"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."
Winston Churchill, Politician
The term democracy comes from the Greek term dēmokratía, which means “rule by people”.
Democracy can be regarded as the opposite to the classic dictatorship regime.
In many Western countries, democracy is the foundation of human freedom and economic success.
However, there are also some disadvantages related to democracy. In this article, the pros and cons of democracy are examined.
One advantage of democracy is that it lowers the level of inequality compared to other regimes. For instance, in a dictatorship, there are often huge levels of inequality since the dictator can choose which group of people he wants to favor.
On the other hand, in a democracy, there is at least a certain level of equality assured by legislations so that no group of minorities can be discriminated too much.
Democracy also assures the maintenance of human rights. Through legislations and other judicial frameworks, human rights are promoted and assured in most of the democratic countries.
In contrast, when we take a look at dictatorships, human rights are often suppressed and not valued at all. In fact, dictators often fully neglect human rights and just act in a radical political direction which aims to sustain the dictator’s power.
Democratic countries also often preserve the religious freedom of people. For instance, if you live in a democratic country, chances are that you will be aloud to pray and to act out your religious beliefs without having to fear any sentences as long as you do not harm others or engage in extremist activities.
In contrast, in dictatorships, the level of religious freedom is often pretty confined and people are even sentenced to death in some countries solely due to their religious beliefs.
Similar to religious beliefs, many democracies also ensure the freedom in cultural values. For instance, if you come from a foreign country and have special cultural norms and values, you will be free to live according to those values as long as they are in line with the respective law.
In countries that do not have an intact democracy, you might not be able to have a freedom in cultural values since dictatorships often suppress all other ways of life that are not in line with their own cultural attitude.
Education is crucial to succeed in all parts of life. That’s way it is so important that everyone has access to proper education. However, while in most democracies, the access to education is rather easy, at least in many Western countries, in countries without democracies, it is pretty confined.
The rulers of those countries often do not even want the general public to get proper education since they fear that they might lose power due to those improvements in education over the long run. For dictators, it is much better to keep the general public uneducated in order to sustain their power.
In a democracy, people have much more chances compared to radical dictatorships. For instance, in democratic countries, people are often pretty free regarding their job preferences and also gender discrimination might be much lower in most democratic countries.
People are also better able to express alternative lifestyles in democracies compared to dictatorships. Thus, the overall opportunities for the individual are usually much better in a democratic country.
In general, even though the majority is often better off than minorities, there is far less discrimination compared to radical dictatorship regimes.
While in democracies, people have a certain level of tolerance which may vary depending on the respective country, in dictatorship, minorities are often treated quite poorly and not equal to the rest of the population.
Also the individual level of freedom is much higher in democracies compared to other political regimes. In democracies, people are usually free to do whatever they want as long as they do not hurt others and comply with the local laws, which are often pretty generous.
In contrast, the level of freedom is pretty confined in dictatorships since dictators often fight the individual freedom since they fear revolutions if people become too aware of what is going on in their country.
The decentralization of power is another main upside of democracy. History taught us that too much power of single people could lead to disastrous outcomes. By confining the power of politicians, horrible decisions like starting wars might be prevented since other politicians or political parties may veto against those decisions.
Since people are free to vote for the politician or party they trust, they may have a better feeling of participation and may have a higher level of identification with the political decisions those politicians will make. Thus, democracy may lead to a state where people can identify more political decisions, which in turn leads to a higher level of acceptance of the general public.
Compared to other regimes, in a democracy, the overall level of empowerment of people is generally much higher. People are often free to do whatever they want as long as they obey the local laws. People can take part in their hobbies, meet friends and do many other things they like.
In contrast, in dictatorships, this kind of empowerment may be pretty confined since dictators don’t want people to engage and talk to each other too much since they fear that people may strive for a political revolution at one point in time.
In a democracy, people are also aloud and even encouraged to participate in elections. This give people the opinion to vote for their favorite politicians or party and therefore to determine to a certain extent how the country’s future might look like.
In contrast, in dictatorships, people are never aloud to voted and the dictator determines what might be best for the country and, often much more important, for himself.
In a democracy, it is often also guaranteed that the political power shifts to other politicians or parties over time. In many countries, there is a limit of years a politician can stay in power.
When this period of time is over, he is forced by law to hand this power over to another politician which is often determined by the general public.
Thus, by setting those limits, democracies can avoid autocracies which might lead to adverse outcomes for the majority of the population.
For a free democracy, it is also crucial that people are treated fairly in several parts of their daily life, including judicial decisions. In most democracies, there are laws in place that guarantee a fair and equal treatment in court.
In contrast, in other political systems, this justice might not be guaranteed and minorities might often become victims to quite unfair judicial treatment.
In a democracy, if you want to become a politician, you are basically free to join a political party. If the members of the party share your attitude, you might have a good chance to get up the political latter and to become an important politician one day who has the power to really make an impact.
In other political regimes, this would often not be possible since rulers are often not willing to let their power go and may suppress other parties who want to get more power.
Since people are allowed to vote in a democracy, the chances for revolutions and civil wars decreases. People are usually willing to support the decisions made by politicians since they voted them and agreed to their political attitudes.
Even though people might not conform with all political decisions, the likelihood of people willing to accept the whole political framework is quite high in a democratic country.
Many people in democratic countries are even quite proud of their political values. Therefore, democracy may also contribute to patriotism and a high level of self-identification of the general public with political decision makers.
Democracy may also have the power to avoid global conflicts. For instance, in a dictatorship, a single person may be able to start a conflict if he wanted. In contrast, in democratic systems, politicians can veto against such extreme decisions, which may prevent conflicts or even wars in the worst case. Thus, democratic systems may be able to prevent the death of many people due to warfare.
The transition process regarding changes in political leadership is often quite smooth and without problems in democratic countries. This ensures that the political and social stability of a country can be maintained.
In contrast, in other political regimes, political leaders are often killed or chased away through revolutions, which often leads to a vacuum of political power and high levels of instability for the respective country.
Through democracy and the related freedom of mind and attitudes, it is less likely that a high number of people engage in extremist activities since flawed arguments can be exposed quite easily through the spread of news in social media or other platforms.
Therefore, democracy can also mitigate the foundation of radical organizations to a certain extent.
Also from an economic perspective, democratic countries often have an edge over dictatorships. For instance, companies are often much more eager to invest and to open branches in countries that has a stable democracy since they do not have to fear to become expropriated.
It is also much easier to get qualified employees in democracies compared to dictatorships since highly educated people value their individual freedom and want to rather stay in a democratic country than in a country with a political regime that suppresses human freedom.
Countries with democratic regimes often have it much easier to find global trading partners. Many countries refrain from trading with dictatorships due to violation of civil rights and other issues, which gives democratic countries an edge when it comes to gains from international trade.
Even though democracy has many important advantages, there are also some downsides to it. One problem of democracy is that important decisions often take quite long until everyone agrees. Most of the time, there have to be plenty of compromising in order to pass a law. This may be a big issue, especially if decisions are time-critical and long delays may lead to serious economic or social issues.
Politicians in democracies often also waste plenty of time on unnecessary discussions about minor things that actually do not matter in the big context of a problem at all. Those minor discussions may further delay important political decisions.
Democracy can also imply significant costs. There are a high number of people in congress which want to engage in political discussions. However, all of those people want to get paid, and many of them earn a pretty good income. Thus, if there are too many politicians around, this might get quite costly for taxpayers.
Even though minorities are treated better on average in democracies compared to most other political systems, in some countries, minorities may be still left behind. Since politicians often focus to get the votes from the majority of the population in order to be elected, the needs of minorities may not be the focus of many politicians.
In the context of political decision making, lobbying activities often play a crucial role in democracies.
For instance, if an industry in a country is quite strong and important, they may have plenty of influential people that have good contacts to political decision makers, which may influence political decisions.
Thus, if economic interests and social interests diverge, politicians may prefer to act in line with economic interests instead of social interests.
Politicians may also have their own interest in mind in a democracy, similar to dictatorships. In case their political survival is on the line, politicians may act in a way that favors them instead of doing what would be beneficial for the general public.
In many democratic countries, politicians do not have to fear to be sued if they cause damages related to their political decisions. This may give politicians room to act in their own interest instead of representing the interests of the general public.
In many democratic countries, the outcome of an election is vastly determined by how much money a candidate can spend on advertising.
Thus, if one candidate gets plenty of donations from big companies while the other candidate struggles to get sufficient funding, the candidate with much more money will often win the election.
Therefore, even if elections are often proclaimed to be fair, the outcome of election significantly depends on how much money a candidate can spend on his campaign.
Most of us have experienced this quite often. Politicians promise a lot, however, once they are elected, they will not be able or even willing to implement those promises into real political decisions. In order to be voted, politicians are often willing to lie to the general public.
Since they know that they only have a certain period of time to accomplish their political goals, politicians might act in a rather short-term manner and may ignore adverse long-term effects of their decisions. This may include popular decisions like tax cuts, which benefit people in the short term. However, due to an increase in public debt, this tax cut may hurt society in the long run.
Even though in many countries, parties often provide plenty of information about their political goals through the internet, many people often still lack information about the respective parties.
This may be due to insufficient internet access or also since people do simply not care about this topic.
However, uninformed people may vote parties that are not in line with their attitudes at best and may vote for extremist parties at worst, which may lead to serious social problems.
Elections are also quite expensive in general since many people have to work in order to ensure the objectivity of an election outcome. Moreover, candidates often spend millions or even billions of dollars on election campaigns. Thus, the overall election process can be quite costly in democracies.
Another downside of democracy is that people often solely vote in their own best interest, even if this might hurt society. For instance, some people may fear pollution or noise from the construction of an airport nearby their home.
Therefore, those people will likely vote for a party that want to stop the construction of this airport, even though it would be quite beneficial for the general public in terms of tax earnings and also through the creation of many jobs.
Thus, political free decision making in democracies sometimes also implies outcomes that might not be beneficial from a social point of view.
Politicians are also frequently involved in corruption affairs. Politicians get bribed by big firms to act in the companies’ interests instead of doing what would be best for the general public. Especially in democracies in poor developing countries, politicians are often quite vulnerable to corruption since they can make a lot of money compared to the average income of the local population.
Assurance of human rights
Freedom of religion
Decentralization of power
Empowerment of the general public
Participation in elections
Rather low levels of inequality
Limitation of extremism
Slow decision-making processes
Insufficient representation of minorities
Economic vs. social interests
Opportunistic behavior of politicians
Democracy is crucial in order to ensure the freedom of people in a country. It has plenty of advantages, yet also some problems are related to democracy.
However, in the big picture, democracy can be considered to be the best political system by far, since only democracy allows people a maximum of individual freedom and opportunities.
Thus, it would be desirable that even more countries all over the world would accomplish to establish a working democracy over time.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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