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What is Democracy? Essay

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He argued for direct involvement in his work the Social contract displaying that ‘to be represented is to give up’. Direct democracy makes frequent use of referendums where citizens are asked directly instead of matters being discussed through elected MP’s. Nonetheless, this system isn’t flawless. It requires the affair to be simple, at the same time as binary. As soon as the issue becomes complicated it loses its authority to serve its purpose since it only allows space for a yes or no question. There is no room for greys in a system that is designed for black and white. Also, throughout history, referendums have been frequently used by dictators in an attempt to legitimate their power, rendering this type of democracy vulnerable to its abuse.

Modernly, democracy is conceived as electing the representatives of the people, ruling out direct democracy. This entails certain conditions. First of all the existence of choice which infers that people have to be given several options and the chance to decide freely between them. This implies pluralism, freedom of speech and press. As well as this, everyone should be eligible as well as elector. The electoral system also has a big impact on the outcome. For instance, the British system favours the existence of two big parties. It reduces pluralism but make it easier to form stable governments. A proportional system, allows more parties into Parliament but has to frequently rely on coalitions to form governments.

Another concept inherent to how democracy works, is the idea that the system is not only ruled by the majority, but also protects minorities. First of all, elections have to be held at regular intervals to allow a change of government. Hitler, for example, came to power by election but soon afterwards eliminated democracy. Secondly, the rule of majority is not the tyranny of majority. Alexis de Tocqueville brings up a fundamental flaw to the system expressed in his book Democracy in America (1835) where he addresses the ‘tyranny of the majority’ where suddenly the risk of minorities rights being threatened by the intolerant masses appears. Modernly it is admitted that democracy has to comply with the respect of Human Rights as defined by International Organisations.

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The last matter relating democracy I’d like to draw up is the importance of the division of powers. Montesquieu established that power should be split between the Parliament which makes the laws, the government which executes them and the judicial power which controls the application of law. Without what the Americans call a “check and balance” system, a true democracy doesn’t exist.

Nowadays we can say that democracy has never been so acclaimed, since everybody relies on it as a legitimation principle, however, its current working has to be continuously checked so as to be sure that it is adapted to the initial idea. Modernly we have to address several issues. One of the most important being, what is the impact of technology? Technology can help direct democracy but it has also facilitated the ease with which leaders can court uninformed public opinion, exemplified in Trumps use of twitter or Hugo Chavez and his television phone-in show called ‘Aló presidente’. It has also been a strong precursor of fake news. Another pressing issue is the people´s feeling of disconnect from the government. For a long time it brought about political apathy. People didn´t go to vote as they rendered it useless. Modernly, populism has taken the relay. People are rising in anger all around the world and the conception that the governing have detached themselves from the governed is growing in strength as the ‘gilets jaunes’ take the streets to reclaim their rights. It is the people against the elite.

We must now conclude by establishing how we should interpret democracy if it is to have any chance at survival. Democracy should be seen as a delicate and layered flower in need of nurturing, watering and caring for, if it is to flourish and perform its functions, which in this case would be, the power to vote, the maintenance of freedom of speech and the separation of powers. In continuance with the analogy, as time takes its toll on it, and eras change, it must shed its petals and grow new ones in accordance to current movements, to ensure it is not left behind. Its classical foundation has to be rejected and redefined in order to enable dynamism and the engagement with current civilians. This is the only way it’ll be able to survive and pull through, in this time of crisis where conflict seems to loom upon the very nature of it.

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What is Democracy? Essay. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from
“What is Democracy? Essay.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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