The Relationship between Democracy and Political EqualityJune 28, 2021
Democracy is often referred to as the method that gives all citizens a stake in political decision making.
However, the word “democracy” is used in a number of different ways. As a matter of fact, two views of democracy that have the potential to contradict each other come to the fore. The first of these emphasizes the necessity of the members who bring the population together to have a chance to participate in the government, usually by voting. The second emphasizes the necessity of a democratic state that reflects the real privileges of the people, even if they are too ignorant to know where their privileges come from.
Here we will focus on the first type of democracy. In ancient Greece, democracy was a city-state where people/citizens were ruled by citizens, not by a group (oligarchy) or a person (monarchy). Athens is often seen as a model of democracy, but in this democracy, where women, slaves, and non-citizens are not allowed to participate in the city-state, it would be wrong to assume that all people participate in government. No democratic state allows all people under its auspices to vote: Examples of these incapable people are a number of people who are incapable of understanding what they are doing, such as young children and the severely mentally ill. However, a state that rejects the political participation of a large part of the people today cannot be called a democratic state.
1. What is Direct Democracy?
The former democratic states were direct democracies; in other words, those who had the right to vote were discussing and voting on every issue instead of electing representatives.
Direct democracies can be implemented where there are few participants or relatively large numbers of decisions to be made. The practical difficulty of large numbers of people voting on wide-ranging issues is extraordinarily large, although the electronic communications network may eventually make this possible. However, if this difficulty could be overcome, in order for direct democracy to produce reasonable results, voters would need to have a very good grasp of the issues they voted on, which would require programmed and time-consuming training. However, it would be too much to expect from all citizens to follow all the relevant issues and to have the same level of knowledge of all these issues. Indeed, as a result, today’s democracies are representative democracies.
2. What is Representative Democracy?
In a representative democracy, elections are held with voters choosing the representatives they want most. These representatives then take part in day-to-day decision-making processes, which can be determined by some democratic principles. There are several ways in which such elections can be conducted: some are based on the majority decision, while others, as practiced in the UK, are based on the rule of the party with the highest number of votes, even if the majority of the electorate does not vote for the party in question.
Representative democracies ensure the administration of the state by the people in a number of ways. These democracies can ensure the rule of the people as long as they are elected by the people. However, these representatives, once elected, do not feel that their approach to particular issues is constrained by the will of the people. Frequent reruns provide a safeguard against abuse of power: representatives who do not respect the wishes of the electorate are unlikely to be re-elected.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Atatürk University Department of Sociology Lecture Notes for Grade 1 “Introduction to Philosophy” and Grade 3 “History of Contemporary Philosophy” (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook; “Introduction to Philosophy” by Nigel Warburton