Democracy is a form of government in which people have power over the decisions that affect them. The word comes from the Greek words demos (“people”) and kratos (power). It involves the active participation of all members of a society in deciding on laws and policies. This may involve direct referendums on issues or the selection of representatives to make those decisions. It also involves a system of fundamental rights, including the right to vote on issues, the right to have your vote count equally with others’ votes, and the right to gather information.
The most common justification for democracy is that it enables citizens to achieve more of the things they value. This includes economic growth, political freedoms, and a sense of shared identity with other citizens. Moreover, democracy entails a high level of protection for core liberal rights like the right to a fair trial and bodily integrity. In addition, it provides a forum for the peaceful expression of opinions and concerns about public affairs.
While these arguments are generally accepted as morally acceptable, the question remains of whether they apply to the current state of democratic governance. Indeed, most people are dissatisfied with how their societies function. A large majority of citizens believe that elections don’t bring about change, that politicians are corrupt and out of touch with ordinary people, and that the courts do not treat them fairly.
In contrast, a smaller number of people argue that democracy is essential for good life. For example, they argue that democratic governance creates an environment in which people can achieve greater prosperity through trade and open markets, where women have equal rights with men and are free from discrimination, where children are educated, and where all citizens have the right to basic health care.
The defenders of these arguments usually appeal to a variety of epistemic justifications for democracy. They claim that, by engaging in a process of consultation and discussion that uncovers social problems and needs, democracy produces better decisions than other forms of rule. They also claim that it can take advantage of the underlying cognitive diversity of citizens to solve collective problems.
Another group of arguments for democracy focus on the role that the social context and the conceptions of human beings and society from which a political system is developed play in determining its moral legitimacy. They claim that democracy is only morally desirable if it is associated with the requisite levels of urbanization, literacy, and wealth that allow for the kinds of compromises, cooperation, and shared identity required for effective democratic governance.
Finally, the defenders of these arguments claim that democracy is necessary to ensure the protection and fulfillment of people’s core liberties. They point out that a well-functioning democracy is the only one that is likely to provide the kind of support needed for people’s economic and personal lives. It is the only one that will guarantee the equality and security of people’s rights and the dignity of their bodies.