Here is a compilation of essays on ‘Democracy’ for class 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Democracy’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Democracy
- Essay on the Meaning of Democracy
- Essay on the Forms of Democracy
- Essay on the Conditions Necessary for the Success of Democracy
- Essay on the Democracy in India
- Essay on the Liberal Democracy and Socialist Democracy
- Essay on the Difference between Liberal Democracy and Socialist Democracy
- Essay on the Difference between Socialist Democracy and Democratic Socialism
- Essay on the Classical Theory of Democracy
- Essay on the Constitutional Democracy
- Essay on the Merits and Demerits of Direct Democracy
- Essay on the Merits and Demerits of Democracy in General
Essay # 1. Meaning of Democracy:
Democracy is a derivation from two Greek terms “Demos” and “Kratos”. The former word means the people and the latter word means power. So democracy means “power of the people”. In democracy the preeminent factor is the people. There the government is run by the people and the main concern is the welfare of the people.
Democracy has a great educative force, because it strives for the development of the personality of the citizens. So democracy is not only a form of government but a kind of upgraded society. These are the warp and woof of a culture which may be called democracy culture.
There are several definitions of democracy Lord James Bryce defined democracy:
“Democracy is that form of government in which the ruling power is vested not in any individual, or in a particular class or classes but in the members of the community as a whole.” Albert Venn Dicey characterised it as – “A form of government in which the governing body is comparatively a large fraction of the entire nation.” Abraham Lincoln gave the historic definition by calling democracy as “government by the people, of the people and for the people.”
Sir John Seeley gave a simple definition by describing democracy as- “A government in which everybody has a share.” For John Spencer Bassett- “Democracy is a political method by which every citizen has the opportunity of participating through discussion in an attempt to reach voluntary agreements as to what shall be done for the good of the community as a whole.” As a matter of fact, democracy is both a form of government and a way of life.
Although democracy has a definite and set method of its own, it has such a strong appeal that everybody and every institution tries to go by the name of democracy. The position has been nicely delineated by Carl J. Friedrich- “Democracy has been the battle cry of the twentieth century.”
Everyone is for democracy as he understands it. In the USA democracy means the existing scheme of things or some idealized version of it or even what the men of Philadelphia intended the constitution to be. In Britain too it means whatever one considers the government and politics of the country to be, but also more particularly what the Labour Party aspires to and has been seeking to accomplish, when it has been in power. In the USSR and communist China such American and British views are laughed at as reactionary.
According to each, their particular brand of communism is ‘true’ democracy. Such democracy presupposes a classless society and can only come after capitalism has been destroyed by the dictatorship of the proletariat since the end of the Second World War, and especially in the period of the Cold War these classes of outlook became acute.
Essay # 2. Forms of Democracy:
There are two kinds of democracy. They are:
(a) Direct democracy and
(b) Indirect democracy.
(a) Direct Democracy:
It takes the form of such government in which all the adult persons gather in a public place to make laws, pass budgets and elect the executive. This type of government was possible in small city-states of Greece where the entire population of the city could assemble. It is not suitable for a large state. According to Esmein- “Direct democracy simply involves an appeal from knowledge to ignorance and from responsibility to irresponsibility.”
More importantly, direct democracy might have been possible and desirable in small countries like ancient Greek and Roman city-states where population was very few and life was very simple. The system is not appropriate for modern large states which have a complex life.
The vastness of the modern state and its huge population and, above all, the large size of the electorate will make it unworkable and even impossible on financial and administrative reasons. Now it is to be found in five cantons of Switzerland.
(b) Indirect Democracy:
It is also called the representative form of democracy. It is that form of government in which the people themselves do not make the laws, pass the budget and elect the executive. In an indirect democracy the people elect their representatives and these representatives make laws, pass the budget and elect the executive. In all modern states democracies are indirect. Thus England, the USA, France and India have indirect democracy.
Essay # 3. Conditions Necessary for the Success of Democracy:
Democracy in the world is plagued by several maladies. As a cure, different philosophers have suggested different needs which include the reform of the electoral rolls, introduction of referendum, initiative and recall and increased cooperation of the people in the public affairs and improved capacity of the citizens.
But consensus among the political philosophers is that the following are the basic needs for the success of democracy:
A proper education is a must for the success of democracy. The sentinel of democracy is an educated and enlightened public opinion. Wide dissemination of knowledge and universalization of education is the pillar of democracy.
According to Dr Rajendra Prasad:
“Education is a power by itself and in any case a person bereft of it cannot have any chance of either realising himself to the full or making any effective or worthwhile impression on the policies and actions of the government of his country and region.”
Minus education, democracy will degenerate into mobocracy. Speaking at the Harvard University in 1987, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi asserted that in spite of widespread illiteracy, predominantly among the rural people, India could still be a democracy. He seemed to suggest that as far as democratic thoughts and exercise of wisdom, democratic rights and norms are concerned, common sense is more important than literacy.
A democracy without wisdom is a potential anarchy. Training in and education for democracy is of the utmost importance if our conception of freedom is to prevail, for, as the Archbishop of York stated in the British House of Lords on 15 July 1942 – “The most dangerous of all forms of government is that of an uneducated democracy. It has no power of criticism and is at the mercy of any demagogue and of any dictator.”
Eternal vigilance is not the price of liberty atone. It is a price of democracy too. It makes demand on ordinary citizens to take part. But the lazy people say – “Oh! Leave it to someone else”. But if they leave it to someone else, sooner or later they may fall under a dictatorship and that will be fatal. Alertness on the part of the citizens is another big foundation of democracy. Without it, democracy will be usurped by the demagogues.
The Germans lost their democracy during the time of Adolf Hitler for want of constant vigil on the rights of the people of Germany. Hitler cleverly raised the dream of democracy before the people only to crush it. Unfortunately, for the want of alertness on the part of the people they could be so easily played into the hands of a potential dictator. This should be an eye-opener for all right thinking democrats.
Let us have a look into Bangladesh. That country established democracy in 1971. But soon the Bangladesh army liquidated the freedom-loving Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and captured power. Once again the wily politicians met with the same fate and put the country under military dictatorship.
This had been possible because there was no political awareness among the general people of Bangladesh. What happened in Pakistan and Bangladesh will not take place in England or the USA because there the people are politically conscious. This political vigilance is a must in a democracy.
3. Decentralisation of Political Powers:
Democracy functions effectively if there is a hierarchy of powers from the centre to the village unit. This kind of elaborate system of local self-government will train the people in the art and science of the government. Thus more power should be decentralised into the Panchayats and civic bodies. This type of democratisation of the institutions will minimise the scope of anybody to misuse the mechanism of the government.
Perhaps there is no better suggestion on it than that given by Dr K. N. Katju – “If I have my way, I would enact a law which would prescribe that no person should be elected to a legislature unless he or she had worked either in a municipality or in a Panchayat for minimum period of three years. A municipality gives the necessary experience in administration and tests in the individual members as to whether they would really serve the people or serve themselves.”
4. Civic Sense:
In a democracy the maximum participation of the citizenry is assured. There is a corresponding civic responsibility from the side of the citizens. The citizens should have high sense of moral rectitude. If the citizens idle away their responsibility there is an end to democracy.
In the absence of selfless devotion to the public good, democracy is maimed. Democracy is indeed a difficult government, because it presupposes civic capacity on the part of the citizens. According to Lord James Bryce, this capacity consists in “intelligence, self-control and conscience.” So Mrs. Indira Gandhi rightly said – “Democracy is the best form of government, but it is certainly the most difficult”
5. Spirit of Tolerance:
Democracy is a government of the majority. What should be the attitude of the majority towards the minority? It should be one of sympathy and tolerance. A religious and linguistic majority must not disrespect the similar sentiments of the minority. The majority must hear the view-point of the other people.
According to Mahatma Gandhi – “Evolution of democracy is not possible, if we are not prepared to hear the other side. We shut the doors of reasons when we refuse to listen to our opponents, or having listened, make fun of them. If intolerance becomes a habit we run the risk of missing the truth.”
According to Rajiv Gandhi – “Democracy means discussion. There is no place of violence in a democratic set-up. Tolerance is necessary for the success of democracy.” Thus democratic virtue is humility, because humility is needed for tolerance. But here is one thing the democrat cannot tolerate, namely injustice. His vigilant sympathy must be directed against all kinds of injustice.
6. Freedom of Speech Association Arid Press:
The bedrock of democracy is freedom of speech, association and press. If not democratic personality of a citizen cannot be fully blossomed. Democracy demands that all sections of the people should be taken into confidence as far as practicable. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi said – “Dialogue is the essence of democracy. In giving power to the people we have engaged in the most extensive process of consultation since independence”.
If there is no individual liberty there is no democracy. This liberty includes the freedom to freely and without fear express the views either in a public speech or in newspapers and other literary media. Man is a gregarious animal and as such there must be a guarantee of free association to mobilise public opinion. These are the three levers of democracy.
7. A Written Constitution Containing Fundamental Rights:
A written constitution is better than an unwritten one, because in it all the powers of the authorities and the rights of the citizens are put in black and white. If there is no written constitution, the rights of the people will be vague and uncertain. Fortunately, the constitutions of India, France, Australia and the USA have written provisions in which the fundamental rights are guaranteed.
Although the constitution of England is an unwritten one the fundamental rights are enshrined in the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. If the guaranteed rights of the citizens are taken away by any authority, the people can depose the government and establish a better one.
8. Separation of Power:
The theory of separation of power came as a safeguard of democracy. It enables different departments of government to act as checks and balances against each other’s power. It guarantees the equal representation in the sharing of power to every section of the government.
According to Charles-Louis Montesquieu, the father of this theory, concentration of powers of law-making and law-enforcing and law-interpreting in the hands of one person or body will be the very definition of tyranny. In operational terms this theory requires certain sequence in the functioning of the government. The legislature, in this system, should have, an open debate on the subject and pass it by a majority decision.
In the second stage the executive has to translate it into action. Judicial review will come in the third stage, in case there is an excess of arbitrariness in so executing the will of the legislature in the executive. The third stage by the most important check in this system, since the executive very often bypasses the legislature.
9. Opposition Party:
An effective opposition party is a shield of democracy. This is well stated by Lord Clement Attlee – “Democracy owes a good deal to the attacks of its opponents because it makes us conscious of what our democracy is.” Actually the opposition party works as the mirror of the government and enables the government to correct the wrongs.
According to Chakravarty Rajagopalachari:
“A strong opposition is essential for the health of democratic government In a democracy based on universal suffrage, government by the majority without an effective opposition in like driving a donkey, on whose back you put the whole load in one bundle. The two-party system steadies movement by putting a fairly equal load into each pannier. In the human body, two eyes and two ears enable a person to place the objects seen and heard. A single party democracy soon loses its sense of proportion. It sees but cannot place things in perspective or apprehend all sides of a question”.
10. Democracy is a Myth without Economic Equality:
It implies that there must be an economic democracy for the success of political democracy. If money is allowed to be accumulated in the hands of the rich few, how can the poor effectively exercise their democratic rights? It is said that in England the Bank of England rules and the USA has a dollar democracy.
This economic inequality eats out the vitals of democracy. If there is a right to work, a right to minimum wages and if the industries and big businesses are taken over and run by the government, democracy stands on a better footing.
The democratic people must be fearless and brave. Timid people do not deserve it. The most essential prerequisite for the successful functioning of democracy is that the people must be strong and courageous. If love for freedom dies in the hearts of the people, they will lose the ability to say “no” to an unprincipled direction of the boss and will compromise their dignity and human values for paltry gains. In such a condition democracy cannot survive. They must ceaselessly and fearlessly criticise the government that seeks to trample their liberties.
It is a truism that any political party, when it comes to power, tends to behave less democratically, for the power it acquires has a corrupting influence. The people must, there for, be always vigilant to their rights fearlessly. Otherwise, they will be in danger of losing their freedom.
Citizens’ Participation in Democracy:
One of the essential features of the government is the enlightenment of the citizens. This enlightened outlook enables the citizens to have meaningful participation in the democratic process. This participation may be positive by supporting the government in power. It may also take a negative form by protesting and opposing the government in power.
This participation may be at various levels of involvement. In order to make the participation effective and bring in a real input in the system, there should be freedom of expression. The freedom of the press and the mass communication media should become forums for free expression of views. The right to protest against the action of the government is a fundamental right and proper assertion of this right keeps the government on the democratic path of not only being responsible but also responsive.
It may be noted that the concept of civil disobedience of Henry David Thoreau from whom Gandhi learned the political movement of civil disobedience is an expression of the right of protesting against the actions of a government.
In a democracy the political system works on delicate balance which is maintained by acting on the enlightened and informed criticism. Thus in order to secure a meaningful participation of the enlightened people, the citizens should have access to and knowledge of all the affairs of the administration. Otherwise they will lose the status of citizens and will be reduced to the position of “subjects”.
According to Thomas Jefferson, the citizens have the right to “alter” or even “abolish” the government when it becomes “destructive”. President Woodrow Wilson went to the extent of asserting that, “If we forget how to object, how to resist, how to agitate, how to pull down and build up, even to the extent of revolutionary practices, we shall forget the very principles of our origin.”
Essay # 4. Democracy in India:
History of Democracy in India:
It is well-established that democracy as a form of polity and as a way of life is not at all alien to the Indian soil. Indian civilisation through the ages has been based on some of the most foundational norms of democracy like that of the role of the elected representatives in the social system and the equality and weal of all men and women.
With the ancient sabhas and samitis and their highly sophisticated procedures, the elective kingships, the republics, the janapadas and the village panchayats, gram sabhas and gram sanghas, India may be said to have been the cradle or the home of democracy and to have given the democratic ideals to the rest of the world.
The Rigveda and the Atharvaveda also speak of the assembly of the whole people (the samiti), the council of elders (the sabhas) and elected kings. This shows that democracy as later practised in Greece was already in existence in ancient Indian polity. It cannot, however, be denied that the modern concepts and structural patterns of democracy developed only during the nineteenth century in the West and influenced the evolution of the democratic norms and institutions everywhere.
India is a Democratic Country:
There is no doubt that India is a democratic country. The adult citizens of India after every five years, through secret ballots, elect their representatives in the Lok Sabha which is the lower house of the people. The ministers are chosen from among the members. The council of ministers is answerable to the Lok Sabha collectively. There are some rights which are considered fundamental and the courts of law, particularly the Supreme Court of India is the guardian of the fundamental rights.
All people are considered equal in the eye of law and there is no discrimination between man and man on grounds of religion, language, caste or sex. The President is the constitutional head like the Queen of England, while the Prime Minister is the real political executive. Any Indian can stand as a candidate for the post of the President or Prime Minister, no matter whether he is rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim.
Indian democracy is said to be better than even that of England and the USA. If India had followed the Margaret Thatcher brand of democracy, Mrs Indira Gandhi would have continued her emergency spell for a longer period. This was not possible because India has a written constitution.
British democracy, on the other hand, has been senile and many people are demanding a written Bill of Rights and an elected upper house in place of the House of Lords, which is packed with cronies of former Prime Ministers. Indian democracy will never accept such a situation. That India has a better democracy than that of the USA is brought home by Lord Clement Attlee – “India has practised democracy on a scale that even put the United States of America in the shade.”
India is the lighthouse of the democratic movement in the third world. The entire Afro-Asian world derives its democratic model of government from India. We conclude with the observation of Lord Clement Attlee – “Whenever there is a democratic movement in Asia and Africa too, they look to India, because India is the spear-point of democracy in Asia. India might have taken the torch from Europe, but it is burning brightly in India’s hands.”
Hindrances (Obstacles) for Democracy:
The above discussion must not blind us about the hindrances that are plaguing the growth and healthy functioning of democracy in India. These are by and large religious evils associated with ignorance and superstitions. In spite of outward pretension to secularism, our rulers are rather of medieval mentality and obscurantist to the core.
Even after forty-five years of independence, the Sati, child sacrifice, congregation of millions to wash their sins in the Ganga, and religious rivalry are very much in evidence.
The progressive erosion of English education is closing the windows through which we could look out into the world of science. Whenever a Hindi film heroine is in difficulty, she goes to a temple to pray and immediately God showers blessings on her! Such blind faith has stifled the spirit of enquiry and lulled us into inaction. We build more temples, mosques and gurdwaras than schools, libraries and hospitals.
Like many Muslim countries, fundamentalism has raised its ugly head in India. The Sankaracharya of Puri considers Sati a sacred act. Such a person should have no place in a civilised society, but here he has millions of followers. Thus some evil aspects of Hinduism are also responsible for retarding the growth of democracy in India.
It is common knowledge that Hinduism, as distinct from Christianity, is characterised by a hereditary caste system that runs completely counter to the spirit of democracy. Thus, we see that over every government proposal to abolish the caste system an alarm is raised by people on the upper rungs of the caste ladder.
Even the Marxist leaders, who are upper caste Hindus, yoke caste and communism together instead of trying to abolish the former. Reservation of jobs in service and places of educational institutions for backward castes could not have been justified in terms of democracy but for the recognition of caste distinctions in our society. Social reforms like abolition of caste system must be carried out first for Hinduism to survive with dignity before its first traditions and practices are upheld in the interest of democracy.
Essay # 5. Liberal Democracy and Socialist Democracy:
Democracy may be either of liberal brand or of socialist type. Both groups calls themselves the real democrats, calling others undemocratic. This is so because the term democracy is a very elastic conception. This made Bernard Crick remark – “Democracy is perhaps the most promiscuous word in the World of public affairs.” Let us first know the genesis and characteristics of both the expressions and then go to study their difference.
Genesis and Characteristics of Liberal Democracy:
It is not possible to define liberal democracy. We can point out some fundamental features of liberal democracy. S. E. Finer and Alan Ball, the two exponents of the expression liberal democracy, have different sets of characteristics for this sort of democracy.
For Finer, liberal democracy has four salient features. The first characteristic feature of liberal democracy is an elected legislature, sometimes with an elected head of state. The legislature represents public opinion through free elections, freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association.
The second important feature is its accountability of the consultative and advisory bodies to the legislature. The third element of the system is the social and economic checks and balances through a network of centres of private power.
The fourth hallmark of liberal democracy is a system of political checks and balances in three ways:
(1) Separation of powers which means that the government should be organised into three organs, namely – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, each with different spheres of activities;
(2) Division of legislature into two houses called the upper house and the lower house; and
(3) A two-tier governmental functions, one for the centre and the other for the provinces.
Alan Ball, the other authority on liberal democracy, assigns to it the following seven elements. First, there must be multiple political parties to compete for political power. Second, such competition for political power must be free and open. Third, it is open to all to stand as a candidate for any post of political power. Fourth, there will be elections at regular intervals on the basis of universal adult suffrage. Fifth, there will exist civil liberties like freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of religion.
The press, radio and television, which are agencies of public media, will not be under the exclusive control of the government. Sixth, there will operate some kind of separation of powers between the executive, legislature and the judiciary. The seventh hallmark is the pressure groups which will assert themselves in regulating the policy decisions of the government. The government will not control the trade union and other associations.
A wide range of population scattered over all the continents is covered by liberal democracy. England, France, the USA, India, Japan have liberal democracy.
Marx’s Theory of Democracy and the Genesis and Characteristics of Socialist Democracy:
The political form of the socialist state is called socialist democracy. A socialist state may be democratic or dictatorship in political nature. When the political form is democracy, it is called socialist democracy.
Distinguished from liberal democracy, which the Marxists call bourgeois democracy which is marked by private ownership of means of production with the inherent exploitation of the poor by the rich, the Marxists consider socialist democracy as the only genuine democracy because there is no exploitation of one class by other since there is complete public ownership of means of production. The other shining aspect of it is that the citizens are given economic rights.
There is a popular belief that Marx was an anathema for democracy. In effect, Marx was a believer in democracy, of course in his own way. Marx wanted to replace the existing democracy which he called bourgeois democracy, a concept equated with what we call liberalist view of democracy.
Marx called his democracy “socialist democracy”. Marx also wanted his democracy to be a rule by the people. But he gave different connotation of people. For him, it does not include the rich exploiters, feudal lords or similar other stocks. His people include only the proletariat class i.e. the working class. The power must belong to the workers and the peasants, who will establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. This will be built on the debris of capitalism.
Marx appreciated the liberal democratic system in as much as it terminated the era of feudalism. Liberal democracy, in its turn, will be replaced by socialist democracy in which there will be no unemployment, starvation, poverty or anything of like nature. The Marxist democracy has three aspects – social, economic and political.
In the social plank, it will obliterate class contradictions; in the economic front, it will establish common ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods; and in the political arena, it will establish the rule of the people through their free and voluntary associations called the Soviets.
To say in the words of Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels:
“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonism, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.
The Marxian theory of democracy underlined the need for economic equality which is a must for a socialist democracy. Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto recommended ten measures for adoption by the progressive countries of the world.
(i) Expropriation of landed property;
(ii) Heavily graduated income tax;
(iii) The abolition of all right of inheritance;
(iv) The confiscation of property of emigrants and rebels;
(v) The centralisation of credit in the hands of the state;
(vi) Centralised control of the means of communication and transportation;
(vii) Increase in the number of state-owned factories;
(viii) Equal liability of all to labour work;
(ix) Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; and
(x) Free public education.
The Marxists believe that with the implementation of the above measures, economic power would be equi-distributed and economic equality will be ensured. Thus the Marxian democracy is nothing but economic democracy.
Alan Ball suggests the following four elements as the basic features of socialist democracy. In the first place, there shall be a socialist ideology formulated and espoused by the government. In the second place, there will be complete public control in all avenues of life, political, social and economic.
In the third place, there is total absence of separation of powers and total denial of independence of judiciary. Finally, there shall be only one political party which is identifiable with the government.
Essay # 6. Difference between Liberal Democracy and Socialist Democracy:
Liberal democracy and socialist democracy differ on the following points. In the first place, unlike private property which exists with liberal democracy, there is no private property in socialists democracy. In socialist democracy, the means of production are complete public ownership.
In the second place, in a liberal democracy the people are given only political and civil rights like right to property, right to freedom of speech and expression which are not available in a socialist democracy. In contrast, the people are assured right to work, rest and right to security in old age, which are a far cry in liberal democracy.
In the third place, the print media like newspapers and electronic media like cinema, television are in the firm grip of the government in a socialist democracy, while these are left free in liberal democracy.
In the fourth place, the governmental noose is tightened over the trade union and voluntary associations in the case of socialist democracy. In juxtaposition, liberal democracy prefers not to interfere in those areas.
In the fifth place, liberal democracy permits any number of political parties as required. But in a socialist democracy there is only one political party.
Last, but not the least, is that the concept of separation of power with independence of judiciary is enthroned in liberal democracy. In a socialist democracy, the difference between the executive, legislature and judiciary is totally obliterated.
Essay # 7. Difference between Socialist Democracy and Democratic Socialism:
Although socialist democracy and democratic socialism look very much alike, they are quite different cups of tea. Socialist democracy is a kind of democracy. It is more socialist and less democratic. Its goal is socialism. In contrast, democratic socialism is more democratic and less socialist.
Socialist democracy is opposed to liberal democracy. Democratic socialism, on the other hand, is not opposed to liberal democracy and at times the two are almost the same. Democratic socialism is a kind of socialism which abjures violence and attains socialism by peaceful means as against the use of force. Otherwise, it is a half-way socialism in as much as it believes in private property, more than one political party and allows private bodies to control the means of production.
It is liberal socialism, because it upholds the concept of separation of power and maintains the dignity of independence of judiciary. England, the USA, France and India are examples of democratic socialism, because in these countries the government has a welfare programme very much like socialism and at the same time keeping all the trappings of liberalism like free press, free political party, free elections on the basis of universal adult franchise and private property for the citizens and allowing both private and public bodies to control the means of production.
In all these counties the power is captured by a non-violent method through secret ballots, as against use of force which is the method of the Marxists capturing power. There is definitely exploitation of one class by another. So in this way we find democratic socialism merging with liberal democracy. The example of socialist democracy is People’s Republic of China and the now defunct the USSR. In both these countries socialism in its full blast existed.
Essay # 8. Classical Theory of Democracy:
The basic theory of democracy, as it is handed down to us by the Greeks, is rule by the people. Pericles called it “people’s power” and Herodotus explained – “Rulers are accountable to the people for what they do therein.” In the eighteenth century Roussueau underlined the popular participatory aspect of it and following him, John Stuart Mill also highlighted people’s participation in the governance of the country as the best form of government.
Although Rousseau and Mill were the principal votaries of the classical theory of democracy, they were joined by several other political thinkers like John Locke, Edmund Burke, Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Green, Albert Ven Dicey, James Bryce, A. D. Lindsay and Harold J. Laski. Since Rousseau and Mill gave a complete picture of classical theory, we shall discuss their views as the basic features of the classic theory of democracy.
Classical Theory of Democracy as given by Rousseau:
Rousseau gave a very clear exposition of the classical theory of democracy by emphasising on the individual’s participation in the policy making functions of the government.
The following are the details of what he meant by participatory democratic theory:
(i) In all major decisions of the government an individual citizen must have his say;
(ii) Individual participation will ensure protection of private property and good government;
(iii) Participation will prove that he is master of himself and not slave of somebody’s decision;
(iv) By participating in the public life, an individual will enhance his prestige as a member of the community;
(v) This will induce him to evolve socially responsible actions and as such, the participation will have educative value;
(vi) The participatory process will lead to economic equality and freedom.
According to Rousseau:
“No citizen shall be rich enough to buy another and none as poor as to be forced to sell himself”.
Classical Theory of Democracy as given by Mill:
James Stuart Mill buttressed Rousseau’s classicism and fitted it into the modern state.
The following are the main planks of Mill’s participatory process:
(i) Following Rousseau, Mill wanted that the individual should take public interest to widen his outlook;
(ii) Participation must begin at home i.e., in local bodies on a limited scale and then application of the experience in bigger experiments;
(iii) The most capable person should be voted to power. This public responsibility requires education. An educated person should have more votes than the uneducated ones;
(iv) Mill wanted that the participatory functions should be extended to the industries;
(v) Individual right is so remarkable that the opinion of the entire nation cannot and should not silence the minority decision.
Defects of People’s Participation:
Critics attack the participatory process on the following counts:
In the first place, if the uninterested and ill-informed people are asked to participate in the policy making functions of the government, it will do more harm than good.
In the second place, no state has gained by increasing the number of voters, if the voters are not enlightened and dutiful. Best few must be better than bad many. The illiterate voters misuse their votes and even sell their votes. This will bring democracy to its knees.
In the third place, the elitists believe that the art of politics might better be left to the most enlightened minority. Leadership of the country cannot be left to the voters. This will create chaos and confusion.
In the fourth place, if the voters themselves are to evolve the defence and foreign policy, it will be a bad day for democracy. This will result in the tyranny of the masses. This will be unworkable in a vast modern state.
Lack of representation will make the government in the hands of unresponsive and unscrupulous persons and will thereby weaken the political system. With the loss of participation, political education will be on the low key. Whether it is possible or not, our ideal should be to have individual participation. A least in the field of ideology, participatory democracy is the best one.
Elitist Theory of Democracy:
The elitist theory of democracy is the opposite term of classical theory of democracy. We have noted that the emphasis of the classical theory of democracy is on the participatory process of each and every individual citizen. All should have a say in the policy making function of the government.
In contrast, the elitists believe that only a few persons are enlightened and efficient enough to run the government and so these privileged few, who are more intelligent, should alone be invited to hold on the reins of political power. Thus a minority of population will rule over the majority of the population.
The term elite stands for the chosen element in the population. All men are not equal. Some are more equal. Actually these ‘more equals’ constitute the elite. Suzanne Keller defined the elites as: “Elites are those minorities which are set apart from the rest of society by their preeminence in one or more of these various distributions.”
This idea is as old as the Greek political thinker of fourth century B.C., namely Plato. In his Republic, Plato reserved political power for the philosophers so much so that he believed that the evils of the society can be removed only if the philosophers made the rulers.
To say in his words – “Until philosophers are rulers the cities will have no rest from their evils.” In the system of slavery, the freemen who are elites ruled over the slaves and in the feudal system the barons ruled over the serfs. In today’s South Africa, the minority whites are ruling over the black majority. The elitists support a kind of aristocracy or oligarchy.
The authors of the elitist theory are two Italian sociologists, namely Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca. Later on a disciple of Mosca, Robert Michels, developed the theory in Germany. Then came four more elitists in the scene. They are O.Y. Gasset, James Burnham, C. Wright Mills and Harold Lasswell. According to Pareto, the present history is the history of the relation between the elite and the non-elites. The much more numerous class acquiesces in subordination to the elites who rule over them.
The elites have all the qualities of the lion and fox. We know that Machiavelli made his prince the embodiment of the fox and the lion. Robert Michels openly uses the word oligarchy to explain his view of the elitist – “He who says organisation, says tendency to oligarchy. The machinery of organisation completely inverts ‘iron law of oligarchy’.
James Burnham and C. Wright Mills are of the view that economic and social power was the most pivotal factors in the game of elite letting down the non-elites. They took their cue from Marxism. The elitist theory starts with the premise that there is an inherent inequality among the people, politically, economically and socially and that the chosen element of the population must have an exalted position in the society.
It is in this context that Maurice Duverger suggested that the erstwhile theory of government by the people should be replaced by government by the elite sprung from the people. This chosen element is found in a family club, trade union, bureaucracy and armed forces too. The elites grow up as a result of heredity, skill in arts and literature, position in ruling class and bureaucracy. They have both material affluence and physical strength.
Criticism of the Elitist Theory of Democracy:
The following sharp criticisms are levelled against the elitist theory:
(i) The elitist theory supports inequality and moves the slate-craft in the back gear. It encourages racial discrimination of the type of apartheid in South Africa.
(ii) It ignores the mass people who are the very basis of democracy.
(iii) It cuts the society into two artificial blocs by driving the wedge between two artificial segments of people.
(iv) It concentrates powers in the hands of the bureaucracy without any definite authority to supervise over it. The system is bound to degenerate into corruption and final ruin of the nation. As Lord Acton said: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
(v) The privileged few to have the monopoly of power is nothing short of oligarchy or aristocracy. There cannot be any such oligarchic element or aristocracy in democracy.
(vi) All major revolutions of the world took place in protest against the privileges enjoyed by the chosen few in exclusion of the mass people. So, the elitist theory is danger mark in political system.
Although as an ideal we cannot support the elitist theory of democracy, in practice it is an admitted fact that in all forms of government the switchboard of power is in the hands of the elites, because they are efficient and most competent to do so. It is true that inequality is bad, it is equally true that inequality is the order of the day everywhere. So although we may not support elitism, there is no way out.
Essay # 9. Constitutional Democracy:
Division of power is the basis of constitutional democracy. This is also called constitutionalism. Constitutionalism may be monarchical or it may be republican, it may be aristocratic or democratic. When the people of America speak of “democracy” they usually mean constitutional democracy. Of course there are those who would define democracy simply as the rule of the majority without any constitutional framework within which such majority decisions are to be made.
Such absolute democracy is, however, rare in the history of political institutions and nowhere to be found in contemporary Europe or America. Constitutionalism is an achievement of the modern world. It is a very recent achievement and it has by no means became stabilised.
Essay # 10. Merits and Demerits of Direct Democracy:
Like all institutions and concepts in political science direct democracy has both bright and dark sides. The other name of direct democracy is pure democracy.
Merits of Direct Democracy:
The most remarkable advantage of a direct democracy is that it offers direct participation of the citizens in the affairs of the government. The logic in support of direct democracy is that if democracy is a government by the people it must be given to the people directly and completely. Otherwise, democracy will not function effectively. In that sense, the representative democracy or indirect democracy is to be rejected as half-democracy.
Secondly, if the people are directly involved in the formation of the government, in making law or similar key roles in the run of the administration, they will take more and lively interest in public affairs. It is seen that when the final task is done by another set of people, the former set of people do not take much interest in it, because they feel that there are some other persons to give it final shape.
It is pointed out that, by keeping an intermediate body between the people and the government, a representative democracy or indirect democracy establishes a gap between the people and the government. This is against the very spirit of democracy.
Demerits of Direct Democracy:
The most serious demerit of direct democracy is that it is out-dated and out-molded and not at all suitable for a modern state which is very vast and so cannot be brought under the umbrella of direct democracy. No doubt there was a time in the past when the small states in Greece and Rome were directly and efficiency ruled by the people. Such tiny states are no longer available in the modern world.
Today’s states are very vast with a huge population. Let us take the case of India, one of the largest democracies of the world. How can all the people of India gather together in one place and make laws for the whole of India?
There is no such big area to accommodate all the people of India. Again, if all the people go to that place to make laws for India, who will look after their jobs like cultivation, works in the factory, teaching in the educational institutions, etc.? This will create chaos and confusion all over the county. So, on the ground of inexpediency, the pure democracy is to be discarded.
Secondly, if the entire population is to run the government from making law to its implementation, we are to assume that all people are equally intelligent and equally capable for all such work. But our experience is that all people are not equal in calibre. It is a common knowledge that the fools, idiots, beggars, the illiterate mass have no capacity to understand the art and science of government. It will be too much to strain their efforts to carry on the administration.
It is a fact that some people are more trained and capable in running the government. So they alone should be given the job. They can be directly elected by the people and as the representatives of the people they will carry on the political game.
A secondary body like this is also necessary to check the passion and impulses of the common people. It is seen that the mass people go by passion, not by reason. Their representatives, who will be more reasoned and seasoned, should be given the task of running the country.
Essay # 11. Merits and Demerits of Democracy in General:
Merits of Democracy:
First, democracy is ethically sound because it is opposed to the idea of one man ruling over another man. In a democracy no individual or a group of individuals but the entire community is vested with sovereign power. According to John Dewey – “The foundation of democracy is faith in the capacities of human nature, faith in human intelligence and in the power of pooled cooperative existence.”
Only that person is said to be free who possesses a vote and shares in determining state policy and electing the government. John Stuart Mill said – “What toucheth all should also be decided by all.”
Secondly, democracy promotes the common welfare of the people Democracy caters to the needs of all because all shades of opinion represent the government. In such a system, a citizen is the ruler and at the same time the subject and thereby it conforms to the axiom that a just government is a government by consent of the governed.
In this context John Stuart Mill said:
“The participation in governmental affairs lift the individual above the narrow circle of his egoism and broadens his interests. Democracy makes an individual interested in his country and gives him a sense of responsibility.”
Thirdly, it is in democracy that the concept of rule of law can have a full play. According to this concept, which came from England, nobody is above law and everything must be done in accordance with the mandates of law. This principle is not only a replacement of the personal rule of a King but also a brake on the misuse of power by the government or any authority.
Fourthly, democracy nurses the spirit of patriotism and nationalism of the people and evokes spontaneous obedience to law. In a democracy the people feel that they themselves are the government and the nation rolled into one.
This is rightly stated by John Stuart Mill:
“Democracy strengthens the love of country, because the citizens feel that the government is their own creation and the rulers their servants rather than masters.” This idea tinctures into them a spirit of patriotism and nationalism.
Fifthly, a democratic form of government cannot be tyrannical or oppressive, because it is responsible to the people at large. In a democracy the government is voted to power by the people and is answerable for its actions and policies to the rock-bottom of the people. If the government fails to fulfil the aspirations of the people, it will be overthrown by the people in the next election. Again, there are free press and strong opposition which keep the government on guard.
If the ruling party goes astray it will be outvoted in a vote of no-confidence. So a democratic form of government is a responsible government. In defence of democracy John Stuart Mill wrote – “The whole people or some numerous portion of them exercise; the governing power through deputies periodically elected by them.”
Sixthly, a change in the government in a democracy is effected not in a violent way but through a peaceful method and thereby ensures a stability in administration. No other form of government has such a peaceful transition. When a revolution took place in England in 1688 to replace the disliked King James II by Willaim III, this was done without inviting any bloodshed. So democracy is capable of meeting this type of national crisis peacefully.
This is a singular advantage of the democratic form of government.
So A. D. Lindsay rightly maintained:
“A democratic society sure of itself can be indefinitely elastic in its methods. It can, as in a time of crisis, give enormous powers into the hands of the government, in cheerful confidence that, the crisis past, it can take them away.”
But this is not possible in any other type of government. This peaceful transition’ makes the government durable. As R. G. Gettel rightly observed – “Popular intelligence and virtue are its most valuable results. Popular election, popular control and popular responsibility ensure not only efficiency in government but also stability in the state.”
Seventhly, democracy guarantees equality and liberty. Democracy makes no discrimination between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, and the wise and the fools and throws open all the opportunities, in the state to all the citizens of the state. Freedoms of all types are thereby ensured to all the citizens.
There is equal treatment for the son of a minister and the son of a peon in a democratic state. Similarly, the Hindus and the Muslims, or, for that matter, all men of different faiths, are never discriminated in the enjoyment of liberties. So John Stuart Mill emphasised – “Democracy is superior to other forms of government because the rights and interests of every person are secure from being disregarded.”
Eighthly, democracy ensures openness. One of the characteristics of democracy is its openness. The people value the performance of such democratic norm on the basis of availability of information, which they gather from a free press. Again, in the protests of the opposition and the public pressures made in the legislature are found other guarantees of openness of the government in a democracy. The parliamentary control over public policy through democratic debates preserve the endurance of the government.
The dictatorial or a totalitarian system, on the other hand, operates in the mystiques of secrecy. In such a system, politics is rather exclusive and insulated. Thus dictatorship follows the guarded path, as a result of which the administration becomes a professional hideout of secrecy and confidential activities.
In such a system popular participation in the administration is absent and the committed model of bureaucracy keeps public administration loyal, efficient and secrecy-oriented. There stricted norms of secrecy are demanded and adhered to in public interests. But this keeps the government weak because it has no knowledge of what the people are thinking of the government. Since there is everything open in a democracy, the government knows the pulse of the nation. That is why there is practically no revolt or coup d’etat which is very common in dictatorship.
Finally, democracy contains a unique educational value and an assurance for freedom. Democracy goes hand in hand with education and self-government. All citizens are trained in the lesson of making laws, enforcing them and how to contribute their utmost in the welfare of the state.
Both the ruling and the opposition parties bring the benefits of political education at the national, provincial and village levels. In a democracy the entire nation is graded from the top to the bottom with the lessons of political education and self-government.
Demerits of Democracy:
In 1900, democracy was looked upon as the final form of government for all civilised states. It was assumed that all policies on social, economic and international aims came within the framework of democratic government. But many an African and Asian countries that attained independence and established democracy as the form of government had to give up and surrender to military dictatorship.
There the “Humpty Dumpty” of democracy “had a great fall” and were replaced by dictatorships. These threw challenge to the bases on which democracy as a form of government stands. These were indications that all was not well with democracy. As moon has its dark spots, democracy always does not present a totally rosy picture.
The major drawback of democracy is that its accent of emphasis is on quantity rather than quality and thereby democracy imposes the tyranny of the brute majority. It does not recognise the inherent inequality in the calibre or wisdom which differs from man to man as a biological fact.
Thus when quality is ignored and the idiots are brought into prominence, democracy becomes a government by the ignorant and the unintellectual. So H. L. Mencken accused democracy for standardising life on a low level as if all wisdom lies with the inferior four-fifths of mankind. A. J. Carlyle called this multitude “mostly foolish”. The brute majority of mechanism established the rule of the fools over the intelligent ones who are in the minority. Thus what we get in a democracy is simply the tyranny of the people on the ground that they are in the majority.
This type of tyranny has a tendency to curtail the liberty of the individuals. Thus in India in the name of internal security or defence of India the people are locked up in jails without trial. It is for this reason that William Edward Lecky condemned democracy as opposed to liberty.
Secondly, democracy breeds inefficiency and corruption. In a democracy the administration is as slow as snails. It is marked by the red-tapsism of the bureaucrats in a way that everybody’s business is nobody’s business. It is for this reason that Emile Faguet calls democracy as “cult of incompetence”. The other inherent flaw of democracy is that it is incapable of meeting any emergent situation like the First World War and the Second World War, with the result that many democratic countries had to assume dictatorial power to meet the war situation.
The elements of corruption in democracy are “spoil-system”, “lobbying” and “log-rolling”. The self-seeking leaders enter into coalition with seemingly unacceptable parties and to stay on power by distributing offices and various kinds of favouritism Thus democracy is a breeding ground of inefficiency, nepotism, jobbery and favouritism. So Jawaharlal Nehru complained – “The speed of change in a democracy is obviously somewhat slower. The processes are slower than in an autocracy or authoritarianism.”
Thirdly, democracy encourages unhealthy party politics and discourages literary and artistic activities. In a democracy things are seen not with one’s own eyes but through the eyes of the party bosses. So the party-men falsify facts, distort issues, make false propaganda and appeal to the emotions of the masses. Not only that. It is indifferent to the cause of education, literature and fine arts. So all great centres of education were established under the patronage of the absolute monarchy.
The famous literatures like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata did not flourish under democracy. The same is true with regard to the architectures and sculptures of Ellora, Ajanta and the Taj Mahal. So C. D. Burns is of the view that – “Democracy produces a civilisation which is banal, mediocre or dull.”
Fourthly, democracy is an expensive plutocracy. The decentralisation of government for the sake of self-government and the entire election system are very expensive. Thus huge money is spent in the general elections or the presidential election and the election of the civic bodies.
Thus it is burdensome and very often grinding on the developing countries. Democracy does not ensure liberty or equality. In effect, in a democracy the rich classes and ambitious leaders exploit the ignorant and the simple masses for their selfish gains. So Freitschke called democracy “a corrupt dollar worshipping plutocracy or oligarchy of the rich.” Well condemned American democracy as “corrupt plutocracy”.
The merits of democracy must outweigh its demerits. Democracy stands for life and progress. Under favourable conditions it gives encouragement to self-reliance, initiative and responsibility. It holds authority in trust and guarantees equal considerations for all.
According to J. W. Goethe, democracy must be recommended as the best form of government because – “What is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.” Democracy is a tender plant and it needs to be nourished and watered by hands of faith. This done, Switzerland is a shining example of the success of democracy. So we may conclude with the words of Indira Gandhi – “Democracy is the best form of government, but it is certainly the most difficult.”