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Is Democracy the Best Form of Political System? Essay

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In this essay I will argue that there is no better political system than democracy. I will make this argument through a consistent comparison between democracy and other forms of political system, evaluating each in turn with reference to consent, freedom, equality, and wisdom. Other forms of political system include autocratic, authoritarian, despotic, dictatorial, tyrannical, totalitarian, absolutist, traditional, monarchic, oligarchic, plutocratic, aristocratic, and sultanistic (Schmitter and Karl, 1991: 4), and these can all be broken into subsets. For the sake of simplicity, I will focus my discussion on democracy, anarchism, autocracy, and authoritarian governments, with some overlap between autocracy, authoritarianism, and monarchy. While I will argue that democracy provides the greatest variation of wisdom, consent, freedom, and equality, then any feasible alternative, the overarching theme of my claim will be that democracy is derived from the consent of the people, and thus holds greater claims to legitimacy than any alternative. This essay will conclude that this is important because democracy consistently perpetuates the will of the people to a greater extent than any of the alternative political systems discussed in this essay, thereby marking it as the best political system.

Consent

I would argue that democracy has a greater claim to legitimacy, and so is fundamentally superior to any other political system, due to the nature of consent required by the electorate. Indeed, this is an argument also advocated by Bermeo (1992: 287) and Diamond (1990: 49). Unlike authoritarian regimes, democracy relies on permitting the people to elect representatives in free elections that best reflect their interests. Additionally, as democracy is based on the consent of the governed, it is thus contingent on popular legitimacy to a far greater degree than any other form of government (Diamond, 1990: 49), that being consent-based legitimacy. Indeed, in the absence of widespread support of public opinion, democratic stability is not possible (Rose and Mishler, 1996: 31). Authoritarian regimes and monarchies, on the other hand, are not dependent on popular consent as they do not require free and fair elections (Diamond, 1990: 50), and thus are illegitimate. This is often reflected through policies implemented that do not represent the will of the people, as demonstrated by General Pinochet’s harsh austerity measures in authoritarian autocratic Chile (ibid).

Systems of government that are not based on popular consent, such as Pinochet’s authoritarianism, are justified in situations when a concentrated distribution of political power is seen as a necessary response to the tensions of late development (Bollen, 1979: 574). Indeed, the lack of short-run accountability due to the absence of popular consent allowed Pinochet to implement short-run austerity measures to promote long-term economic prosperity (Diamond, 1990:50). I cannot help but critique this form of governance as the lack of accountability, derived from the absence of consent, implies that there is no source of power than the autocrat cannot overrule (Olson, 1993: 571), merely reflecting the will of the one, or the few, with elites able to create a manufactured will of the people (Schumpeter, 1967: 167). This in turn means that unlike democracies, authoritarian regimes are incapable of learning and adapting from their previous mistakes as they lack the feedback mechanism to do so via competitive elections. Indeed, democracy’s claim to superiority is derived from the ability to learn from mistakes and to rectify them through voting governments out of office (Rose and Mishler, 1996: 53). Strategically, democracies are forced to account for the interests of society as there is an incentive to respond the needs of the electorate, so to stay in power via the process of competitive elections (Christiano, 2019: 81). Similarly, new administrations can adapt and learn from previous administrations failures to satisfy the will of the people, unlike authoritarian regimes which cannot be voted out of power.

On the topic of elections, this is not to say that they are the endpoint in defining democracy, but fair and free elections are certainly a good indication of the degree of democracy in a country, that is elections based on a degree of uncertainty of who will be in power and what their policies will be (Schmitter and Karl, 1991: 10). Santas argues that the best way to find out if the ruled consent is by elections (Santas, 2007: 79), but in addressing the fallacy of electoralism (Schmitter and Karl, 1991: 6), I would challenge this claim. North Korea is not simply a democracy because there is a decision-making process via the election. Self-government and self-determination are more so about the authorship of decisions, opposed to merely making them (Post, 2006: 26), thereby reflecting the true will of the people, thus incorporating their consent. This is an argument further supported by Dahl, who concludes that only a democratic government can provide the maximum opportunities for the freedom of self-determination (Dahl, 1996: 53), that is living under laws of the electorate choosing, thereby showcasing their consent.

Contrary to this, one could argue that as they are a minority in the electorate and are thus ruled by the tyranny of the majority, they have grounds to not consent to their democratic government. This could perhaps undermine my claim that there is no better political system than democracy. Indeed, why should you obey laws if you do not consent to them? In addressing this claim, I again draw on Dahl, claiming that a perfect consensus is an unobtainable goal (ibid., 54). Surely, what is good for citizens A, B, and C will not always be good for citizen D, but rather democracy is a scenario where the beliefs of some are of greater importance than the beliefs of others (Bormeo, 1992: 267), with the task of the government to promote the greatest happiness in the greatest number of citizens (Birch, 2007: 121). While dismissing some citizens consent in favour of others is by no means perfect, it is a far better system than that of authoritarian, autocratic, or monarchical regimes, which fail to be based on popular consent and reflect only the will of the few. Democracies incorporate popular consent to a far greater degree than any other political system, and thus have a greater claim to legitimacy as the best form of political system.

Freedom

In addition to democratic legitimacy derived from the consent of the electorate, I would also argue that there is no better political system than democracy in regard to protecting personal freedoms. Indeed, this is a line of argument that is advocated by Dahl, making the case that democracy permits a greater range of personal freedoms, more so than any feasible alternative (Dahl, 1996: 50). This in turn provides support for additional rights and liberties (ibid., 51), including the freedom of choice and, more importantly regarding consent, the freedom of self-determination, that is to live under laws of one’s own choosing (ibid., 53). The freedom of self-determination is of great significance upon evaluating whether there is a better political system than democracy because it links closely with the concept of equality. Democratic forms of government are those in which the laws are made by the same people to whom they apply (Post, 2006: 25), highlighting the elements of self-determination and equality in democracies. In contrast to this, ‘in autocratic forms of government the law-makers are different from those to whom the laws are addressed(ibid). This showcases the degree of inequality between the rulers and the ruled in autocratic forms of government, and the lack of self-determination of the citizens. In this scenario, autocracies again lack the consent of the people as they are deprived of any input and are thus illegitimate. Indeed, in the instance that a governmental system fails to administer laws equitably and fairly, as well as failing to allow citizens equal access to the political process, they are largely classified as illegitimate (Anderson and Tverdova, 2003: 91). This, I would argue, marks autocracies as a worse political system than democracy. Indeed, it is democracy’s claim to legitimacy that marks it as a better form political system than any feasible alternative.

In evaluating another form of political system, anarchists argue that through the abolishment of the state, people would experience far greater freedoms. On this basis, anarchists argue that anarchism is a better political system than democracy. As the freedom we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life (Dahl, 1996: 51), with the absence of restrictions, such as laws, imposed by the government, people’s negative liberty would be enhanced. However, there are significant dangers of negative liberty. While freedom from the authority of a governing body seems attractive, state neutrality can leave its population uneducated, perhaps to the extent of not knowing what is in their own best interests. Indeed, Berlin raises the question, what is freedom for those who cannot make use of it? (Miller and Berlin, 2006: 36). The role of government, a democratic government in this instance, can be to intervene and educate its population, and is justified in doing so, if it leads to a more enlightened outlook on life. To this extent, a democratic system is better at protecting positive freedoms, of which are of greater importance, I would argue. Mill argues that civilisation cannot advance unless the individual is left to his own wishes (ibid., 39), but I am inclined to challenge this claim, instead taking the side of Locke, arguing that there is no freedom where there is no law (ibid., 49), further supported by Berlin, making the case that coercion by the government can help prevent greater evils (ibid., 42). Indeed, the limitations upon freedom in a society are justified on the grounds that the vitalities may be destructive (Niebuhr, 1972: 32), making the case that democratic systems are a better alternative than anarchism, even when addressing personal freedoms.

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There are, however, dangers of positive liberty, most importantly the claim that democratic governments have a greater degree of rational wisdom than their populations. In extreme cases, this could lead to oppression, reflecting the attitudes of authoritarian regimes, as governments prefer the advantages of coerced unity at the price of freedom (ibid., 5). Despite this, I would still make the case that democratic systems are better than any feasible alternative, further supported by empirical studies. Since the collapse of authoritarian communism in Eastern Europe, all countries have improved their position on the Freedom House Scale, with their previous regimes being identified with repression (Rose and Mishler, 1996: 37). In addition to this, countries including Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, and Italy have experienced authoritarian rule and reacted in favour of democracy as an alternative (ibid., 30). This again showcases the greater degree of consent in democratic systems of government, resulting from greater personal freedoms, thus illustrating their legitimacy compared to the alternatives of authoritarianism and anarchy. Indeed, measuring consent in an anarchic society would be very difficult, if possible, at all.

Wisdom

Similarly, regarding wisdom, I would argue that there is no better political system than democracy. I will make this case through a comparison with other political systems, as I have done so throughout this essay, with the recurrent argument of consent and legitimacy. Until the later periods of the 20th century, non-democratic systems were advocated by governments (Dahl, 1996: 44), illustrated by the hegemonic communist regimes in Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union, as well as the rise of authoritarianism in South America. They ruled on the assumption that most of their populations were unfit to participate in the governing of the state as they were incompetent (ibid., 45). As mentioned previously, governments that deprive their populations from the freedom of self-determination, which also do not depend on popular consent, are illegitimate. That is illegitimate in contrast to democratic systems of government. Through the freedom of self-determination and incorporating the input of the electorate into the authorship of decisions, democratic systems are more reliable in discovering the rightdecisions (Christiano, 2019: 82) than any feasible alternative (that being the right decisions based on a greater degree of deliberation). Through the process of greater deliberation and critical assessment, democracies can learn from their mistakes and correct them where possible. In referencing Bermeo’s discussion of democracy and dictatorship, the process of political learning in democratic systems encourages cynicism and scepticism (Bermeo, 1992: 274), allowing for governments to learn and adapt, modifying their rules in response to changing circumstances (Schmitter and Karl,1991: 15). Despite the growing distrust towards democratic institutions, as illustrated by the increasing number of Americans who have almost no confidence in Congress (Voeten, 2017: 1), as well as citizens in Central and Eastern Europe trusting the military, as an institution, to a far greater degree than Parliament, military or autocratic leadership are still not deemed as serious alternatives to democracy (Rose and Mishler, 1996: 42). This, I would argue, is largely due to the greater value of wisdom placed upon democratic systems of government in comparison to any feasible alternatives.

Indeed, the wisdom of authoritarian regimes is undermined due to the the human costs of despotic rule rivalling those of disease, famine, and war (Dahl, 1996: 46). One simply must examine the administrations of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot (ibid) for an insight into this. Additionally, studies in former authoritarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe showcase that the degree of opposition to autocratic leadership is greater than the degree of endorsement, that is 40% versus 15% (Rose and Mishler, 1996: 42). By contrast, democratic systems of government, in their superior wisdom, are essential in securing the protection of human rights, preventing the means of civil and interstate wars, and respect sovereignty in terms of the people opposed to a ruler or state bureaucracy (Lagos and Rudy, 2004: 288). This is further supported by democratic peace theory, as modern representative democracies do not wage war with one another, with all states recognising one another’s legitimacy and so maintaining peace, as identified by Fukuyama (1992: xx).

It should be noted, however, that some democratic theorists, such as elite democratic theorists, reject the idea of egalitarian democracy. This is grounded in the belief that the electorate are largely uninformed, thus high levels of participation tend to produce poor legislation for society (Christiano, 2019: 90). This is a view also expressed by Schumpeter, who argues that the management of legislation requires special aptitudes, which should be entrusted to specialists (Schumpeter, 1967: 154). Plato goes as far to say that democracy is inferior to other forms of government on the basis that it undermines the expertise required to govern a society properly (Christiano, 2019: 83). He further makes the case that those who are experts at winning elections will dominate political society (ibid). However, I would challenge this claim on the basis that electoral competition in democratic systems is a necessary evil (Schmitter and Karl, 1991: 6) as it allows the will of the people to be reflected, deriving from electoral consent.

While voters can and do prove to be bad judges of their own long-term interests (Schumpeter, 1967: 165), measures to enhance the individual’s positive freedom, such as education, can work to combat this. As populations experience rising levels of education, they tend to reject ideas associated with authoritarian regimes (Rose and Mishler, 1996: 49), demonstrating a relationship between enlightened understanding and the rejection of non-democratic wisdom and principles.

As the claim that states have to legitimacy its grounded in the equality of its citizens (Post, 2006: 29), a system of governance that deprives its populations of the authorship of decisions and the freedom of self-determination is surely illegitimate. Indeed, if the state permits greater freedoms of participation to its elites, then its citizens are treated unequally, and the government is thus illegitimate (ibid). Rawls supports the concept of plural voting, allowing the wiser members of society greater votes, only on the grounds that those with lesser votes accept this (Santas, 2007: 84). This incorporates the idea of consent, unlike Plato’s theory or systems of autocracy, and consequently if it were to be accepted by the whole of the electorate then it may be perfectly just. It is true that if systems, such as authoritarianism or autocracy, fail to provide equal access to the political process for all their citizens (unless they were, for example, to consent to Rawl’s concept of plural voting), then they are classified as illegitimate (Anderson and Tverdova, 2003: 91).

It is on this basis, therefore, that I argue that there is no better alternative than democracy. Despite focusing specifically on authoritarianautocratic regimes, this can be expanded to include both monarchies and aristocracies, and any other form of government that does not represent the will of the people through the process of self-determination. Not only do democratic systems ensure the greater security of human rights and personal freedoms via their wisdom and principles, but they also incorporate the will of the people, thereby obtaining their consent. This, as argued throughout, gives democracy a greater claim to legitimacy than any feasible alternative to date, marking it as the best form of political system.

Conclusion

This essay has argued that there is no better political system than democracy, with specific reference to anarchism, autocracy, authoritarianism, and monarchy. These political systems have been compared and evaluated under the themes of freedom, equality, wisdom, and consent. The underlying argument throughout this essay is democracy’s greater claim to legitimacy than any feasible alternative, largely derived from the consent of the people. Indeed, the etymological meaning of the word democracy is the rule of the people. While this is a rather simplistic evaluation of what defines democracy, the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government summarises the basic democratic idea (Crawford, 2000: 102). It is the consent of the people, reflecting their will, that gives democratic authority its greater claims to legitimacy; indeed, it is the only legitimate basis for political authority (During, 2012: 3). As I have argued, it is this greater claim to legitimacy that means there is no better political system than democracy.

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Is Democracy the Best Form of Political System? Essay. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/is-democracy-the-best-form-of-political-system-essay/
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Is Democracy the Best Form of Political System? Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/is-democracy-the-best-form-of-political-system-essay/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Is Democracy the Best Form of Political System? Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/is-democracy-the-best-form-of-political-system-essay/
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