishment of the English
parliament. This also inspired other empires during those periods. The middle ages also saw
other democratic steps.
The modern period begins with a renewed interest in the Magna Carta. Democratic rule and
elections took place in many sovereign states and groups. This was but with the exclusion of many parts of the general public. Female suffrage was first introduced in the short-lived
Corsican constitution. Universal suffrage came only later in the New Zealand Constitution in 1893. This was almost a century after Corsican’s.
The French and American Revolution had a huge impact on bringing basic freedom to many
parts of society. The change was slow. It took more than a century and a half for ideal
democratic practices to be in place around the world. Many major European colonies opted to
become independent in the latter half of the 20th century. These independent states took to
drafting democratic constitutions. Only a few held on to the principles of a constitutional
monarchy. This ‘wave of democracy’ is continuing in many places.
Several justifications exist. Some are the social contract theory, Condorcet’s jury theorem,
and Democratic peace theory.
The legitimacy of a government is built on the consent of the governed, i.e., an election. This
should be followed by governance that reflects the will of the people. As governance is
according to the will of the people better decision-making will be in place. This has also been
argued by theories of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ that arises here. It has been empirically
proved that Liberal democracies do not go to war against each other. Democracy is also cost-effective for the economy.
Criticisms on democracy are as old as democratic ideas themselves.
In his work, Plato lists 5 forms of government from best to worst. He assumes that the
Republic is to be a serious critique of political thought in Athens. Plato argues that only
Kallipolis, an aristocracy led by the unwilling philosopher-kings (the wisest men), is a just
form of government.
Fraudulent elections are a big concern in many states. Political parties keep accusing one
another on who committed the fraud.
Frequent policy changes in business and immigration are likely to deter investment. This can
also hinder economic growth. For this reason, many people have put forward the idea that
democracy is undesirable for a developing country. Especially in countries where economic
growth and the reduction of poverty are top priorities.
Most recently, democracy is criticized for not offering adequate political stability. An
emphasis on the rising coalition governments around the world is also given. This opportunist
alliance has the handicap of having to cater to too many ideologically opposing factions. It is
also usually short-lived. Any perceived or actual imbalance in the treatment of coalition
partners, or changes to leadership in the coalition partners themselves, can very easily result
in the coalition partner withdrawing its support from the government.
Biased media has been accused of causing political instability. This can result in the
obstruction of democracy, rather than its promotion.
The future of democracy will be based on our present actions. What we do in the coming few
decades matter the most.
The democratic ideals are and should be, different according to the people living in a state. If
a state tries to copy an idea from another state that is doing well (like democratic functions),
the result can go both ways. This can’t always be predicted.
To bring about a good democratic reformation, changes must begin with the people
themselves and not only the constitution.
Benjamin Franklin once quoted, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to
have for lunch.” The only thing that keeps the lamb off the lunch menu is the fact that much
of the states are republic — not a perfect one but still one nonetheless. What that implies is
that the country is not a private concern of the rulers. It is a “public matter” and belongs to
each one of us regardless of caste, creed, gender, or ethnicity. This demands that our rulers are
elected and not inherited. They must rule for the common good. This is an aspect of
governance on which philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, wrote volumes. This is, of
course, only possible when there are a set of laws and those elected as leaders follow them
both in letter and spirit.
The hallmark of democracy is that it permits citizens to take part in making laws and public
policies. This is through regular election to choose leaders and by voting in assemblies or
referenda. Their participation should be meaningful and effective. If democracy is to be
real and not a sham—citizens must understand their interests, know the relevant facts, and
can critically check political arguments. Each of those things presupposes education. As the
world advances the possibility for democracy to become more digital will also increase.
This can include many things. Being able to get the proper statistic to present before a
meeting. Letting the people directly give their recommendations during a session. The
possibilities are endless. The modern world is driven by databases. There will come a time
when databases alone will be the basis for policies. In such a situation, if the general public
misses out on gaining the correct information, the very ideals upon which democracy is built
will shatter. As we see even today, such a situation will be dealt with by the people
themselves. Violence can erupt. Coup attempts can take place. In the end, it will be a blame
game with no one winning. Humanity may even stop to exist in that dark period.
Unless and until the rights of a person are available to them, democracy will not survive. In
many parts of the world, attempts to overthrow governments might be happening. By the time
you finish reading this, perhaps someone has sacrificed themselves for the ‘good of the
people’. Whether that sacrifice was for democracy or not we will never know. There is, but
one thing that we do know; We can change democracy for the better.
Website of UNESCO – https://en.unesco.org/courier/novembre-1992/what-democracy ↩
Website of The Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna – https://www.iwm.at/transit-