Functions of democracyed

What is democracy for?

 The purpose of democracy is often questioned, as it is commonly regarded as the most effective form of government for a civilized society. Winston Churchill famously described democracy as the "worst system, apart from all the others," highlighting its flaws despite its widespread adoption and vulnerability.

Here are some of the features of democracy which are cited as its strengths.

  It provides Representation. There must be a means for the people to put their views to the government of the day. This can be through elected representatives or directly in assemblies of the people or juries.  Democracy is therefore responsive to popular opinion.

■  There should be Accountability. In a democratic system, there should be a mechanism for the current government to justify and be accountable for its actions. This can occur during elections, where the performance of the existing government is evaluated, elucidated, and scrutinized. Accountability should not be limited to election periods; governments should remain transparent and be prepared to defend their actions at all times. Errors, blunders, and wrongdoing should be subject to scrutiny. Accountability also entails providing some form of remedy, such as correcting mistakes or compensating those affected. Furthermore, governments must be subject to public judgment through frequent and fair elections.

Democracy requires Participation. There must be a way in which the people can be engaged and take part in the political process. At the very least this should be by voting in regular elections, but this can also mean forming or joining parties, engaging in debate, protesting, creating or joining pressure groups and participating in citizens juries.

■ Democracy Limits Power .  At  the least this is through  elections which can remove governments. There should also be a system that ensures power is spread across different political bodies to avoid one body becoming overly dominant. This principle of the Separation of Powers- generally means that those institutions which make the laws should not be the same as those who enforce or apply the laws. It should also mean there is no monopoly on information- a free press and access to information is necessary to limit the power of government. 

■Democracy leads to Education. The political process should be open to all and there should be an educated and informed citizenry who are able to understand the issues and make informed decisions. Elections produce debates, arguments and the consideration of alternatives. People are better informed and seek to know more.

Are all of these arguments valid? 

What conditions are necessary for democracy to work in this way?

Does democracy always work this way?

Can democracies fail?

Anthony D. Romero makes the case for liberal democracy using a 14th-century fresco by Italian Renaissance master Ambrogio Lorenzetti. 

Compare the case made above with George Bush speaking in 2001 about the strengths of democracy and how it leads to good government.

You can see the main advantages - to avoid tyranny, to find a source of legitimacy based on reason rather than religion, to allow individuals to flourish, and to avoid resorting to violence for the resolution of conflict.   In this sense, democracy is an optimistic enterprise and is underpinned by a belief that human beings will rise to the challenge.

However there is always a nagging doubt that this will not always be true- As Winston Churchill also said 'The best argument against democracy is five minutes conversation with the average voter'- Does representation distance the average voter from direct decision-making? Does limited government mean short-term policies and failure to deal with pressing problems? Does argument produce agreement or division?

The Greek philosopher Plato believed that ‘the people’ would not respect decisions made by their peers, For Plato, people should be ruled by their superiors. The authority granted to a leader, he thought, would be more respected than popular decision-making. Lack of respect would lead to disorder. Furthermore, left to make their own decisions, people would fall prey to rabble-rousers and demagogues. Plato also noted that democracy treats everyone as equal, in terms of knowledge and understanding, when, in reality, they are not equal.

The democratic process continues to provoke debate, criticism and frustration. This has led to calls for the return of popular democracy, including referendums. Populist leaders have been elected cross the world and China has presented itself as an alternative to the western liberal model.