Turn on your TV and switch to a news channel. Take a pencil and a sheet of paper and prepare to take notes. Your aim is to count the use of one of the most popular words in the modern world. This word is democracy. I bet you will hear it at least 5-6 times within an hour. The word democratic has almost become a synonym to such adjectives as ‘good,’ ‘fair,’ and ‘equal’ (George 324). Politicians use it to evaluate the domestic and foreign policies of their neighbors, opponents, and allies. Simultaneously, it is obvious that in many cases, this word is misunderstood, as well as used for manipulation.
What is democracy? Why has it become the cornerstone of modern civilization? Democracy can be understood as a process of people governing their state and managing community affairs based on consensus (Howards 27). Though democracy is often defined as a form of government, to my mind, it is more reasonable to contemplate it as a process, a constant opportunity by which citizens may bring changes into their social and political life.
The origins of democracy lie in Ancient Greece. This term was constructed from two Greek words: ‘demos,’ which means ‘people,’ and ‘cratos,’ which means ‘power.’ A long time ago, Greek men used to gather in the town square to make decisions about urgent political issues. Greek democracy was direct—not only in the sense that citizens could vote for decisions personally, but also in the sense that they could control the political process and the authorities. It must be pointed out that back then, not everyone could take part in voting—this privilege was only available to male citizens. Slaves—and ancient Greece was a slavery state—and women could not affect social and political life (George 76).
Along with the population’s growth and the complication of political processes, it had become almost impossible to conduct direct democracy. This led to a representative democracy—the model which is used all over the world today. It may be constitutional, parliamentary, or presidential—the main feature is that people affect political life through the representatives they have chosen through elections (Howards 35).
Modern democracy implies many privileges that ancient Greeks did not know of. For example, people now can vote regardless of their gender, skin color, social status, or financial position. Democracy is considered to be the optimal way to run the state, however many critics talk about democratic tyranny and even the injustice of this form of government (Howards 56). Imagine that in a presidential election, 49% of the electorate vote for one candidate, and 51% vote for another. The second candidate wins the election, but what about those people whose interests are subjected to the will of the majority?
Democracy is a complicated and versatile phenomenon that can be studied from different approaches. However, as Sir Winston Churchill had said once: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”
George, Michael. Does Democracy Fit Best? New York: Blush Press, 2008. Print.
Howards, Ramon. Democracy as Its Own Founder. Boston: Rival Publishing, 2003. Print.
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Related Writing Guides
Writing a Definition Essay
For many of us, the notion of “democracy” is buried in school textbooks or is something that only happens once a year when we vote. We don’t often realize that we can change the status quo – we can define for ourselves what democracy means for us. We can have a role in influencing decisions that affect us on a regular basis – not just when we vote.
People across the country are coming together to share their ideas and opinions with others and to work together to create better communities on a wide range of issues such as education, food security, racial equity, community-police relations, and building prosperity. We asked people working towards change in several communities what democracy means to them, and this is what they said:
"Democracy.....just a word unless it is about people living and working together with respect and equal rights and elected leaders who value and practice the same.
My commitment will always be to find ways to encourage more people to take part in the process at the local to national level!"
"For me, democracy is a work in progress, with the emphasis on work. It means having a voice and using it. (I just called my Senator! In a vital democracy, I’m at liberty to do that.) Democracy dares to make room for all kinds of people and ideas. It gives us the privilege of listening and learning from one another, without fear. And it requires us to be 'actors.' It’s a gift, not a birthright. "
"Having just read “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein, I’m sobered about the difficulty of democracy as new forms of colonization and theft of resources are sanctioned by international bodies purporting to address human rights and social need. Democracy is really about neighborhoods, cities and towns and advocacy groups that work through coalitions for the broad interests of as many residents and citizens as possible. I don’t think government is “broken”, but it’s slow. Capital is fast. Capital is able to manufacture consent and maneuver in any context, without moral compass, accountability or sense of interdependence on a green and blue earth. Organize."
"What democracy means to me is a government obeying our Constitution and staying out of individual citizens' personal lives. This means allowing citizens to make their own decisions for their own personal lives, making mistakes and all. It means not having politicians in office who believe citizens freedom of speech should have any limits. It means that government does not have any authority to take any individual right away or change it in any way. Our individual rights are God-given rights to all and no human can take those away. America is a Republic because a democracy doesn't work any more than totalitarianism, marxism, socialism or any other -ism. And America will stay a Republic, 'if the people can keep it that way through the election process.'"
"To me democracy means we're in this together & we share responsibility for the outcomes of govt."
-@socialcap (on Twitter)
"Democracy is the embracing of independence to actively engage in the ever-changing society of which I live to protect its existence and to ensure an appreciation with grace for all those that fought and continue to fight for its survival."
"Today is for red
and white and blue,
but what does democracy
mean to you?
Freedom to live
in safety and peace,
and to seek that for others
so all will increase.
With freedom comes
to be engaged and to grow
Stripes show us red
and white today,
but blue shows us stars
which light our way
You are the star
that we are waiting for;
so step out and be counted
on November 4 (2)."
"Democracy for me means the alienable right of self determination and participation in governance by the consent of the governed."
-Ronald Randolf Winley
"Democracy to me means decision-making and deliberations by all affected."
"In a Democracy that believes in diversity, equality and a government for, of and by the people, the most important tool we have as a society is the tool of communication. Communication is a skill, just like music, athletics or academics, a skill that must be practiced, honed and advanced. The quality of our communication helps our relationships, our communities and our society. The quality of our communication affects the quality of our well-being. It is through communication and deliberation that our forefathers built the foundations of this great country and it is through our everyday democracy that we will continue to be a great country."
"To me, democracy means that government derives all of its authority from the people, and all of the people have a voice in government policy -- not just an elected elite or self-appointed partisans -- but all the people."
"Democracy is a way of living and working together based on freedom, equality, justice, and mutual respect."
"Democracy means freedom and the responsibilities that come with that freedom: the responsibility to be educated and informed; the responsibility to vote; the responsibility to give back to the community; the responsibility to listen openly to opposing points of view and learn from them; and the responsibility to participate respectfully in the democratic process."
"Democracy means that no matter the circumstances of your birth you have a right for your voice to be heard and to seek to have that voice be represented in government"
"Democracy means to me exactly what Tony Judt describes it to mean in his April 29, 2010 essay in the New York Review of Books, titled Ill Fares the Land. I cannot say this nearly as well as he has, but his perspective on democracy resonates and is completely aligned with mine:
'Though I am now more sympathetic to those constrained to silence I remain contemptuous of garbled language. No longer free to exercise it myself, I appreciate more than ever how vital communication is to the republic: not just the means by which we live together but part of what living together means. The wealth of words in which I was raised were a public space in their own right-- and properly preserved public spaces are what we so lack today. If words fall into disrepair, what will substitute? They are all we have.' "
"Democracy means that 'We, the People' includes EVERYONE (regardless of race, class, religion, education, sexual orientation, gender, ability, etc.), & everyone has an equal chance to participate in ALL levels of our society. "
"Democracy for me is more fundamental than a political philosophy. It is the human struggle for the shared life of community. Democracy, unchecked, leads to oppression. Our work is to ensure that we build a community that protects every group and every person…particularly those we dislike."
"To me, democracy means having the same freedoms and rights as everyone else, regardless of your ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status. It’s a beautiful thing, democracy."
"Democracy means that everyone has a voice and that every voice matters. It is something that may never be achieved to its full potential, so the journey toward democracy is constant, but absolutely necessary."
“Democracy is a journey. Sometimes the road is smooth, sometimes rough, but each step brings up closer to the ideal. We’re on the path, but not there yet.”