Democracy is any form of government where people have a direct or indirect role in making decisions about policy and law. Traditionally, this has meant voting in free and fair elections, but it can also mean giving input into decisions or running for office. Democracy can have a host of different features, but at its core it is based on the idea that all humans are born equal and are entitled to be listened to.
Democracy has spread to many more countries than in the past and many are now liberal democracies. This is a good thing, as democratic countries appear to be better governed and able to sustain their own growth over the long term than autocracies, and they tend to promote more peaceful conduct between themselves and with other nations.
But democracy is not a fixed idea and it needs all of us to make it work. The more voices that are heard, the more robust and inclusive the discussions will be. That could be by voting, protesting, or even by simply talking about the issues with others.
In the modern world, most democracies are liberal democracies that combine the principle of equality with limited government and a market economy. They are often described as representative democracies because citizens elect representatives to represent their views and interests. But they can also be characterized as constitutional democracies, participatory democracies or civic-based democracy.
Some argue that democracy can be improved by increasing the number of people who participate in the decision making process and by giving them more real power. They say that this will help ensure that the decisions are made more fairly and will lead to more stable societies. This is known as democratisation theory.
Other theorists take a more philosophical approach and argue that there are intrinsic values in democracy, independent of any results. They claim that democracy encourages people to think more carefully and rationally about their choices because they have to justify them to other citizens, and it makes it difficult for people to claim ignorance or bias.
There are many debates about the exact meaning of democracy and how it can be best implemented. One criticism is that a democratic system will tend to reward short-term thinking by politicians, as they have to worry about winning the next election and so may prefer policies that benefit them immediately. This is called democratic heuristics.
A further argument is that a liberal democracy will always have some inequalities, whether because of differences between people or the limits on what can be achieved with the available resources. For example, some have argued that there is no such thing as a perfectly egalitarian society. However, other arguments point to the fact that there is no evidence that a well-functioning democracy has any negative social effects and that it can be very efficient at producing economic wealth. Some studies suggest that there are ways of limiting inequality within a democracy without sacrificing efficiency.