Is Democracy such a good thing?

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The concept of democracy in politics is still seen by some countries as “the best and most effective type of government” because it provides with the same opportunities and the same equality to all its members. However even when in Western countries democracy is effective and it seems to be partially fair; democracy still has a long way to come in developing countries. This essay will discuss Is democracy such a good thing?

The name of the greatest Greek invention is today known as democracy and had the principle of Isonomy which refers to the same rules for everyone. Therefore there was nobody up the law and obedience was a global concept. Nevertheless, democracy was born between conflicts and instead of solving them, they appear to grow partially even at a wide range in the 21th century. The reason is the more freedom we have the less tranquillity we live in. Moreover, Finer (1997)[1] was correct in acknowledging the Athenian contribution to Western politics: “the Greeks invented two of the most potent political features of our present age: they invented the very idea of citizen- as opposed to subject- and they invented democracy”.

Even so, to answer if democracy is such a good thing is necessary to define the vices and virtues of such regime so we can have a clear view of what we are dealing with.

In the good sense a democratic system can, for instance, create a sense of social solidarity by giving all members a stake in the community by virtue of having a voice in the decision-making process. Rousseau expressed this very idea on his belief that government should be based upon the “general will” or “common good” rather than upon the private or selfish will of each citizen. In other words, a democratic state represents the community rather the individual.[2] In this case democracy is better because is focused in the common good and the idea that we live better in community and we are able to achieve more and have a greater happiness as we are social beings that cannot live isolated. For Rousseau, democracy was a means through which human beings achieved freedom or autonomy. Individuals are, according to this view, free only when they obey laws which they themselves have made. In other words, in a democratic system individuals must obey to be happy. So, does obedience brings happiness in democratic regimes? In addition, the German philosopher Jungen Habermas suggests that we should view democracy as a method of communication; as the way I see it is because we are social beings and that is undeniable; according to Habermas using democracy as a communication tool will allow us to be a social group of individuals in a common `interest’s society. Now the question that comes to my mind is: Do we really want to be “one for all and all for one”? As Alexander Dumas relates in the Three Musketeers or do we “the people” want to follow our own path under the blanket of any other regime with the common aim of being equals?

On the opposite sense however, democracy sees it as the enemy of individual liberty. This fear arises out the fact that “the people” is not a single entity but rather a collection of individuals and groups, possessed of differing opinions and interests. By saying this I want to point at the idea that as individuals we might have different interests and not always we agree with each other. Furthermore, how can the individuals inside the democratic regime achieve freedom when obedience is implicit and rules may be seen as a restriction to individual freedom? Besides, since the seventeenth-century social contract theorists saw democracy as a way in which individuals could check government power. In the eyes of John Locke for instance, the right to vote was based upon natural rights and, in particular, the right to property. Until the nineteenth century, democracy, or at least the right to vote was usually regarded as a means of protecting the individual against overmighty government.[3]

In addition, there is a debate about Democracy and Development[4] that argues an incompatibility between democracy and economic growth for both economic and political reasons. The economic reasons relate to the fact that growth requires an economic surplus available for investment. The main argument is that democratic regime will not be able to pursue policies of curbing consumption because the consumers are also voters. Therefore, in a democratic system, political leaders have to cater to the short-time demands of the population. Those with political reservations about democracy take as their starting point the fact that economic development is best promoted when there is a high degree of political order and stability. Democracy is then counterproductive in this regard because it opens the already weak institutions of the developing countries to all kind of pressures from different groups in society. According to this view the adoption of a democratic regime may bring as a consequence the development of a capitalist economic system which actually works great in countries such as UK and United States. However the implantation of this economic system in developing countries with socialist-communist bases such as Cuba and now Venezuela in Latin America does seem to not work. The reason is communism and capitalism theories do not fit to each other. Is just like oil and water; therefore is even a harder task to these countries to become democratic. To some extend you can also argue that democracy is not an aim for all countries. For example; Cuba has been under Fidel Castro regime for more than 40 years now. A well known communist country that has hardly-ever chances to become “democratic” at least in the next 20 years unless some radical change occurs. The reason is basically the particular ideology that has been spread all this time about the theory of the “common good” emphasized in communism itself under Castro’s hand. So, perhaps being democratic is not an option that unfortunately will or may benefit all governments in the world today because that metamorphosis is almost utopian to realize in some states. Nevertheless, and having Mexico as an example you cannot rely that it works the same way in every state.

In either case all notions of democracy are based, to some degree, upon the idea that government can and does act in the public interest, the common or collective interests of society. But individualist and pluralists have questioned whether there is any such thing as public interest separate from the private interests of citizens. Others have doubted if there exist an electoral or constitutional mechanism through which the public interest can in practice be defined.[5]

Now, the concept of democracy held by inhabitants of Britain, USA and several European and Commonwealth countries is vastly different to the view held by communist countries. This indicates that there are widely differing conceptions about what constitutes a democratic state.[6] In the case of Mexico; the democratic system has played a short role if we compare it with the representative democracy of Britain. Nevertheless, three elements have limited Mexico’s classification as democratic: (1) Mexico has lacked meaningful and extensive competition among organized groups for major government office; (2) participation has not reliably extended to leadership selection through fair elections, although elections have always been regular and; (3) civil and political liberties have been insufficient to guarantee the integrity of competition and participation.[7]

In the case of Mexico, the historic defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI)[8] ended seven decades of corrupt, single party political domination and moved this country further towards becoming a real democracy. Mexico has been a very particular case of recent democracy from 1945 to 1985, while many Latin American countries suffered military rule, Mexico ranked between third and seventh among twenty nations on the best-known, if controversial, ratings for Latin American democracy. Mexico ranks lower today, primarily because most other cases currently fit our basic definition of democracy; however, this should not obscure the fact that in an absolute sense, Mexico was clearly more democratic in 1997 than in 1985. In this sense, democracy has so far worked effectively and hopefully it will maintain this way. Today this country formally has a federalist structure with thirty-one states (plus the Federal District), which in turn are divided into over 2,000 supposedly free municipalities. State political structures parallel the national structure except that their legislatures are unicameral. In practice, a range of daily and other activities are handled by states, and the federal government usually intervenes only when conflicts are not locally contained. However, the very infrequency of explicit interventions reflects ongoing national government control over basic policy.[9]

In the other hand, despite the positive signs, Mexico’s democracy is far from guaranteed. Some factors continue to point away from a stable democracy. Mexico remains a deeply unequal country, a problem for democratic systems that depend on the ability of all, or at least most, citizens to participate effectively and to compromise on their interests. In addition it lacks any significant experience with democratic government. Ironically, the slow pace of liberalization may make democracy more viable in the end, by giving the opposition important experience in governing before it has to take full responsibility. In this sense is clear that the transition into a democratic state in developing countries is a hard task, is not easy to determine which way is going in the next years or either if is better than any other regime. Mexico is seen as a reflection of how democracy will work is those kinds of states; in this case is not completely clear if democracy is such a good thing.

In the case of Britain; it has a long history of independent existence as a more or less united nation. It has a strong commitment to democracy, with its representative institutions of government, based on regular and free elections, in addition to strong liberal values about individual rights and responsibilities. It was the first parliamentary democracy in Europe.

Britain is called a representative democracy, implying that the people or the majority have effective influence over government and over decisions that affect them. Moreover, at the national level all or mostly all contemporary democracies are representative rather than direct. “To the Greeks, the idea of representative democracy would have seemed preposterous: how can the people be said to govern themselves if they are ruled by a separate government?”[10] Even today it is questionable how far Britain satisfies all the conditions to qualify as a full and fair system of representative democracy. Although England boasts an ancient Parliament with over 700 years of near-continuous existence since it was established in 1265, even the lower house of that Parliament, the House of Commons, was not elected democratically until recently. Only a small proportion of adult males could participate in elections until a series of Reform Acts extended the vote to most men in the course of the 19th century. Women could not vote on the same terms as men in 1928. However modern representative government allows massive populations to exercise some popular control over their rulers. And there is no upper limit. In theory, the entire world could become one giant representative democracy.[11]

In this particular case democracy has played a long role among Britain population. For that reason is believed that to some extend democracy works effectively and is the reflection of what a Western democracy is. Although there is always some lack of confidence about the government ruling methods in Britain today. The long term and the ideology of what democracy is in this country helps to shape, maintain and reinforce this regime. Moreover, another cause that contributes with this is Britain has a long history of independent existence as a more or less united nation. It has a strong commitment to democracy, with its representative institutions of government, based on regular and free elections, in addition to strong liberal values about individual rights and responsibilities. It was the first parliamentary democracy in Europe. Furthermore, time is also a cause and a plus in this particular case, because it has been ruling for so long changes and reforms are possible and can only drift this regime into “the greatest common good”.

The British have a preference for pragmatism over ideology and doctrine. As the country lacks a written constitution, ideas and institutions relating to the government have evolved over the years, being modified as change becomes desirable or necessary. When politicians do suggest something which is very different to what voters are used to, such proposals are regarded with suspicion. Constitutional and parliamentary reformers invariably find that many individuals and groups are resistant to new thinking.[12] In addition, some scholars also argued that the absence of a codified constitution does not make Britain a less democratic country. Taking in consideration that having regular elections and the opportunity to vote is what really counts. However it does make Britain special in the sense that the absence of a written constitution makes difficult for it’s people to claim that a government has acted unconstitutionally in case they do.

In summary, democracies as a rule give higher respect to human rights in general than authoritarian regimes do. Furthermore, transitions towards a democratic system may lead to breakdowns of authority, which can result in even higher human rights violations than would be the case under stable authoritarian conditions. According to Kant, “the moral element that helps form the framework for peaceful relations between democratic states is based on the common principles of cooperation, mutual respect and understanding.” [13] In this case it may be argued that this common principle Kant is illustrating does not work the same way in Western countries than it does in developing countries, because even when the fundamental root maintain itself, the practice of it is completely different. Furthermore, the peaceful relations between the Western industrialized democracies have not been extended in equal measure to the democracies in the developing world. Relations between the United States and some democracies in Latin America can provide an idea of how this works.

In conclusion democracy is a wide range spreading regime across the world in the 21th century; the fact is that more and more countries seems to agree that democracy is “the best and most effective type of government“; the reason look like to be the level of integration to people into the political spectrum of each state. In the other hand, in several countries in Latin America is still not seen that way; after several years of communism and dictatorial regimes; the concept of democracy still appear to be struggling among these countries. Furthermore, after comparing how is democracy today in Mexico and Britain we are more convinced that “the government for the people to the people” does not apply the same especially for those countries who adopt it recently. So, is democracy such a good thing? Definitely is better that communism and dictatorial regimes as the way I see it and for my own experience. But for the following generations of states ruling under other regimes rather than democratic states; the next 10 years to come give the impression to be hard to face when the global aim for most is still to create a global Democracy that will allow the “greatest common good” to its people. Mexico can also be seen as an example to other countries in Latin America of recent democracy which makes believes that over all the variables and implications is still possible and a global desire in most modern states.

Bibliography

– British Politics; Robert Leach; Palgrave foundations (2006). Chapter 1: Politics, Democracy and Power.

– Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction; Rod Hague& Martin Harrop; 7th edition; Palgrave Macmillan. Chapter 1: Democracy.

-Democracy in Developing Countries; Latin America; Second edition- edited by Larry Diamond (1999) Lynne Rienner publishers. Chapter 10: Mexico: Sustained Civilian Rule and the Question of Democracy.

– Democracy and Democratization; Processes and Prospects in a Changing World; George Sorensen; dilemmas in world politics; series editor; University of Notre Dame. Chapter III: Domestic consequences of Democracy: Growth and welfare.

– Understanding politics; US/UK government and politics; Duncan Watts; Manchester University press(2003). Chapter 1: the context of political life in Britain.

– Political Theory: An Introduction; Andrew Heywood; Palgrave Macmillan (1994-2004). Chapter 8: Democracy, Representation and the Public Interest.

[1] Comparative Government and Politics p46

[2] Political theory p.230

[3] Political theory p.229

[4] Democracy and Democratization p.65

[5] Extract taken from Political theory p.251

[6] Understanding US/UK government and politics p.306

[7] Democracy in Developing Countries .p522.

[8] The PRI, Mexico’s “official” party, was the country’s preeminent political organization from 1929 until the early 1990s. In terms of power, it was second only to the president, who also serves as the party’s effective chief. Until the early 1980s,

[9] Democracy in Developing Countries p.534

[10] Comparative government and Politics p.48

[11] Idem p48

[12] Understanding politics/ US/UK government and politics p.4

[13] Democracy and Democratization p. 104

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