Why do we worship democracy?

A literal interpretation of the term democracy means rule by the people; this comes from the Greek words demos, which means people, and kratos, the word for rule. It sounds very good when you look at it in a simple way but there are many questions you can ask about democracy, if you are to decide which rules are to be enforced, and which people are to be the arbiters.

For example, should a true democracy work at a local level, i.e. within a town or even a family, or should it be national or even international; after all for true democracy one could argue that every rule should be voted on by as many people as possible. The problem is that what is right for people on a continent is not necessarily right for those in a particular country let alone those in a particular town, business, or other community.

Another problem is; just who should have the right to vote; should it be all the people over a certain age, those of a certain race, those with a certain economic qualification? Should the franchise be refused to people with certain mental illnesses, or those incarcerated in prison?

It is in the nature of people to disagree, on everything from which Sunday newspaper to buy to whether or not to hang murderers. In this case whose views should be paramount; should a simple majority vote sway the issue, or in the case of a murder should the victims have a greater say, and indeed should people who are most affected by any specific measure have more power over the ultimate decision? What happens if there is a split decision, who will have the casting vote?

Just how the democracy is set up as a very important point. Is the vote on the particular measure to be taken by an assembly of all the people? If, as is likely, it is impossible to gather all the people together to debate an issue, what voting mechanism is to be used? If people are to be allowed to vote by post, or over the Internet, or even in a local polling booth, who is to decide upon the information that they are to be given, and which they will need in order to be able to come to a reasoned decision?

In the political system which is most popular in the western world, voters elect representatives who then decide upon which laws are to be enacted. In theory, this should ensure that the will of the people is paramount; in fact the exact opposite is true very often and laws are pushed through that have little or no popular support at all, having been decided upon by a small political cabal and then voted on by representatives of the people whose first allegiance is not to the people at all but to the political party that they belong to.

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It could be argued that our current situation is not a democracy at all, but is this necessarily a bad thing? One of the dangers of popular thought is that democracy is the perfect political state for all people but why must we assume that government by the people (which is really government by political parties with their own agendum) is inherently superior to government by those who have proven themselves to be better than their peers, or by an aristocracy with a firmer grip on the levers of power who can decide what is best for the country at all times, without having to continually worry about how they stand in the latest opinion polls? Why is the idea of a benevolent dictatorship, under which one person who is popularly accepted as the best person for the job, and in a position to make fast decisions without having to go through the slow and wasteful process of committee ratification, so unacceptable to the mass of the western population?

There is much to praise in democracy and it has many good points; but it would be a mistake to assume that it is the only possible system, or that it is inevitably the best system, particularly at times of crisis.

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