The Benefits and Drawbacks of Living in a Democratic Society


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Democracy is a type of government involving rule by the people. The advantages of democracy include promoting equality, government responsiveness, citizen involvement, and encouraging popular satisfaction. Democracy can devolve into mob rule with the rights of the minority suppressed. The people also can be misinformed or unwilling to do their civic responsibilities.  Democracy can be a false promise with elites holding the real power. 

Two War-Time Leaders Talk About Democracy 

The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. 

President Woodrow Wilson

President Wilson argued that the United States was not entering World War I for reasons of conquest or any such base motive.   It was a necessary fight for true liberty, for democracy.  

Our Constitution, the basis of our government, is in the name of “We the People.”  Democracy has been fundamental to our nation’s soul.  The fight continues to honor it.  

Still. Winston Churchill, the British statesman, once quipped that democracy was the “worst form of Government except for all those others.”  A bit harsh.  But, was he right?

What Are The Basics of Democracy? 

Democracy is a type of government that involves rule by the people.  “We the People.”

The word means “rule by the people.”  The people vote, serve on juries to determine guilt or innocence, and they serve in the military.  

A “direct democracy” means that the people directly govern such as when we have ballot measures to decide if the death penalty should end.  Small towns also can have people just show up and decide things.  A small tribe of people also can have a true democracy. 

The United States has a republican form of democracy. The people elect representatives, such as members of Congress, to govern.  A large bureaucracy exists to run things as well.  

The people in a democracy have civil rights (equality) and liberties (such as freedom of speech).  The voice of the people remains very important, even when they have no direct power to govern. 

What Are The Advantages of Democracy?

The clearest advantage of democracy is that it promotes equality.  

Democracy gives governing power to each citizen, not a favored few.  The government is in place to serve the needs of everyone.  This form of government gives power to each citizen.  

This makes sense.  If the government should serve our needs, who better than ourselves to know what those needs are?  A jury of citizens provides a range of perspectives, even if each juror is not a scholar of the law.  

The power helps to make the government more responsive to the needs of each citizen.  Citizens are less likely to be exploited and ignored.  When people want change, it is more likely to occur.  And, this helps to retain satisfaction and prevent problems, including violence.

Democracy involves having the civil liberties that we need and deserve.  It is not merely about voting. We also have the power to govern our own lives.  

Also, as Spiderman knows, with power comes responsibility.  Democracy helps promote civic responsibility.  In a democracy, citizens from childhood to retirement are part of one continual civic education and engagement process.  Democracy provides special meaning to citizenship.  

What Are The Problems With Democracy?

Democracy has its dark side.  Winston Churchill once quipped (he was known for his quips) that the best way to see the problems of democracy is to talk to a voter for a few minutes.

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, also warned about the limits of democracy. Madison like many Founding Fathers was wary about giving too much power to “the mob.”  

Democracy can put too much power in the hands of the majority. The majority is sometimes wrong. The majority can have dubious whims. They can be led by unreliable people to do dangerous things.  It is essential to have some checks and balances to pure democracy.  

A majority can harm the rights of the minority, who can be overwhelmed by the popular will.  If many people do not vote, a few people can determine who wins elections, resulting in minority rule.   Perhaps, mandatory voting is a good idea?

Government is complicated and involves being informed about a range of issues. Many voters do not do the work to keep informed.  They can also be easily misled.  

The great Greek philosopher Socrates opposed Athenian democracy.  He thought only the knowledgeable elite should lead.  He argued democracy gave power to the unworthy.  

Democracy also can be akin to trying to move a large tanker around.  It can be very hard to satisfy the wishes of competing blocs of millions of voters.  This can result in gridlock that can be lessened if a smaller group of people can work together to find solutions.  

Finally, democracy can be a false promise. The people might technically have the right to vote but the true power can still be held by powerful elites and unresponsive bureaucrats.  

Personal Thoughts

I have worked as an election inspector at a local polling place for a few years.  It is a somewhat tedious (long day!) job but it provides me a place on the ground floor of democracy.

I am impressed by the ability of average people to come in and choose their leaders. Not enough people vote, especially in non-presidential elections, but many do.  

This includes those who know that their candidate has a low chance of winning.  They do so anyway.  They know that it is their right and responsibility to do so.  

I retain a soft spot in my heart for democracy.  Flaws and all.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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