Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pitfalls of Democracy

All democracies have certain structural defects, which are related to the nature of democracy. Although all forms of government have defects, supporters of democracy are often reluctant to concede that it is less than perfect, which in turn may hinder its reform.

Probably the most quoted criticism of democracy is the fear that it will become a 'tyranny of the majority.' It can apply in both direct democracy and representative democracy. 'Tyranny of the majority' implies that a government reflecting the majority view can take action that oppresses a particular minority. It might decide that a certain minority (religion, political belief, etc.) should be criminalized (either directly or indirectly). This undermines the idea of democracy as an empowerment of the electorate as a whole.

Democracy necessarily assumes a sense of shared values in the demos (otherwise political legitimacy will fail). In other words, it assumes that the demos is in fact a unit. For historical reasons, many states lack the cultural and ethnic unity of the ideal nation-state. There may be sharp ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural divisions. In fact, some groups may be actively hostile to each other. A democracy, which by definition allows mass participation in decision-making, by definition, also allows the use of the political process against the 'enemy', which is especially visible in established democracies, in the form of anti-immigrant populism.

Another persistent critique of democracy is the claim that it encourages the elected representatives to change the law without necessity, and in particular to pour forth a flood of new laws. This is seen as pernicious in several ways. New laws constrict the scope of what were private liberties. Changing laws make it impossible for a willing non-specialist to remain law-abiding. A legal system where any ordinary citizen can expect to be breaking some law in ignorance most of the time is an invitation for law-enforcement to misuse power. This continual complication of the law is also seen by some as contrary to the simple and eternal natural law- bringing the whole legal system into disrepute.

Democracies have also been criticized for slowness and complexity in their decision-making. Modern liberal democracies, by definition, allow for regular changes of government. That has led to a common criticism of their short-term focus. In four or five years the government will face a new election, and it must think of how it will win that election. That would encourage a preference for policies that will bring short-term benefits to the electorate (or to self-interested politicians) before the next election, rather than unpopular policy with longer term benefits.

The cost of political campaigning in representative democracies may mean that the system favors the rich, who are only a very small minority of the voters. It may encourage candidates to make deals with wealthy supporters, offering favorable legislation if the candidate is elected.

Hence, we can see that democracy is not without some drawbacks. It of course has some merits for example, political stability, and effective response during wartime, etc. But we have to be aware of drawbacks stated above. By carefully analyzing the demerits and finding solutions we can expect a more perfect democracy. By Mahbub Hasan

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