If you were fortunate enough to grow up in the United States, it is easy to take democracy for granted. As children, we elect hall monitors, class presidents, and captains of sports teams. When a group of friends asks where you want to eat, it is a system of democracy. When your parents tell you where you will eat, that is not democracy. We are taught the basic concepts of various systems in civics and history. The foundations for democracy have been around for over 2,500 years. Athens, Greece is considered the birthplace.
Greek democracy created at Athens was direct, rather than representative: any adult male citizen over the age of 20 could take part, and it was a duty to do so. The officials of the democracy were in part elected by the Assembly and in large part chosen by lottery in a process called sortition.
Democracy is fundamental to Western governments. A pure democracy would be problematic as it would quickly devolve into a mob rule. Democracy is never perfect. Winston Churchill has perhaps the most famous quote:
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947
Depending on how you count them, there are about 190 countries worldwide at any given time—information about the adaptation levels of democracy from the Pew Research Group.
As of the end of 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. Nearly four dozen other countries – 46, or 28% – exhibited elements of both democracy and autocracy. Broadly speaking, the share of democracies among the world’s governments has been on an upward trend since the mid-1970s, and now sits just shy of its post-World War II record (58% in 2016).
To check the power of democracy, there is, more often than not, a Constitution or a Bill of Rights. Those rules protect the individual from the mob. In the United States, there are twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution. The first ten are known as the Bill of Rights. The first amendment outlines the protection of religion, speech, the press, the right of assembly, and provides the right to redress the government. Does that count as five rights or one large right of liberty? The jury is still out for that answer. Not every country provides the same rights as America. Some outline more; some outline less. Unfortunately, there have been times when rights have been removed. Does that make it a right if it can be removed? More of a suggestion than a right seems to be a better description.
Democracy, although capable of mob rule, can have a powerful effect on the guiding document. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery, and the nineteenth amendment granted women the right to vote. Those are excellent examples of democracy preventing mob rule by modifying the controlling document. All amendments after the Bill of Rights, directly result from a representative democracy—the process is well established.
An amendment may be proposed by a two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress, or, if two-thirds of the States request one, by a convention called for that purpose. The amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the State legislatures, or three-fourths of conventions called in each State for ratification.
Democracy and rights work hand in hand to provide for the needs of the individual and the needs of society.
This website discusses the importance of democracy and voters’ rights. Many great minds have written and discussed democracy. We learn from them. Unfortunately, many people have been killed trying to establish or protect democracy. We learn to honor them. Voting and the people’s will are fundamental to a democracy’s success. The concepts are not new. The system is constantly evolving. The principles first practiced 2,500 years ago, remain sacred. We provide our perspective on various posts. They are “cornerstone concepts” to our group and our efforts.
Some of these posts are below, each linking to the discussion.