Meaning of Democracy
The word ‘democracy’ has a Greek origin. ‘Demo’ means ‘people’, whilst ‘cracy’ means ‘power’. Thus, a democracy is a type of government system where the people of the country have the power to make decisions about their country and the government doesn’t simply impose its decision on the people.
Herodotus, the Greek writer, defined democracy as that form of government in which the supreme power of the state is vested in the hands of the community as a whole.
The most modern definition of democracy was given by President Lincoln, who said that ‘democracy is the government of the people, for the people, by the people’.
In the modern world, democracy has been accepted as the best form of government, although its successful working depends on certain pre-requisites.
Democracy has been defined variously by different writers. It has been described as a form of society, as a form of state and as a form of government.
As a form of society, democracy has been regarded to exist where all citizens are socially equal, irrespective of their material wealth and social status.
As a form of state, democracy means that in a democratic state every section of the people is equally represented in the legislature through election, on the basis of adult franchise.
As a form of government, democracy means that in a government people participate directly or indirectly through their representatives.
Merits of Democracy
Real democracy repudiates all privileges of a special class or men. In a democracy, the principles of liberty and equality are very important factors, because it is only the people, who possess the right of vote for selecting their representatives entrusted with powers to run the government of the state.
In a democracy, all are equal before law. The people themselves make the rules and policies of the state through their representatives for the welfare of all classes of people, but not for a particular class. The rights and interests of every section of the people in a democratic state are adequately safeguarded. It can command the resources of all, because it stands for the benefit of all.
Democracy casts an ennobling influence on the minds of the people, because every citizen knows that it is his own government. It broadens the vision of all, neutralizing the inherent selfish tendencies of human mind.
In a democratic regime, a sense of public spirit and responsibility develops in the mind of every citizen. Above all, democracy offers greater personal freedom to every citizen of the land. It stands against any suppression of thought, speech or association. There are the very fundamentals, which constitute a real democracy.
Democracy does not accept the idea that the state is an end in itself. The state is a means for the welfare of the people. The greatest virtue of democracy is that it stands for the unfettered development of the human spirit and free expression of the human mind.
Demerits of Democracy
There are many critics of democracy who condemn it on various grounds.
It has been said that the ideals of democracy are not capable of fulfillment. They say that for being a success, a real democracy requires a highly conscious social element possessing high civic qualities.
Intelligence, self-control and good conscience are pre-requisites for citizens to have a successful democratic society.
A majority is devoid of the capacity to understand the interests of the community. As a whole self-interest is generally pre-dominant and a majority of the people is unwilling to subordinate it to the general will of the community.
Some critics have said that it is a system of government by the poorest, the most ignorant and the most incapable.
Democracy has been characterized by these critics as mobocracy, as the ignorant people are easily led away by unscrupulous demagogues. According to them democracy produces quantity rather than quality. This rule of majority has at times proved to be the most incompetent and worthless. Some have also charged democracy of arousing class passions and a sense of intoleration.
The world has been experimenting with so many systems of government, but no other system could satisfy the basic needs of the people. So, democracy has been accepted as the best form of government where a man can really enjoy equality of opportunity, liberty and freedom.
➺ In a democratic nation, it is the citizens who hold the right to elect their representatives and their governing authorities. According to a common observation, not all the citizens are fully aware of the political scenario in their country or the issues their nation faces. This may result in people making the wrong choices during election.
➺ Sadly, in some countries, people do not exercise their right to vote. Many are reluctant to vote or less aware about the impact their votes can have. They do not consider it as their privilege, and take the process of voting less seriously.
➺ Representatives may not necessarily be elected on merit. In a system of voting, the majority rules and there is no distinction between the votes cast by the literate and the illiterate. People may favor someone based on factors other than pure capability. Thus, the individual elected by the public may not always be the right candidate for the position.
➺ In a democracy, it takes longer to take decisions and implement them. In a monarchy, it's one person who can take decisions and ensure their quick implementation. In a democracy, the implementation requires majority voting, thus making this form of government relatively less prompt in taking actions.
➺ As the government is subject to change after every election term, the authorities may work on short-term goals. As they have to face an election after the completion of each term, they may lose focus on working for the people and rather focus on winning elections.
➺ Another disadvantage of democracy is that the mobs can influence people. Citizens may vote in favor of a party under the influence of the majority. Compelled or influenced by opinions of those around, a person may not use his own judgment when voting.
➺ A lot of expenditure is made on elections. Even candidates may use money to attract the masses to vote for them. This leads to a wastage of money and resources, which could have been used in public interest.
➺ Election campaigns may involve immoral practices to lure the masses. The candidates use muscle power to draw majority votes. They may tarnish the reputation of their opponent. Money and muscle power may be used to influence the public against the opposing party. Under-hand practices may be employed to win elections.
➺ A disadvantage of direct democracy is that not all citizens are knowledgeable enough to take the right decision regarding legislation. Moreover, they may not have the time. Also, the majority may influence the minority. This may breed inefficiency in governing. However, this disadvantage can be overcome in the representative form of democracy.
➺ In a representative democracy, citizens are not completely accountable for policy decisions as they are made by the elected representatives. They tend to hold the politicians responsible for any wrong or unfavorable decisions made.
➺ The elected representatives are in a position to make unpopular but the right decisions. However, such decisions invite a disfavor from the majority, and thus are avoided with the fear of losing popularity.
➺ In a democracy, interests of the majority have to be catered to. In the attempt to appease the masses, the true purpose of a decision may be overlooked.
➺ Those enjoying power may engage in corrupt practices or resort to unethical means for personal interests. During their tenure in office, they may take undue advantage of their authority for personal gains, and interests of the masses may no longer remain their priority.