As in all forms of government, many variations and types of democracy exist. Nevertheless, key components of democracy endure, such as some type of participation or involvement from their citizens.
James Madison (1731–1836), Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804), and John Jay (1745–1829) authored The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 articles published in New York newspapers under the pseudonym Publius to make the case for democracy in the United States, and convince the people to ratify the U.S. Constitution. They shared the fear Plato and Alexis de Tocqueville had regarding the tyranny of the majority. They installed certain incentives and institutional checks and balances to prevent any one faction from creating a tyranny in the United States.
Review these definitions of in the section Democracy from Boundless Sociology.
Review Ian Shapiro's discussion of Plato's and Tocqueville's fear of the tyranny of the majority in his lecture Democracy and Majority Rule (I), (timestamp 4:27 to 14:06).
Review Ian Shapiro's discussion of The Federalist Papers in Democracy and Majority Rule (I) (timestamp 15:02 to 50:39).
Citizens experience different levels of involvement in their democratic governments. Most democratic governments only invite their citizens to vote or get involved in certain types of decision making, for reasons of time and expediency. For example, in the United States, voters elect legislators to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to represent them when they make laws. Voters also elect a president to execute the laws. Many democracies around the world have similar parliamentary systems.
Many of us have a general idea of what democracy entails, but no one country has incorporated every element at any one time. For example, in every democratic state, we can all point to past and present examples of practices or inequities that are hardly democratic, such as slavery, restrictions on voting rights for certain demographic groups, injustices based on economic class, and racial discrimination that restricts access to certain necessary goods and services. Every country has a history that includes examples of restrictions on free speech, a free press, and freedom of assembly.
Nevertheless, many of us push our governments to meet the ideals for a democratic state. For example, the readings in this unit mention democratic ideals that include: free, open, transparent, and competitive elections; freedom of the press; the freedom of religion; the respect for the rule of law; the freedom to assemble and organize; the ability to hold elected and appointed public officials accountable; protections for personal property; protections for minority populations; and, a respect for human rights.
Review this material in the article Conceptualising and Assessing the State of Democracy in the World Today by Bryant
Edward Harden, and Democracy and Development: The Role of the UN.
The trend toward democratization is not linear. Many states falter on their path toward democracy, backtrack, or simply get stuck in limbo. Creating legitimate democratic institutions can take decades, even centuries, to take root. For example, while several populations rushed to democratize during the recent so called Arab Spring, democratic transitions have seemed too slow and falter in many areas. Russia, following the demise of the Soviet Union also seemed to be moving toward a more democratic government, but now appears to have settled on a more autocratic system. It is difficult to say whether these reversals present examples of temporary or permanent setbacks. Do you think these trends toward and against democratization are beneficial to the purpose of creating a civil society?
Review Conceptualising and Assessing the State of Democracy in the World Today by Bryant Edward Harden, and Democracy and Development: The Role of the UN.
Review some reasons why the uprisings in the Middle East in 2010 did not immediately result in the creation of new democratic institutions The Arab Spring: Prospects for Democracy (timestamp 15:55 to 32:30).
Review the struggle and failure to install democratic government in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union Nationalism and Legitimation for Authoritarianism: A Comparison of Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin by
Sean Cannady and Paul Kubicek.
The key causes for democratization are difficult to establish, but social scientists have an idea about some of the conditions that may lead to democratization. Do all of the reasons they provide mean democratization will necessarily result? Can you think of any states that may have fulfilled these conditions, but have not democratized?
Review Democratization from Wikipedia.
Many politicians believe democratization will lead to higher levels of economic growth for most members of the population. They argue that a government that promotes an open democratic society, where people are able to meet freely with others to exchange ideas, will improve the economic well-being of their citizens. Economic progress is a benefit frequently touted as a reason for promoting democratic transition. When these promised benefits do not emerge, domestic friction and animosity toward the democratic process can emerge.
Review how President Vladimir Putin blamed liberal democracy for Russia's economic collapse in the 1990s. He promoted nationalistic fervor and used the economic downturn to justify returning Russia to autocratic rule in Nationalism and Legitimation for Authoritarianism: A Comparison of Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin by Sean Cannady and Paul Kubicek.