Democracy: Definition and Explanation

Democracy has directly originated from the French democratic, but its real origin is Greek. In Greek there are two words—demos and kratos. The former means people while the latter rule and what we mean by democracy in English is rule of the people.

David Held, a renowned authority on the concept, defines the term as “Democracy means a form of government in which, in contradistinction monarchies and aristocracies, the people rule. Democracy entails a political community in which there is some form of political equality among the people”. Precisely stated, democracy is the rule by the people. Of all the definitions of democracy perhaps the best and most popular definition is the following: It is called “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”.

The former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) is the author of this definition. Lincoln uttered this definition in his Gettysburg Address delivered in 1864. The sixties of the nineteenth century witnessed the height of the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states. Even today Lincoln’s definition is treated by many as a classical one and any discussion of democracy cannot skip this.

Explanation of the Definition:

We have stated only two definitions because all the definitions sketch the same thing so it is not necessary.

However, all the definitions have been found to contain the following Elements:

1. Democracy is a form of government in which people’s participation is of primary importance.

2. People may participate either directly or indirectly.

3. It is a form of government in which people have equal opportunity and this type of government is based on individual merit and no place of hereditary privilege is to be found in democracy.

4. Distribution of opportunities is adopted for reduction or removal of inequalities.

5. Democracy recognises that all the sections of the community will receive their due shares.

6. Interests of the minorities will be duly protected and state makes arrangements for that.

7. All the public offices and opportunities are opened to everyone and to fill the posts public examinations are held. There is also open competition on in which every eligible citizen has the right to participate.

8. It is a system of government which does not make any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion, sex, birth etc.

9. In democracy all must have the scope to govern or to be a member of government.

10. Rulers are to be accountable to the ruled and forms of accountability are many.

11. Rules are to be chosen by the ruled.

12. People shall have the right to decide who would rule them.

Who are the People?

The most important element of democracy is self-rule, equally distributed among the people. The term self-rule may be interpreted as political power. The term equally distributed means as evenly as possible. It is impossible that in a democracy all will have equal power. There may be variation in the distribution of power.

For example, the members of the government enjoy more powers. Nevertheless, the most important part of the definition is people. Who are the people?

The meanings of the two terms of the people and for the people are clear. The members of the government must come from the general public that is people. The functions of the government must aim at the general welfare or upliftment of the people. But question arises about the by the people.

In no system of government (including the democratic government) all the categories of men are permitted to participate in the affairs of government such as formation of government, formulation of policy and making of decisions. In ancient Greek city states only the citizens (excluding women) above the age of twenty had the opportunity to participate in the functions of state. Until 1928 the British women had not the scope to elect representative that is right to vote.

In the early 1960s the Negroes of the Southern states of USA got the right to vote. In 1971 Swiss women were enfranchised. In many countries people below the age of 18 have no right to vote. Hence the term people have restricted use.

People’s Participation: Fact or Fiction?

As noted above people’s participation is the most vital part of democracy. In our analysis of people we have seen that the word people, everywhere, are restricted. Even in the so-called flourished or matured democracies people do not include all types of persons.

It has been assumed by the policy-makers or politicians that (in most of the countries of course) men below certain age are not politically conscious and are not capable of taking judicious decision and for that reason they are debarred from participating in political affairs. But this age bar is hypothetical and many people do not believe that this age bar has any scientific basis. In spite of that, it is scrupulously adhered to.

Apparently people’s participation is very sacred and politically important. But a close scrutiny reveals that as a democratic principle it is very fragile. How many people consciously participate in political affairs? And of those participating how many are able to take judicious decisions? It may appear that all these are bizarre questions but from the functioning of the democratic regimes we have come to know the functioning of American democracy which shows that about half of the electorate do not participate in the presidential elections.

Before 1971 the Swiss women had no right to franchise. Only direct democracy of the Greek city-states type or Rousseauian type can assure of a real type of participation. In the light of above analysis we can conclude that though there is a controversy as to the exact implication of the word participation, in practice in nowhere of the world hundred percent people cannot participate in the affairs of state and inspite of this we use the word.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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