Understanding the Democratic System
The concept of democracy is an ancient idea which has been tried in many different forms. The most common definition of democracy is founded in the idea of government which is empowered by citizens or through their representation. In this way, democracy differs from other forms of government such as theocracies and autocratic nations by virtue of the fact that all other forms of government are not empowered by the citizens of the nations in question. One can easily understand this concept when he or she examines the countries which are not democratic in nature. For example, many of the countries of the Middle East are theocracies. These countries typically have ruling families and their laws are dictated by religious beliefs. Another example of a type of nondemocratic nation would be communist China. In China, the government is controlled by a party which chooses leaders and makes laws. The citizens of China have little to do with the government processes. Often democratic and nondemocratic systems are compared qualitatively and most scholars would agree that despite its inherent issues, democratic systems of government seem to be the most effective and efficient forms of government.
What makes democracy the most effective and efficient form of government is its ability to take into consideration many different viewpoints and opinions. This factor is directly caused by the nature of democracy in which it forms political parties which represent the many varying beliefs and desires of citizens. The United States is considered a two party system where almost every elected office is occupied by either democratic or republican party members. These two parties have dominated American politics for most of US history. The two-party system is a uniquely democratic political structure existing in most democratic nations. The two-party system in the US has many benefits and drawbacks to its structure.
The two-party system in the United States has developed in the manner that it has due to voting structure and election outcomes (Sachs). The voting structure in American politics favors large numbers of constituents, i.e., large numbers of voters in favor of one representative and the ideas and positions of this representative. In contrast to the two party systems, in a multiparty system the voting power is spread across many different candidates thus reducing the likelihood of any one candidate achieving victory. Because the voting structure of the American political system is based on one person achieving victory, this structure breeds a two party system because voters have a better chance of achieving their goals by being united under one candidate which best represents their interests (Sachs). For instance, immigration is a controversial topic which divides many Americans. Even within political parties the issue of immigration is controversial and divides members. As a result of this schism in opinion concerning immigration voters may or may not vote in-line with one of the parties depending upon their opinion on the issue of immigration. Typically, the party which most closely shares the interest of the voter will gain that individual’s vote. The satisfaction of interests with voters is the driving force in voter decision making. This factor allows leaderships to evolve and alter political positions in efforts to satisfy the demands of the people. As a result of the two-party system, issues are often decided by a compromise of interests. The voters are forced, in many cases, to vote not for the candidate that fully represents their interest but rather the candidate that ‘best’ represents their position. For this reason, many issues continue to be controversial and are often undecided or fail to satisfy the population as a whole. The effectiveness of democratic policymaking is arguable but it is functional and effective because it has a greater degree of flexibility which allows the system to adapt and correct itself.
When a system of government is nondemocratic it becomes less flexible and ultimately less effective. This is due to a single person or small party making decisions without the benefit of opinion or criticism. Due to the nature of nondemocratic systems they often refuse to hear opinions from citizens and in many cases outlaw criticism. A perfect example of this type of this problem can be seen in Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko was a biologist who convinced Stalin during the USSR that his pseudoscientific concepts concerning agriculture were correct. Lysenko’s ideas were endorsed by the communist party of Russia and this barred scientific advancement for close to 40 years during the reign of Stalin (Gordin). Because of his popularity with government, Lysenko was protected from criticism by other scientists. As Lysenko advanced in position he was able to silence his adversaries through intimidation and fear. The long-term effect of Lysenko was a halt to scientific advancement in biology and agriculture within the Soviet Union.
Not only was advancement halted in the field of biology large resources were wasted by the controlling powers of government. Because Lysenko did not follow proper scientific protocols, experiments were conducted that wasted time and carried little logical purpose. For instance, Lysenko spent inordinate amounts of time growing crops in geometric configurations attempting to prove that plant life could be affected in this manner (Gordin). But because of Lysenko’s position no one was allowed to challenge his thinking. Many scientists were imprisoned or killed for criticizing Lysenko (Gordin). The Lysenko situation would have been much more difficult to occur in a democratic nation where debate is allowed and promoted.
When one takes a broad view of nondemocratic nations, invariably these nations have weak economies, unstable governments, larger numbers of human rights violations, and lower standards of living. According to Cuberes and Jerzmanowski (2009):
There is much evidence that less democratic countries experience more high-frequency growth volatility…we report a similar finding about volatility in the medium term: we find evidence that reversals of trend-growth are sharper and more frequent in non-democracies.
According to the UN (2014),
…democracy provides the natural environment for the protection and effective realization of human rights… Democratic governance, as supported by the United Nations emphasizes the role of individuals and peoples — all of them, without any exclusion — in shaping their human growth and the human development of societies. But individuals can only make such contributions when their individual potential is unleashed through the enjoyment of human rights.
The recent uprisings in the Middle East are also evidence of the ineffectiveness of nondemocratic systems. At the heart of the revolts in places such as Tipoli and Egypt have been issues such as government accountability and transparency in government (UN). Many of these countries have weak economies due to governments which will not budge from their positions. In Egypt one of the primary rebellion causes was cited as “It is a common trend in Arab politics that the most volatile outbreaks of unrest come when you have a conjunction between a closed political system, economic downturn, an aging president and a large young population.” (MacQueen)
These historical examples prove many things with regard to nondemocratic nations being less effective than democratic nations. The examples also show that despite the fact that democratic systems have their flaws, these nations provide a greater degree of stability; both politically and economically. When government is controlled absolutely, to the point of intolerance to debate, advancement is undermined. This history is compelling evidence that in order for nations to be effective and efficient there must be some latitude of freedom and control by citizens or their representatives.
Cuberes, David and Michał Jerzmanowski. “Democracy, Diversification and Growth Reversals.” The Economic Journal (2009): 1270–1302.
Gordin, Michael D. “How Lysenkoism became pseudoscience: Dobzhansky to Velikovsky.” Journal of the History of Biology 3.45 (2012): 443–68.
MacQueen, Benjamin. Q&A: What’s behind the unrest? 27 January 2011. http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2011/01/27/qa-whats-behind-unrest. 1 March 2014.
Sachs, Jeffrey. The Price of Civilization. New York: Random House, 2011.
UN. Democracy and Human Rights: The human rights normative framework. 2014. http://www.un.org/en/globalissues/democracy/human_rights.shtml. 1 March 2014.