What is democracy?

The word democracy originates from the ancient Greeks (Athenians). “Demo” means the “the people” and “cracy” means “to rule”. The term therefore means “the rule by the people”. This is the original or true meaning of democracy.

The ancient Athenian vote, a form of true democracy, applied to making decisions directly, rather than voting for representatives as it is with modern “democracy”.

However, in ancient Athens, women and slaves were excluded from the franchise.

As regard “modern democracy”, it is not democracy most of the time. It is, in fact, “repocracy” (the Rule by Representatives). Candidates are elected to “rule” for a fixed term, usually having a tenure between 4 to 6 years during which the people cease to “rule” having entrusted their sovereign powers to their representatives in the Legislature and the Executive branches of government.

Nevertheless, “repocracies” have in them elements of democracy and it is the extent of the presence of these elements of democracy that determines how “democratic” a particular “repocracy” is. Those who are only interested in making “repocracies” more democratic can do so by enhancing or increasing the democratic elements in the “repocracies”, but before they could do so, they must first understand what are these democratic elements.

Because power corrupts (in the widest sense of the word), the people’s elected representatives, would cease to be such once the election is over. When this happens, the repocracy also ceases to be a democracy since the people’s elected representatives no longer represent them in the Legislature or in the Executive. They represent their personal, group or sponsors’ interests. This is a clear betrayal of the people. This is often true with regard to the people’s representatives, not only in the ruling party, but also in the opposition. This is the underlying reason why voters turnout is so low even in the leading “repocracies” where voting is not legally compulsory.

In this connection, it is critical to note one fundamental difference between true democracy and false democracy: in a true democracy, the representatives are elected or appointed to serve the country and people whereas in a false democracy, the 'representatives' rule in the name of the people.

Perhaps, “repocracy” was a necessity before the Information Age. Athenian direct democracy is impractical for countries with millions of citizens and with large areas of territories. Now, the Information Age has abolished the geographical distances among individuals for communication purposes and for the first time in human history, true democracy is possible even for very large countries with hundreds of millions of citizens scattered over millions of square kilometers of territory.

Autocracy is the rule by a single individual.

Oligarchy is the rule by a tiny gang of individuals.

Further confusion is caused by the use of the word “democracy” in expressions such as “corporate democracy” and “market democracy”. These are not political systems or forms of government; the former usually refers to the equal voting power per ordinary share of the corporation concerned while the latter simply means individual market freedom or a free market economy.

May 25, 2006

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