Democracy is defined as the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves (Cambridge Dictionary).
During the past decade and mostly because of the fall of communism, democracy has become on of the most widespread political forms of government. Communism was not the only enemy of democracy, however, fascism and Nazism threatened democracy, as well. Although democracy is widespread, it only exists in less than half of the world’s countries. China and Russia, two of the largest countries struggle with democracy and have never experienced a well established democratic government. Dahl believes an ideal democracy is only achieved by meeting certain criterion: equal and effective participation in stating policy views, equal and effective voting, equal and effective education on policies, equal and effective choosing on which policy matters most, and equal opportunity for (permanent) residents to have full rights to the above criterion.
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Going back to ancient times, Dahl discusses the differences between ancient republics and democracies. He states that they are essentially the same and are both forms of popular government. Ultimately, the Romans just chose the word “republic” and the greeks chose the word “democracy”.
They both were forms of popular governments, however, they both lacked local elected governments that were under a national government and both were led by a minority of individuals. It can be seen, however, that women, commoners, and ethnic minorities were not able to take part in politics. Thus, Dahl came up with the term “polyarchy”, which he defines as rule by the many. As discussed in “On Democracy”, the word republic did not equate to democracy because a republic was simply the affairs of the rich and powerful, not the affairs of all. Dahl’s idea of a polyarchy is a “democratic government on a large scale or nation state or country” that follow six requirements. The six crucial components for a democratic government, according to Dahl, is as follows: freedom to assemble, elected officials, freedom of expression, free and fair elections, freedom of media expression (alternative sources of information), and inclusive citizenship. Now that the foundation of a democratic government has been determined, Dahl goes on to answer the question “why democracy?”.
Dahl places great emphasis on the idea that democracy focuses on each and every citizen. Now that the focus of democracy has been defined, Dahl further discusses why focusing on citizens and their rights is the “correct” form of government. To answer the question, “why democracy?”, in “On Democracy”, Dahl lists ten advantages of practicing democracy. The list of advantages are: moral autonomy, human development, political equality, averting tyranny, general freedom, self determination, essential rights, protection of personal interests, prosperity, and peace.
When Dahl says that democracy is a system of rights for citizens, he means that democracy isn’t solely focuses on the government, but rather it ensures that rights are granted to the citizens, equally.