Meaning And Definition Of Democracy: Advantages And Disadvantages

Table Of Content

  • Definition OF Democracy
  • The Development Of Democracy
  • Factors That Led To The Development Of Modern Democracy
  • Types Of Democracy
  • Characteristics Of Democracy
  • Advantages Of Democracy
  • Disadvantages Of Democracy
  • Condition Necessary For The Success Of Democracy

Definition Of Democracy

Democracy may be defined as a system of government in which all qualified adult citizens share the supreme power directly or through their elected representatives. “Democracy is a system of government based on popular consent. It is a government which is derived from public opinion and is accountable to it”. Abraham Lincoln, whose definition of democracy has become axiomatic defined it as “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”. The term democracy has in another occasion been described as “government by consent of the governed” i.e. government with the approval of the people being governed. The fusion of two Greek words Demos (people) and kratia (rule or government) gave birth to the word democracy. Democratic system of government therefore started in ancient Greek city states. Such government is representative of all peoples and interests within the state and is described as open government because, it permits freedom of speech and ideas.

Democracy allows the people to choose and reject their leaders and their programmes when such are no longer serving the interest of the people. Democracy is regarded as the best form of government that can be adopted in a country.

The Development Of Democracy

The beginning of the idea of democracy is associated with the city-states of ancient Greece. The word itself is derived from the Greek “demokratia”, from Demos,”the people”, and Kratos, “rule”. Greek democracy was direct democracy in which the whole citizen body formed the legislature, and in which the representative system was unknown. This was possible because of limited size of the ancient state which was generally confined to a city and its rural surroundings. Furthermore, women were disenfranchised and the were numerous classes of slave who enjoyed no right at all. Ancient democracy recognised the equality of citizens, but failed to develop a general conception of the equality mankind.

Greek democracy was a brief historical episode which had little direct influence on the theory or pratice of modern democratic states. From the fall of the Greek city-states to the rise of modern constitutionalism, there is a gapof about 2000 years in the theory and practice of democracy. The successor states were tribal or feudal kingdom which became largely transformed into absolute monarchise. This was the situation down to the time of American and French revolutions.

The developoment of modern democracy can be tracced to the following factors:

Factors That Led To The Development Of Modern Democracy

1. Religion:

The underlying ethical basic of theology is the conception that all men are created equal, and that government exists for the purpose of protecting them in the exercise of certain basic rights. The universe was the creation of an omnipotent God whose perfect and unchanging will was binding on all his creatures. These laws were not the product but the source of legitimate authority.

2. Disintegration Of State Authority:

The modern practice of democracy is a consequence of the disintegration of state authority which followed the fall of Rome, a strongly centralised state, fully capable of imposing its will on the subject population. In the tribal and feudal monarchies which replaced it, power was much more widely dispersed. Kings could only act with the consent of their subjects after summoning a great council of representatives. These gatherings were the origin of modern parliaments.

3. Historical Writings:

The writings, propositions, eloquent and uncom-promising defence of writers such as John Locke, J.J. Rousseau, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, J.S. Mill, to mention a few, were decisive contributions to the theory of modern democracy. For example, Locke stated that property ( life, liberty and estate) is a national right of man. Moreover, governments are created by a social contract, designed for the preservation of that right, and when rulers violate the terms of the contract, society has a right to depose and replace them. The best way to prevent abuse it to separate the powers of government in such a way that legislative and executive powers can never fall into the same hands. Locke’s theory was popularised by Jean Montesquieu who added a third power, the judicial, to those that ought to be kept separate.

According to J.J Rousseau, in his work, The Social Contract, no law is legitimate unless it is an expression of the general will, a consensus of the whole community. No man can enjoy full moral responsibility unless he assembles with his fellow citizens at periodic intervals, and personally vote on every act of legislation and government to carry out the law. The government thus created must be wholly subordinate to the general will as expressed in the popular assembly.

4. The American Revolution:

This provided a framework for the first major experiment in constitutional democracy. The colonies, constituting the United States Of America, came in the course of time to demand vast legislative and fiscal powers. These claims were rejected by royal governors who are agents of the British government. A constitutional crisis erupted, and this led to a declaration of independence. When the controlling hand of Britain was removed, the democratic forces in American life were free to seek expression. What most Americans wanted was only constitutional, but democratic government, and this was the ultimate significance of the American revolution.

5. The French Revolution:

The second great landmark in the history of modern democracy was the french revolution. Ever since the 16thh century, france had been an absolute monarchy.
The french were perfectly contented with this system as long as the believed that monarchs could be persuaded to use their power in the interest of reform. When that hope was disappointed, the reformers transferred their attention to the people and began supporting the principle of popular sovereignty. The french revolution was successful in undermining the traditions of a society based on liberty, fraternity and equality.

6. The Decline Of Colonialism And The Rise Of Nationalism:

After world wars I and II, the number of democracies, whether constitutional or totalitarian, steadily increased. These were few parts of the globe where democracy of one sort or another was not the generally recognised principle of political legitimacy. This development was the outgrowth of two separate but closely associated phenomena, the decline of colonialism and the rise of nationalism.

Types Of Democracy

1. Direct/Classical Democracy:

This is a form of democracy where the right to make political decision is exercised directly by the whole body of citizens, acting under procedures of majority rule.

2. Modern/Representative/Indirect Democracy:

Citizens exercise the right to make political decision, not in person, but through representatives chosen by and responsible to them.

3. Liberal/Constitutional Democracy:

Powers of the majority are exercised within a framework of constitutional restraints designed to guarantee the minority in the enjoyment of certain individual or collective rights.

4. Social or Economic Democracy:

This type of democracy tend to minimise social and economic differences, especially differences arising out of the unequal distribution of private property.

Two Main Types Of Democracy

A. Direct Democracy:

This is where all the citizens attend the Assembly and take part in decision making in order to govern the state or the society. This type of democracy was practised in ancient small Greek city states.

B. Indirect Or Representative Democracy:

In this type of democracy, the citizens through election elect those who will represent and govern the state on their behalf. This type of democracy replaced the direct democracy in modern states as it is no more possible for everybody to gather in one place in order to take decisions to govern the state as a result of the large size and population of the modern states.

Features Or Attributes Or Characteristics Of Democracy Or Factors That Makes A Nation Democratic

1. Regulating and periodic election
2. Assertion of the principles of the rule of law in the constitution and its observance.
3. Majority rule in the country.
4. Respect for the rights of the minority groups.
5. Equality before the law.
6. Guaranteeing fundamental human rights.
7. Absence of class feelings in the country.
8. Existence of party system.
9. Fre and fair elections.
10. Existence of organized opposition to government.
11. Equal political rights to vote and be voted for.
12. Government actions must be open to public criticism.
13. No intimidation or voters during elections.
14. There must be an independent judiciary.
15. There should be an effective process of changing government so that a group of people should not stick to power indefinitely like presidents in Africa.
16. The application of the principles of separation of powers.
17. there should be free press.

Advantages/Merits Of Democracy

1. It promotes Political Participation: It encourages citizens to be involved in their government and politics. It promotes a sense of responsibility and belonging.

2. Legitimacy: Government elected by the people is considered legitimate because it has the support of the people.

3. Choice Of Political Leadership: The electorates are given the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice.

4. Political Stability: Democracy involves periodic elections through which one government replaces another peacefully.

5. Abuse Of Power: It prevents misuse of power since it checks concentration of powers of government in the hands of one person.

6. Encouragement Of Constitutionalism: It encourages the government to rule according to the provisions of the constitution.

7. Decision Making Process: Persuasion and argument are used in making decisions rather than violence or force.

8. The Rule Of Law: Democracy promotes equality of persons, protection of their possessions and their fundamental human rights.

Problems/Demerits Of Democracy

1. Representation:

The Representatives of the people may be representing their own interests and not the interests of the people.

2. Inadequate Political Education:

During elections, people that are not adequately educated politically may not understand the issue at stake thereby using their political sovereignty or power wrongly. For example, collection of money for their votes.

3. Rule Of Ignorance:

Democracy does not pay attention to quality but quantity. Votes are not weighed but are counted.

4. Corruption/Manipulation Of Election:

Elections are often manipulated to favour self-centred and irresponsible representatives through thuggery and the use of money.

5. Expensiveness:

It is very expensive to operate because decision-making process in a democracy involves many people.

6. Decision-Making Process Is Slow:

Before the final decision is taken on any public issue, everybody is given the opportunity to express his or her views.

7. Manipulation By Few:

Often times, citizens merely accept the opinions and views expressed by few vocal representatives which may not represent the rule or views of the majority in a democracy.

Conditions Necessary For The Success Of Democracy

1. Economic development anf equal opportunities for all.

2. Literacy and political education.

3. Efficient and effective leadership.

4. Open society.

5. Common desire by the citizens.

6. Tolerance of divergent views.

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