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Posted on July 25th, 2012, by

The term democracy is well-known all over the world, but often the real meaning of this notion is distorted or understated. In this paper we are going to study all the possible constituent parts of the notion democracy, the etymology and history of it, the main characteristics of the country, which could be considered a democratic one and will come to a conclusion, whether free voting is enough for the country to be democratic or not.

Most politicians and historians state, that the basic feature of democracy is competitive elections. This is certainly absolutely correct, because competitive elections are first of all related to freedom of speech, freedom of press and the rule of law (Benhabib, 1996). However democracy is not as simple as it seems, this is proved even by the absence of unique definition of the notion. Some people might use the term democracy as shortening for liberal democracy, adding political pluralism and domination of equality. Others use democracy in its direct meaning. Nowadays the term democracy is mostly used for describing the political system of a state, however it can be as well applied to some kind of organizations or groups (Carter, 1993).

There can be different opinions concerning the right of citizens to sell their voices. Some specialists state that in democratic state people are free to do whatever they want and can pass their voices to somebody else if this is their wish. At the same time liberal and transparent elections are still the main sign of democracy. That is the reason selling voices ruins the very principle of democracy. Opponents of those, who stand for allowing the selling of votes believe that such a policy can ruin the very basis of democracy. People, who sell their votes loose their rights to make a democratic choice and thus ruin democratic order. Democracy assumes high level of personal consciousness and those people, who sell their right to voice do not have this level of consciousness. This way they are not worthy a democratic order they have. That is the main reason because there is not chance to compete a democratic order and selling votes.

Those, who stand for giving the people right to sell their voices give their arguments. They states that candidates buy the voices of their electors by different ways. They promise different things, give people expectations and this way buy their votes. It will be even more honest to give people money directly. Candidates spend hugs sums of money for electoral campaigns and this way buy their votes. Same process of buying and selling is disguised by different means.

If people sell their voices, they will get more profit. Politics in the modern world is commercialized. Everything is bought and sold and letting voters to sell their votes will be fair.

Proponents of such a position appeal to democratic principles as their argument. Democracy is translated from Greek as a power of people. Democracy is a one of the biggest achievements of modern civilization and voting is the main democratic mechanism. Through voting people are able to demonstrate their will and express their wishes.

Election is a system of regulations, which permits to fulfill the will of majority and thus the will of people. That is the reason serious attitude to voting is so important. People should be aware that their active and conscious position during voting defines their future. Unfortunately, very often voters do not have their own opinion and follow the majority or some authority figures.  In the article Another Example of Why Voters Should Keep Informed and Be Responsible the author gives very vivid examples of how ignorance of the voters can have very poor consequences. The article tells about congressman Keith Elliso, who had close ties with Islamic fundamentalists and became messed up in unlawful actions. The author stresses on the facts that only ignorance of voters helped this man to get a seat in the Congress. As states the author:  Maybe the Democratic Party should start doing background checks on their members before accepting them. And, positively, American voters, like in Minnesota, should check out their candidates they intend to vote for (Lehman).  I think that such an example speaks for thousand abstract words about the necessity of active civil position. Only after voters will see poor consequences of their ignorance they will start to think about the consequences of their actions and importance of their choices.  Lehman’s words are sharp, but they really reflect resent situation. Now we have a spokesperson for Islamic fundamentalists sitting not only in the House of Representatives but on a committee that oversees our judiciary, and for obvious reasons, wants our law enforcement and national security system to quit using racial profiling in their efforts to keep law and order and protect our national security. The author of the article gives some other bright and vivid examples of how people with unclear consciousness get to power due to inattentive or indifferent position of the voters.

Unfortunately, the situation described in the article is rather typical than exceptional.  Most voters make their choices without a detailed study of information. They lose their active civil position and become object of manipulations of skillful PR services. Such situation is common for contemporary society. People are preoccupied with everyday problems and forget that they have right and power to make important decision about the future of their country. Passive political and social position is very profitable for politicians, who use power in order to satisfy their ambitions. They give loud promises and people believe them making no attempt to spend some time and effort and check up information they get during election campaigns. Ability to make conscious decision is one of peculiar characteristics, which differs humans from other animals. Neglecting this ability, people lose their prerogative of humanness and humiliate themselves.

We could trace the origin of the notion democracy in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, South Asia, Europe and North and South America (Dahl, 1989). In Ancient Greece, the famous philosopher – Plato provided his definition of the term democracy as the system of rule by the governed, splitting this type of political regime from monarchy, oligarchy and timarchy. During the ancient times democracy was based on two main features: election of the ordinary citizens to court and governing institutions and meetings of all citizens. This was in a way close to the modern understanding of democracy as under democracy we first of all usually assume freedom of vote and freedom of speech. However the freedom of vote was understood in the Roman Republic in a different way, as women, slaves and foreigners were not allowed to take part in elections.

The system of elections became more developed during Middle Ages, but it was closer to oligarchy in most countries as the power was concentrated in the hands of clergy and feudal lords (Benhabib, 1996).

During 18th and 19th centuries the United States was named the first liberal democracy on the basis that its founders shared a commitment to the principle of natural freedom and equality (Birch, 1993, p. 115). In 1788 the accepted Constitution of the country enabled the protection of civil rights. Still there were some restrictions for the people, who were allowed to vote, this right had the white property owners after certain age. 20th century transitions to liberal democracy have come in successive waves of democracy, variously resulting from wars, revolutions, decolonization, and economic circumstances (Dahl, 1989).

Development of democracy reached its height during 1920s, but stopped due to the Great Depression and was followed by transition to dictatorships in such countries as Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Political theorists nowadays have loud debates concerning the number of conceptions of democracy. The notion of aggregative democracy had enough supporters, stating that it allowed using democratic processes to solicit citizens’ preferences and then aggregate them together to determine what social policies society should adapt (Benhabib, 1996). This is evident that the supporters of this idea concentrated mainly on the voting system, as the most significant element of democracy. Joseph Schumpeter, in his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, wrote that aggregative democracy is closely related to the so called minimalist conception, according to which usual citizens should not gain power as they can not rule, because their views are not well founded. Direct type of democracy is based on the idea that people should directly work on making laws for themselves and not through their elected representatives. In this case, as the supporters of these views underlined, politics can be used not only for ruling the citizens but also for their socialization and education purposes. Governments will tend to produce laws and policies that are close to the views of the median voter with half to his left and the other half to his right.

This is not actually a desirable outcome as it represents the action of self-interested and somewhat unaccountable political elites competing for votes (Dahl, 1989, p. 113). Discussion serves the basis for deliberative democracy. This means first of all that laws and policies should be agreed and accepted by all citizens. This presumes the exchange of ideas and views between political leaders and citizens. Radical democracy is based on the idea that there are hierarchical and oppressive power relations that exist in society. Democracy’s role is to make visible and challenge those relations by allowing for difference, dissent and antagonisms in decision making processes (Benhabib, 1996, p. 154).

These were the main democracy systems defined on the basis of voting. We should agree, that voting is the initial step for forming the main laws and regulations for the country and the main way to split power of a state between the political leaders. It plays a very important role in building the political system of the country. The type of voting can be also vitally important for defining wether the political regime of the country, either democratic or not. At the same time it is absolutely not possible to base all characteristics of democracy on voting as its single element; there is a number of other significant elements and characteristics, which should be taken into consideration, when defining democracy.

Democracy is a complex notion, which goes much further than the system of voting. Democracy derives from the Latin words power of people and there are several components, which make the crucial part of this notion. The first and most important component is without a doubt an electoral system, which provides free and fair elections.

Civil society and the development of public sphere had a great impact on the development of democracy. Economical growth caused the growth of the political and social consciousness. The press developed quickly and technical revolutionary innovations helped that a lot. Press, mass media became an important political power and got the right to influence politics. Friedrich Schlegel defined this major change as reading revolution when printed word became available for the ordinary people. Not only those who were economically connected with the press and public sphere, but usual ordinary people got the opportunity to possess the economical, political and social information, make conclusions and perform actions. Official interest in private households constituted the development of a critical sphere; administrative contact between domestic and public authority provoked the critical judgment of the public making use of its reason states Habermas (1996, p. 113). It is hard to overestimate the great role of mass media in the influence on the becoming of public sphere, which is one of the biggest signs of democratic society.

Guarantee of rights and freedoms make another important sign of the democratic society. These rights and freedoms should be guaranteed by the constitution or any other state law. The United States of America became an example of the democracy for many countries of the world. Universal declaration enacted by the United Nations in 1948, adopted in order to provide the universal rules for the all people of the world states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. It is stated in the first Amendment of the U.S.

Constitution. Both, declaration and Constitution insist on the freedom of religious choice, freedom to manifest religious teachings, practice and worship.

A rule of law is another important sign of democratic society. Under this notion we usually assume that all citizens are treated equally and according to the laws of the country.

Democracy assumes that citizens of the country are able to choose their leaders and this makes the leaders responsible for their conduct on the high positions. In the democratic society people choose their representatives in the parliament and government. This choice is made on the basis of open competition among candidates. Usually this competition is hold in the form of elections.  The government, which rules the country is controlled by people, who elect this government.  People must be the highest political power in the democratic society. This political power can not be neither bought nor sold. Political power can be only gained in free fair elections. Selling votes will ruin the basic principles of democratic order and that is the reasons people should not be permitted to sell their voices.

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