Democracy is a powerful idea that has inspired some of history’s most inspiring leaders and writings, from Pericles in ancient Athens to Vaclav Havel in the modern Czech Republic. It has also been used by totalitarian regimes to claim popular support, and is sometimes a tool of repression for the ruling classes.
Yet, as the world struggles to deal with the fallout of these regimes and fend off the rise of populist authoritarians, the concept is becoming more widely understood as something that can be created – not just in the ballot box but in every corner of society. It is an idea with the potential to reshape societies in fundamental ways, from how they manage their economies to the way that they organize their culture.
There are many different approaches to what defines a democracy, but they all agree that it is an electoral political system in which citizens participate in free and fair elections. Some go further and describe it as a liberal political system in which citizens enjoy additional civil rights, such as freedom of expression, and are protected from the state by means of checks and balances between parliament, senior government and the judiciary.
The definition of democracy is also sensitive to how it is interpreted. It is important that democratic principles are not trivialized, and that they are treated seriously. This is particularly true in the case of the right to equality, where the principle has been abused by totalitarian regimes and by the ruling elites in contemporary societies.
Democracy must be based on a fundamental respect for human rights, including the right to a life of dignity. This is crucial if we want democracy to be a real alternative to other forms of governance, and if we want the democratic project to be taken seriously by all those who wish to embrace it.
It is also important to remember that democracy should be viewed as a process, not a final state. It will be a long and difficult journey, and we must be prepared to face setbacks along the way. This is especially true as many young people have been disillusioned by the democratic experiment in the post-Cold War era, and as Russia and China continue to work relentlessly to undermine democracy globally.
To sustain the momentum of the democratic movement, it is essential to focus on the local level. It is important for young people to become engaged in civic and community activities, such as environmental groups or other protest groups that campaign against issues such as corporate exploitation, child labour or war. This will enable them to identify the particular issues that affect them and their communities, and to be able to bring their views to the attention of local politicians. This will help them to develop a deeper understanding of the democratic process and will allow them to become more informed voters. It will also give them a sense of the value of democracy and will be a good preparation for when they enter the adult world of work and politics.