Is Democracy Really Good?
Democracy (Greek: δημοκρατία, dēmokratiā, from dēmos ‘people’ and kratos ‘rule’) is a form of government in which the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation (“direct democracy”), or to choose governing officials to do so (“representative democracy”). The term appeared in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Classical Athens, to mean “rule of the people”, in contrast to aristocracy (ἀριστοκρατία, aristokratía), meaning “rule of an elite”. Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also the most direct in the sense that the people through the assembly, boule and courts of law controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business. Even though the rights of the individual were not secured by the Athenian constitution in the modern sense (the ancient Greeks had no word for “rights”), those who were citizens of Athens enjoyed their liberties not in opposition to the government but by living in a city that was not subject to another power and by not being subjects themselves to the rule of another person. All eligible citizens were allowed to speak and vote in the assembly, which set the laws of the city state. However, Athenian citizenship excluded women, slaves, foreigners (μέτοικοι / métoikoi), and youths below the age of military service. Effectively, only 1 in 4 residents in Athens qualified as citizens. Owning land was not a requirement for citizenship. The exclusion of large parts of the population from the citizen body is closely related to the ancient understanding of citizenship. In most of antiquity the benefit of citizenship was tied to the obligation to fight war campaigns.
The Aristotle’s Fault
Aristotle, Plato’s pupil, classifies democracy as a deviant constitution: his key objection was that it undermined the rule of law. A functioning state requires that everything is governed by laws. Without this there is nothing to stop those who hold the most power doing what they want and tyrannising everyone else. In a puredemocracy, the will of the majority is sovereign, not the law, not the state. If the people decide someone should be executed, they are executed and no law against capital punishment can stop that. If the people decide that a person or company’s assets should be seized, again, the fact that this requires tearing up the law book is irrelevant. On the other hand, Socrates believed that democracy without educated masses (educated in the broader sense of being knowledgeable and responsible) would only lead to populism being the criteria to become an elected leader and not competence. This would ultimately lead to a societal demise. This was quoted by Plato in book 10 of The Republic, in Socrates’ conversation with Adimantus. Socrates was of the opinion that the right to vote must not be an indiscriminate right (for example by birth or citizenship), but must be given only to people who thought sufficiently of their choice.
Even though democracy seems to be the best form of government possible today, it needs some improvement: for example a voting license, just like the driver one, would make a difference regarding the knowledge of politics, philosophy and sociology of the average voter. It is absurd that people with no expertise in these areas are supposed to choose someone that will lead them and the whole state machinery. I want to end this discussion with two very informative and ispiring quotes by Socrates:
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
“There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.”