The word democracy comes from the Greek words demos (people) and kratos (power or rule). It is a system of government that relies on the people to make decisions and to provide feedback. Democracy thrives when citizens use their freedom to participate in civic life, whether it’s voting, protesting or taking part in other civic activities such as volunteering or activism. This participation ensures that the people’s views are reflected in decision-making and gives them power over their own lives.
However, democracy has its challenges. As the world faces rapid change, some people have doubts about the value of the popular vote and of democracy in general. Others feel that it is being threatened by the rise of populists and demagogues who threaten liberal values. And a growing number of people in the developed world are frustrated that their democratic institutions do not respond to their concerns about the environment, globalization and inequality.
A strong democracy requires compromise, cooperation and trust. It depends on a society that supports its members, protects their rights and provides them with opportunities to fulfil their potential. It needs an effective government that is transparent and accountable, and a well-functioning civil society that is active and reaches out to all groups, including the poorest and most excluded. It should also be built on a foundation of fair rules that govern behaviour and that are clear, widely understood and well enforced.
In the face of these challenges, democracy must be resilient and adaptable. It must be able to weather seismic shifts in public opinion and political trends, as well as changes in technology, demographics and culture. And it must be able to respond to crises by providing people with the tools and incentives to take control of their lives, their communities and their futures.
But how can we tell if a democracy is healthy? And what does it look like when it’s under threat? The answers are complex. But in the long run, a healthy democracy is defined by several fundamentals:
– People have freedom of speech and association, and can move and speak freely (as long as they don’t harm others). They have the right to choose who makes decisions for them, and the law must treat everyone equally and fairly.
– Opposing views are tolerated and respected, and people have the right to assemble and to petition their government. They can also be heard, and laws should be clearly written and enforceable.
As the Economist’s Democracy Index shows, many countries struggle to meet these criteria. In 2020, for example, most nations saw their score decline as they imposed lockdowns and other restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The exception was Taiwan, which jumped to 11th place after reforms in the judiciary. As a result, the average score for the world fell to its lowest level since 2006.