Democracy is the name of a political system that allows everyone in a country to vote for who makes decisions on their behalf. It also gives people the right to speak freely and protest when those decisions go against their beliefs or interests. Democracy is not just about voting, though; it’s about being informed about government policies and being active in society, whether that means being a citizen lobbyist, running for office or joining a group that works to change an unjust law or practice.
The word “democracy” comes from two Greek words: demos, meaning the citizens of a city-state, and kratos, which means power or rule. The ancient Athenians are considered to have developed the first democratic form of government. Their system was unique in a world of monarchies and oligarchies at the time, because it allowed citizens to directly decide on their own laws and policies rather than relying on an elite group of officials to represent them in the assembly.
Today, there are many different forms of democracy around the world, from large countries with multiparty systems to small towns with one-person-one-vote elections. But despite the wide variation in political systems, people everywhere share many characteristics of a healthy democracy. These include a commitment to equality of rights and opportunities, free speech, the ability to organize politically and participate in community life, respect for differing opinions and freedom to peacefully solve conflicts.
Most people agree that democracy should be a key part of any modern, industrialized nation. It should be the default method for governing, and it should be available in all societies. But opinions vary widely about how well democracy actually works.
People’s satisfaction with their democracy depends on how well it protects core liberties and economic opportunity, as well as the quality of government policies. In general, most people are satisfied with their democracy if they believe that elections are fair and that their governments prioritize protecting the environment, economic opportunity and public safety. However, people are less satisfied with their democracy if they feel that their government is corrupt and out of touch, or that it fails to protect free speech, equal opportunity and freedom from violent crime.
The reasons for supporting democracy are complex and varied. Some people argue that it is a better way to manage the economy than non-democratic alternatives, and this view is strengthened by the fact that there is a strong relationship between democracy and high levels of economic growth. Other arguments are epistemic in nature, and rely on the idea that democracy promotes knowledge of the needs and interests of society by encouraging discussion and consultation with citizens (e.g., Dewey 1927).
Other arguments are normative, and focus on values that democracy is meant to embody. These include the idea that democracy is a good thing in itself, and that it should be seen as a minimum requirement for a decent world. These ideas are reflected in international norms and treaties that require democracy in all states, as well as in the Declaration of Human Rights, which lists a series of fundamental principles to which all members of society should subscribe.