Democracy to Extreme

Peony Chu

‘Democracy’ is always a good term. Put simply, it means a 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. It seems to promise an ideal world where everyone is equal and enjoys the same degree of freedom. However, we can clearly see that no society in the world is like this in reality. So what is going on?

First, let us be clear about the concept of democracy.  Freedom, in politics, means the absence of interference of the sovereignty of an individual by the use of aggression.  And concerning democracy, although there is no universally accepted definition of the term ‘democracy’, there are two primary understandings of the term. The first is that all members of any given society shall have equal access to power, and the second is that all members shall enjoy universally recognized freedoms and liberties. There are many forms of democracy in the world, and each has different degree and understanding of the term. 

One of the examples is the parliamentary democracy. It is characterized by no clear-cut separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches, leading to a different set of checks and balances compared to those found in presidential systems. Parliamentary systems usually have a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state, with the head of government being the prime minister or premier, and the head of state often being a figurehead, usually a president.

Another type of democracy is liberal democracy, also called constitutional democracy.  Liberal democracies nowadays usually have universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote regardless of race, gender or property ownership. The liberal democratic constitution defines the democratic character of the state. The purpose of a constitution is often seen as being to exercise a limit on the authority of the government. The Anglo-American political tradition emphasizes the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and a system of checks and balances between branches of government.

No matter which type of democracy is adopted by any particular society, freedom of the citizens is always respected. However, does it mean that people can have the “freedom” to do whatever they want? Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) once said, “Democracy is the rule of the people, by the people and for the people.” The “freedom” in the definition of democracy means freedom of political expression, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, all of which are essential if voters are to be able to make genuinely independent decisions about for whom they will cast their ballot.

Some members of society may make use of the so-called “freedom” to get what they want, e.g. money or political gain, which is a burden and resistance to society’s development.  However, why would these things happen? 

This may be due to the extreme of democracy. Extreme democracy means a deliberative process that places total confidence in the people, opening the policy-making process to many centers of power through deeply networked coalitions that can be organized around local, national and international issues. It is a very inefficient method, as it requires the public’s vote every time the government proposes new ideas. This quickly leads to voter fatigue and loss of interest in the democratic process. Some people may then make use of this fatigue to garner benefits for themselves while the voting public is not paying attention.

Democracy is getting more and more common around the world day by day. However, in all the fuss and excitement of the democracy, we should all think twice about the pros and cons of this political system.  Democracy, as Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) said, “Is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” While we unwittingly enjoy the unnoticed happiness brought by democracy, we should also be sure that society is still developing; otherwise, democracy will then be just a pretty shell of a backward and problematic society.



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