Democracy is a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly.
Democracy is further defined as (a:) "government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) "a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections." - wikipedia
According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: 1. A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; 1. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; 1. Protection of the human rights of all citizens 1. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) "rule of the people", which was found from δῆμος (dêmos) "people" and κράτος (krátos) "power" or "rule", in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens.
The English word dates to the 16th century, from the older Middle French and Middle Latin equivalents.
The term is an antonym to ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratía) "rule of an elite". While theoretically these definitions are in opposition, in practice the distinction has been blurred historically.
The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to an elite class of free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation. In virtually all democratic governments throughout ancient and modern history, democratic citizenship consisted of an elite class until full enfranchisement was won for all adult citizens in most modern democracies through the suffrage movements of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by an individual, as in an absolute monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements.
Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of democracy. In the Gettysburg Address Abraham Lincoln called it “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”, but the word democracy appears nowhere in the American Constitution; the French Revolution was fought for Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité and the most that Churchill claimed for it was that it was “the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” - bbc
http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p02q5lj9.mp3 Democracy, In Our Time - BBC Radio 4. With Melissa Lane, University Lecturer in the History of Political Thought; David Wootton, Professor of Intellectual History at Queen Mary College, London; Tim Winter, Assistant Muslim Chaplain at Cambridge University where he is Lecturer in Islamic Studies.
The Athenian city state famously practised participatory Democracy, but neither Plato nor Socrates approved, the Romans turned their back on the idea of ‘mob rule’ and it is not until the nineteenth century that it becomes even moderately respectable to call oneself a democrat.So how did democracy rise to become the most cherished form of government in the world?
In this programme we hope to trace the history of an idea across the cultures and centuries of Europe and the Middle East. And at a time when ideals of democracy are being thrown into stark relief by world events, we hope to gain a greater understanding of where democratic ideals have come from.
# See also