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What is a Democracy

The word democracy comes from the Greek words demos meaning people, and kratos meaning power; so democracy can be thought of as power of the people a way of governing which depends on the will of the people.

There are so many different models of democratic government around the world that it is sometimes easier to understand the idea of democracy in terms of what it definitely is not. Democracy, then, is not autocracy or dictatorship, where one person rules; and it is not oligarchy, where a small segment of society rules. Properly understood, democracy should not even be "rule of the majority", if that means that minorities' interests are ignored completely. A democracy, at least in theory, is government on behalf of all the people, according to their “will”

The development of democracy
Ancient history

The ancient Greeks are credited with creating the very first democracy, although there were almost certainly earlier examples of primitive democracy in other parts of the world. The Greek model was established in the 5th century BC, in the city of Athens. Among a sea of autocracies and oligarchies – which were the normal forms of government at the time – Athenian democracy stood out.

However, compared to how we understand democracy today, the Athenian model had two important differences:

1. Theirs was a form of direct democracy – in other words, instead of electing representatives to govern on the people's behalf the people themselves met, discussed questions of government, and then implemented policy.

2. Such a system was possible partly because "the people" was a very limited category. Those who could participate directly were a small part of the population, since women, slaves, – and of course, children – were excluded. The numbers who participated were still far more than in a modern democracy: perhaps 50,000 males engaged directly in politics, out of a population of around 300,000 people.

Democracy in the modern world
While democracies share common features, there is no single model of democracy. Today there are as many different forms of democracy as there are democratic nations in the world. No two systems are exactly the same and no one system can be taken as a model. One thing that unites modern systems of democracy, and which also distinguishes them from the ancient model, is the use of representatives of the people. Instead of taking part directly in law making, modern democracies use elections to select representatives who are sent by the people to govern on their behalf. Such a system is known as representative democracy. It can lay some claim to being & democratic & because it is, at least to some degree, based on the two principles above: equality of all (one person – one vote), and the right of every individual to some degree of personal autonomy.

Improving democracy
People often talk about countries becoming democracies, once they start to have relatively free and open elections. But democracy includes far more than just elections, and it really makes more sense to think about the will of the people idea, rather than about institutional or voting structures, when we are trying to assess how democratic a country is. Democracy is better understood as something that we can always have more – or less – of, rather than something that either is, or is not.

Democratic systems can nearly always be made more inclusive, more reflective of more people's wishes, and more responsive to their influence. In other words, there is room to improve the people part of democracy, by including more people in decision making; there is also room to improve the power or will part of democracy, by giving the people more real power. Struggles for democracy throughout history have normally concentrated on one or the other of these elements.

“Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority.” Albert Camus

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