Democracy: Merits and Demerits
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Herodotus, the Greek writer, defined democracy as that form of government in which the supreme power of the state is vested in the hands of the community as a whole.
The most modern definition of democracy was given by President Lincoln, who said that ‘democracy is the government of the people, for the people, by the people’.
In the modern world, democracy has been accepted as the best form of government, although its successful working depends on certain pre-requisites.
Democracy has been defined variously by different writers. It has been described as a form of society, as a form of state and as a form of government.
As a form of society, democracy has been regarded to exist where all citizens are socially equal, irrespective of their material wealth and social status.
As a form of state, democracy means that in a democratic state every section of the people is equally represented in the legislature through election, on the basis of adult franchise.
As a form of government, democracy means that in a government people participate directly or indirectly through their representatives.
Merits of Democracy
Real democracy repudiates all privileges of a special class or men. In a democracy, the principles of liberty and equality are very important factors, because it is only the people, who possess the right of vote for selecting their representatives entrusted with powers to run the government of the state.
In a democracy, all are equal before law. The people themselves make the rules and policies of the state through their representatives for the welfare of all classes of people, but not for a particular class. The rights and interests of every section of the people in a democratic state are adequately safeguarded. It can command the resources of all, because it stands for the benefit of all.
Democracy casts an ennobling influence on the minds of the people, because every citizen knows that it is his own government. It broadens the vision of all, neutralizing the inherent selfish tendencies of human mind.
In a democratic regime, a sense of public spirit and responsibility develops in the mind of every citizen. Above all, democracy offers greater personal freedom to every citizen of the land. It stands against any suppression of thought, speech or association. There are the very fundamentals, which constitute a real democracy.
Democracy does not accept the idea that the state is an end in itself. The state is a means for the welfare of the people. The greatest virtue of democracy is that it stands for the unfettered development of the human spirit and free expression of the human mind.
Demerits of Democracy
There are many critics of democracy who condemn it on various grounds.
It has been said that the ideals of democracy are not capable of fulfillment. They say that for being a success, a real democracy requires a highly conscious social element possessing high civic qualities.
Intelligence, self-control and good conscience are pre-requisites for citizens to have a successful democratic society.
A majority is devoid of the capacity to understand the interests of the community. As a whole self-interest is generally pre-dominant and a majority of the people is unwilling to subordinate it to the general will of the community.
Some critics have said that it is a system of government by the poorest, the most ignorant and the most incapable.
Democracy has been characterized by these critics as mobocracy, as the ignorant people are easily led away by unscrupulous demagogues. According to them democracy produces quantity rather than quality. This rule of majority has at times proved to be the most incompetent and worthless. Some have also charged democracy of arousing class passions and a sense of intoleration.
The world has been experimenting with so many systems of government, but no other system could satisfy the basic needs of the people. So, democracy has been accepted as the best form of government where a man can really enjoy equality of opportunity, liberty and freedom.
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Democracy and Its Needs
`Democracy,’ defines Bernard Shaw, ‘is a social order aiming at the greatest available welfare for the whole population and not for a class.’ Democracy has many merits. Freedom and equality are its essential concepts. That is to say, there should exist respect for the individual as the supreme motive of power.
Perfect democracy can be achieved by educating all people in a country. People should be made to realise their social and political responsibilities. They should have a complete knowledge of democratic living and democratic form of government. Constant vigilance is the price of democracy.
The success of democracy largely depends on its power to produce the right type of leadership. The things to come are determined by the thinking, value and beliefs of these leaders. They should be conscious about the essence of democracy.
Freedom of expression and a well motivated public opinion through an impartial media will help to achieve effective democratic value. People should be more active and vigilant in the democratic form of government, since it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Other essence are recognition of the rights of minority, uniform justice throughout the country to citizens to have a right to fight for justice etc.
Holding free and impartial election ensures democracy in true sense. To achieve all these essentials a basic economic independence of all citizen is a must for democracy.