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What is democracy?

Democracy is a word that descends from the Greek word Demokracy in which demos means people and kracy means power / rule.

Democracy is said to have started in Athens, Greece, around 5 B.C. and even though it was not in the way we now know democracy to be, it was the first democratic regime of the world. Democracy started in opposition to aristocracy, which comes from the Greek word ArisKracy in which aris means elite and kracy means power / rule. Several Greek philosophers and politicians at that time opposed aristocracy because to them it didn’t represent the people whom aristocracy said to represent. Greeks thought that by giving a voice to people, governments and / or people in power would better represent a nation and better address its problems.

There’s different political ideologies (not to confuse this word with philosophy) that range from extreme left to extreme right in the spectrum of political regimes. Both extremes (left and right) are denominated as dictatorships and all in between is denominated as democracy.

When Mr. Donald Trump says Democrats are radical left he is disrespecting the political spectrum. Democrats are far from being radical left, they are center.  It is frequent that people often mess up different political ideologies by using the extreme associated with that side. For example right wing people usually say socialism is communism. Left wing people usually say conservatism is fascism. Both are incorrect. Democracy ranges from socialism (left wing) through conservatism (right wing) passing by liberalism (centrism). The extremes are dictatorships and are undemocratic regimes. Extremes can be communism (far left) and fascism (far right). Even though the economy ideologies that define both extremes are a little different, they are very similar in the ways they are undemocratic. Meaning, both extremes are undemocratic at the same points.

Democracy is defined by having people’s representatives that will act as voices to that same people, that have been elected democratically. Also, democracy stands for defending and assuring that Human Rights are respected by all.

So, to better understand what democracy and its ideologies (socialism, liberalism, conservatism) stand for let’s compare them against both extremes = dictatorships (communism and fascism).

Four fundamental principles of democracy

  1. People vote

In democracy nationals and immigrants authorized to vote have a say. They choose the party and / or the representatives that they believe will best represent them and their country. Everybody legally authorized to vote can choose FREELY, among candidates, their favorite candidates.

2. Division of Power

In a democracy, there are several institutions such as assemblies, senates, counsel and others that assure the president or prime minister sticks to the plan and these have a saying in the laws that that president wants to implement or remove. Each minister is responsible for a particular subject and has more or less power to decide about it. In a democracy, ministers and representatives are meant to be the voice of the people they represent assuring that the best to all is implemented. In democracy a president or prime minister does NOT have absolute power.

3. Opposition

In a democracy opposition is allowed and encouraged. It is one of the fundamental principles of democracy to allow different parties to exist. Debates are quite frequent especially at times of electoral campaign. A debate is a passionate discussion between two people or two groups of people that defend opposite views about a specific subject. In a democracy, opposition is meant to exist and people can express freely their political views without being mistreated or arrested.

     4. Freedom of Speech and Human Rights

Freedom of speech is one of the Human Rights. In a democracy, freedom of speech is encouraged and defended. People can express themselves freely, verbally (written & speaking) and non-verbally (clothing, style, possessions, degrees). They are not mistreated and / or arrested for expressing freely their ideas, thoughts, feelings, actions… They can disagree with the government that represents them and are free to express their discontentment.

We can see easily that dictatorships, left or right, these principles are somewhat not followed. There are of course more principles that define democracy, I have chosen these ones because I find them to be very effective in the understanding of the differences that distinguish democracy from dictatorship.

In a dictatorship all these four principles seem to be not fully respected:

  1. People do not vote or the elections are altered

In a dictatorship, rulers are in power for a long time and there aren’t regular elections. Just as in an ancient monarchy (aristocracy), the person in power can rule all their lives. If there are elections, in a dictatorship, they can be altered or conditioned.

      2. Ruler holds absolute power

In a dictatorship, the ruler or president holds absolute power and can create laws or dismiss laws without having to consult with any other minister or institution. In a dictatorship, the ruler usually controls all subjects that pertain their country and has absolute power to create or dismiss any legislation at any time.

      3. Opposition is mistreated and / or arrested

In a dictatorship, opposition is usually mistreated and arrested. They are called political prisoners. Political prisoners are people who have expressed opposite views to the ones of those in power, and because of that they can be tortured, physically mistreated, emotionally mistreated, prohibited to work, and arrested. Dictators do not often debate with opponents, they silence them or try to. In a dictatorship, opposition is not seen as freedom of thought but as an attack. Often dictators follow the motto that says “You are either with me or against me” and so they take very personally any opposition to their ideas or ways.

     4. People do not have freedom of speech and other Human Rights are violated = Censorship 

In a dictatorship, left or right, people cannot express themselves freely and any attempt to express an idea that goes against the government and / or ruler in power is silenced through threats, physical punishment and can lead to arrest.

Democracy is the preferred political regime or the majority of countries in the world, because it is the regime said to better respect a nation’s citizens. It is often called as “freedom” because everybody can become a president or prime minister (in a dictatorship people are appointed to be the president or prime minister), everybody can choose for themselves and follow what they truly believe is best for them, and people can express themselves freely without being punished in any way for doing so.

These are some of the substantial differences between democracy and dictatorship. Feel free to let me know what you think!!

Vanessa

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