Effect of Democracy on Society

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Effect of Democracy on  Society

  • Throughout history, democracy has been called many things. Merriam-Webster defines “democracy” as “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
  • ” Former American President Abraham Lincoln called  democracy, “… the government of the people, by the people and for the people.” However, former United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill said, “The strongest argument against democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter.”
  • Regardless of how we praise and criticize democracy, it is evident that democracy has played a major card in the shaping of modern society.
  • We will explore why and how democracy has  accomplished this.
  • Before one can know the impact democracy has had on the world, one must take a look at   its history. While its birth can’t exactly be pinpointed, historians do know that ancient civilizations employed forms of democracy.
  • The world’s first republic, Vaishali, is part of a group of ancient republics known as the Maha Janapadas. Vaishali and the other Maha Janapadas developed and used democratic systems named Sangha, Gana and Panchayat. Sangha, meaning “community”, was more of a religious brotherhood rather than a complete democratic system; however, the elements are  in place. Decisions in the sangha were enacted by everyone.
  • Each individual in the sangha had equal decisive power and emphasis was put on participation in the sangha. The gana system was slightly more organized. “Gana” could refer to many things, such as tribes, troops, class, etc. but is commonly used to refer to a governing body.
  • The various ganas would have chiefs making the important decisions if the public could not agree on a topic. Out of the three ancient forms of democracy, Panchayat is the closest to modern day democracy. Panchayat is still utilized in some parts of the world today.
  • In Panchayat, elders are elected by the village council. These elders would mediate arguments amongst the people. Throughout the ages, other nations had similar democratic elements in their government. For example, the Roman Empire was known as the Roman Republic before its government system changed from a republic to the quasi-monarch such as in the time of Julius Caesar.
  • During this period, officials were elected by the citizens. Citizens were divided into different castes with various powers, but all citizens were allowed to vote. Even in the days of the American Indian, democracy in various stages can be found. The Iroquois Indian used  a very loose form of democracy to govern the people.
  • Certain males were born into a leadership caste. Only the members of this caste could become leaders.
  • Furthermore, only women of the same caste could remove the leaders. Understanding democracy’s evolution through- out history is key to understanding the impact  it has had on the world.
  • These are just a few points in the history of democracy. As we can see with the preceding examples, democracy  has had an extremely long and rich history, weaving  in  and  out  of  various cultures.
  • This evolution of democracy has allowed the world to grow towards a world where fear and oppression is eliminated.
  • One way this is occurring is by democratic countries’ promotion of education. Education and  democracy  go hand in hand.
  • Democratic countries tend to allow more freedoms, such as freedom of information. With information being readily available, it is much easier for education to thrive, as opposed to an authoritarian government that would restrict information.
  • Democracy also promotes freedom from the government, as a leader that is  deemed  unfit can be easily eliminated from office. This can result in more educated and intelligent leaders that  fit  the  bill properly.
  • Democracy is not without its criticisms, however. When Churchill stated, “the strongest argument against democracy is a five minute discussion with the average voter,” he may have been referring to the difficulty of understanding a democratic government and how it functions.
  • If the average voter is not thoroughly educated in the system, they may not know the ramifications of the decisions they vote or not vote on.
  • Classic philosopher Plato addressed this concern in his writings. He believed that a system where the citizens were ruled by only  the intelligent would benefit society more.
  • A finance capitalist in Australia was cited saying, “It’s a strange system. I mean, after all, why should a kid of eighteen have the same value of vote as I do”.
  • Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of democracy is that it is value-neutral. This can have a profound effect on society. Robert Kaplan in his essay “Was Democracy Just a Moment” points out that both Hitler and Mussolini arose to power through democracy.
  • Kaplan’s argument there isn’t that democracy is the cause of dictators rising to power, but that democracy exposes a society’s health.
  • It is amazing to see  the various systems and their effects on society. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to govern people. In the end, it all boils down to what a person values the most. Some may value freedom of information, others may value stability. Either way, the effect will be profound and will touch everyone.

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