Democracy is a process of collective decision-making in which people have a say and can hold their government to account. It is the only form of governance that is consistent with human rights. It allows women and men to enjoy equality, freedom, security and development.
The concept of democracy originated with the Enlightenment philosophers who argued that all people deserve to be masters of their own lives. In order to achieve this, citizens must have a voice in the larger social, legal and cultural environment.
This right is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as Article 21: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”. It is also a core principle of the United Nations.
Many people believe that democracy has a positive effect on the character of its citizens. It makes them stand up for their interests more than other forms of rule do and cultivates them into autonomous, active citizens.
It involves a public debate about the needs and problems of the common good that uncovers biases and fallibilities among political actors, and it helps to correct these biases and fallibilities. This type of collective decision-making is unique to democracy and it is necessary to realize public equality in a political society.
One of the epistemic justifications for democracy is that it tends to produce better decisions than other forms of rule do, in part because voters bring a wide range of diverse opinions to the political table and because they approach issues from different points of view and with different degrees of knowledge about them. However, the evidence that this is true has remained weak for long enough to make this idea vulnerable to critique.
Another common epistemic justification for democracy is that it makes the best possible use of the talents of citizens. This may be because citizens have a greater stake in the outcome of politics than they do in other types of economic activity, and this increases their commitment to democracy.
In addition, democratic decision-making tends to be more informed than other forms of rule about the interests and causal mechanisms that are necessary to advance those interests. This is because voters have a greater stake in the outcome of their own elections than they do in other types of elections and because their decisions often reflect the interests that they are most closely associated with, rather than those that they are least familiar with.
A third commonly-held epistemic justification for democracy is that the process of forming and governing government provides opportunities to promote social cohesion, tolerance and understanding among citizens. This is because the decision-making process involves an element of competition and a process that requires citizens to engage with each other in a way that they may not do otherwise, and it also means that citizens must learn to tolerate dissent.