Although democracy by its very name did not exist but prime examples in case could be the Indus valley civilization, struggles by the Achaemenids in Iran, Islamic state established at Madinah by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as they strived to attain a people-benefiting government based on equality, liberty and social justice at some level.
Origin and History.
Because it is made up of two Greek words, demos (people) and kracy (rule), the phrase democracy lexicographically means “rule of the people” (rule). It is a form of government in which the general public makes laws, sets rules and policies, and exercises different freedoms and powers. This concept is thought to have existed in some form in Ancient Greek society in Athens. Following that, democracy and its origin are linked to the French Revolution, in which the people rose up against tyrant monarchs, bringing attention to the concept of mass consent and contentment of those who are governed, which was discussed by influential philosophers such as Jean Jacques Rousseau in his theory of social contract. He claimed that a society is made up of a group of equal and free individuals who must come to an agreement collectively by surrendering individual wills to the collective or general will. This essentially laid the groundwork for democracy in Europe, as well as influencing other regions of the globe. The American Revolution followed, resulting in the establishment of some form of democracy in the region as a new political and social order, in which people had rights over their leaders, the supremacy of the law was respected, and the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people was firmly upheld by seasoned leader, Abraham Lincoln, and which still forms the vision behind democracy.
As monarchical institutions crumbled, democracy gradually stepped in to fill the void, liberating people from oppression and injustice. This was supplemented by colonial domination by European nations such as Britain and France in most regions of the world following the Industrial Revolution, which resulted in the exploitation of colonies at the price of the economic growth of mother countries. However, as the world became more globalized and political rivalries between powerful nations grew, the world witnessed one of the worst political disasters in the form of the World Wars, which engulfed most of the world’s regions and had long-lasting consequences, one of which was the exhaustion of colonial powers’ resources, leading to the independence of most nations until the mid-twentieth century. During the Cold War, these newly independent countries largely sided with democracy, either by adopting a democratic style of administration or by backing the democratic bloc led by the United States.
As the Soviet Union collapsed in the late twentieth century, failing to compete with the United States in the race to become the world’s superpower, Eastern European nations welcomed democracy as a better way to achieve social advancement, personal liberty, economic growth, and technological development. By 2017, 96 out of 167 countries with populations of at least 500,000 (57%) were democracies of some kind, and only 21 (13%) were autocracies. and other countries – 46, or 28% – exhibited elements of both democracy and autocracy. This statistic suggests that democracy is the dominant form of rule today and most nations of the world are working towards having a more democratic system.
The essential features of a democracy apply to everyone’s political, social, economic, and personal life. In terms of politics, it promotes a system that maximizes individuals’ freedom to participate in the government, either directly or indirectly, so that people are best represented, and the requirements of the common good are acknowledged and met. Because it is impossible to arrange a direct democracy among large populations in most countries today, indirect democracy is used. One of democracy’s most significant advantages is that it allows ordinary people to compete and contest, engage in elections, and vote, giving them significant power that was not available to them in most ancient cultures. A democratic political system is beyond electoral affairs as it also entails that the peoples’ representatives in the government will form laws and regulations formed democratically, that is only after a majority of the parliamentarians approve of it.
But as simply as we can say that political democracy is the best form of governance we must also ponder over its shortcomings. Whether it be first-past-the-post system, or be the unprecedented rule of majority in the name of democracy, whether it be number game in the parliament or be the inability of the common man to freely stand and vote in elections, whether it be defection by leaders of political parties to rival groups or be the lack of proper representation in legislatures according to gender, religion, race etc. In various nations around the world today, what we often hear or know about democracy is that it’s a game. Although many countries claim to be democratic, but it is important to grapple with certain questions like: are nations giving real power to their citizens to choose from different political groups or are people just making a decision between parties with different leaders and names but with the same political agenda, policy and thought; are people represented adequately or are already marginalized groups of the country further sided to the periphery and underrepresented; are current democratically elected presidents and prime ministers exercising their democratic powers as a head of the nation or are they interfering in decisions beyond their jurisdiction and falsely influencing citizens; are elections being carried out in an efficient, free and fair manner or are they regulated by domestic or international power holders to maintain corruption, power and the existing world order.
Apart from all these practical loop holes in the functioning of democracy, the deficiency of political stability adversely affects the economic growth and overall development of the nation.
Rights in a Democracy
A democratic society is primarily concerned with giving due rights, authority and certain privileges to citizens who aid in developing an egalitarian society. Since it works on the principle of equality and liberty each citizen of the country is considered to be equal and worthy of all the rights and privileges that any other citizen of the country may enjoy. Ideally everybody get an equal representation, opportunity and treatment in the society. Prior to this, no one could have imagined that a king or a monarch would allow his subjects to think or act freely because he was considered the best person to look after the kingdom and subjects. People were expected to worship and completely rely upon their leader, rather than thinking for themselves but democracy introduced a new concept into the social domain: people have rights and they are worthy of exercising them. The recognition of people’s social and civic rights and their enshrinement in the constitution is a tremendous achievement of democracy in and of itself. It is empowering to know that everyone may assert their rights and that there is a possibility of fighting for them if they are infringed by another person, social group, government, or even the court itself. This enhances the social system while also putting a check on a country’s democratic credentials. Although, the system is not designed to allow discrimination against other members of the society on the basis of race, religion, class, or caste, but because the voting agenda is often limited to these themes across the world, leaders and parties exploit these elements to acquire power. People with minimal political knowledge also have an equal voting share, thus they easily become susceptible to deceptive propaganda. Greek philosopher and thinker Socrates criticized democracy for giving powers to those incapable of handling it and said “Foolish leaders of Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.”
Apart from that, when national and regional politics, governments and courts, bureaucracy, and the fourth pillar of democracy, the media, generate bias toward one community at the expense of the other, the idea of social equality and a democratic society becomes a hoax, resulting in the dominance of one group and marginalization of the other. Over time, this nexus of diverse power holders tends to grant governments excessive authority, posing a direct challenge to democracy and pluralism. As far-right, ultra-nationalist parties are gaining power in many countries today, ‘othering’ of minority groups, discrimination, and the marginalization of some segments of society have become commonplace. Also, the rights guaranteed by different countries’ constitutions are not always fully executed, blurring the concept of social fairness and democracy and rights such as the right to freedom, health, and education, among other things are frequently denied. Furthermore, if one’s rights are equally valued, one’s right is likely to be infringed upon by the other, which is one of the fundamental issues that negatively impacts societies resulting in disputes in the long run.
Freedom and the Rise of Fascism
worldwide freedom has been declining for the 15th year in a row. The nations that are deteriorating outweigh those that are improving by the widest margin since the negative trend began in 2006, worsening the long democratic recession already in place. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s analysis also stated that about 70% of the nations included by the Democracy Index saw a drop in their overall score, with the worldwide average score falling to its lowest level since the index’s inception in 2006. This plainly indicates that democracy and freedom are worsening with each new day, despite our being duped into believing otherwise. It is erroneous to believe that nothing is changing, and rather than turning a blind eye towards the situation it is prudent to acknowledge that social and political realities are shifting, political repression, blatant breach of laws, and violation of human rights are escalating. Anti-democratic activities have risen at an unprecedented rate due to a variety of factors. The influence of right-wing organisations wielding substantial control over the government and the election of radicals to important posts in numerous countries is the most prominent example. This, along with the media’s anti-minority stance, the emergence of false news, and the use of social media as a propaganda weapon by those in power, has pushed people’s actual concerns about development, education, and healthcare to the back burner. This has resulted in leader-centric politics across the world, in which the prime minister or president is portrayed as an ideal and flawless leader who hides his flaws in the name of national interest. This behaviour is reminiscent of monarchies, in which the king was the supreme leader and was blindly trusted for the benefit of the realm. However, as history shows, the emergence of ultra-nationalism, excessive control and suppression of rights would inevitably spiral up to one-party control or dictatorships destroying nations. Gandhi once said “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?” drawing a parallel between democracies and autocracies, suggesting that democratically elected governments must be primarily concerned with the interests of the people to be successful otherwise they are equivalent to totalitarian governments and the recent trend proved it.
During the Covid-19 pandemic governments enjoyed unrestricted authority allowing them to impose ham-handed, severe lockdowns, conceal data on the number of people who died, and fail to provide necessary medical services. The country’s destitute and poor population, particularly in less developed countries, was left in turmoil. The pandemic was also used as a means to crush popular public protests by states like China and India. This was also followed by the descent of democratic politics in the US and all sorts of unpleasant scenes that came up. It is surprising to note, that since the past four decades US backed by many nations of the world tried to influence other nations to adopt democracy in the same fashion as it existed in the US, and used its hard power to ‘democratize’ nations, introduce western values and fought endless wars but in vain as none of the countries accepted its unnecessary foreign intervention. At other places, US tried to install puppet governments, supporting its ideology and sacrificed democracy by openly maintaining warm relations with monarchs and military dictators. Presently, the rise of communist China to the stage as a major economic power in the world, challenging the monopoly of the US and encouraging states like Russia to accelerate the pace autocracy in the country is also alarming for democracy. It also needs to be comprehended that the mechanics of institutions like the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and others which actively operate throughout the world and cater to the elementary economic, political and social needs of the global community are not democratic in nature. Rather than supporting smaller nations, meeting their needs selflessly and proving to be beneficial to the entire international community, they are largely operated by some governments for the purpose of bringing financial advantages to them and are contributing to the erosion of democracy, equality and justice in less developed continents of the world.
people are alert and conscious of their choices. Minute study of the world’s political systems from a historic perspective may also lead us to the examples of nations which were truly democratic, where consent of the learned, proportionate representation, social justice and public welfare were the defining characteristics of governments. Although democracy by its very name did not exist but prime examples in case could be the Indus valley civilization, struggles by the Achaemenids in Iran, Islamic state established at Madinah by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as they strived to attain a people-benefiting government based on equality, liberty and social justice at some level. It is also vital to realize that political orders whether good or terrible are never permanent and constantly move in a vicious circle of origin, rise and fall. However, it is the responsibility of citizens, active members of society, voluntary organisations, governments, and international bodies to keep a close eye on the leaders, political system, and social environment to ensure that the key principle of democracy is not sacrificed for meager, short-term power gains by some at the expense of the greater global good and as Charles W. Pickering, former American judge puts it, “a healthy democracy requires a decent society; it requires that we are honorable, generous, tolerant and respectful.”