In: Other Topics

Submitted By Vinyourself
Words 1978
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Andrew Heywood

The origins of the term 'democracy' can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Like other words ending in 'cracy' - autocracy, aristocracy, bureaucracy and so on -democracy is derived from the Greek word kratos, meaning 'power' or 'rule'. Democracy thus stands for 'rule by the demos', demos meaning 'the people', though it was originally taken to imply 'the poor' or 'the many'. However, the simple notion of 'rule by the people' does not get us very far. The problem with democracy has been its very popularity, a popularity that has threatened the term's undoing as a meaningful political concept. In being almost universally regarded as a 'good thing', democracy has come to used as little more than a 'hurrah! word', implying approval of a particular set of ideas or system of rule.

Perhaps a more helpful starting point from which to consider the nature of democracy is provided by Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered in 1864 at the height of the American Civil War. Lincoln extolled the virtues of what he called 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people'. What this makes clear is that democracy serves to link government to the people, but that this link can be forged in a number of ways - government of, by and for the people. Nevertheless, the precise nature of democratic rule has been the subject of fierce ideological and political debate. The next section will look at alternative models of democracy. For the time being, however, the terms of the democratic debate are explored. This boils down to the attempt to answer two central questions:

▪ Who are the people? ▪ In what sense should the people rule?

Who are the people?

One of the core features of democracy is the principle of political equality, the notion that political power should be distributed as widely and evenly as possible.…...

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