Why should we value democracy?
There are many reasons why democracy should be valued.
Equability of citizenship
Why should we value democracy? Democracy aims to treat all people equality.’ Everyone to count for one and one for more than one.’ Wrote the English legal theorist Jermy Bentham in his attack on the aristocratic view that some people’s lives were intrinsically more valuable than others.
The principle of equality requires not only that people’s interest would be attend to equally by government policy, but also their views should count equally ‘we give no special power to wealth, spoke an Athenian in one of Euripides ‘ plays the poor man’s voice commands equal authority.’
Critics of democracy have always objected that the mass of people are too ignorant, too uneducated and too short-sighted to take any part in determining public policy. To this democrats answer that the people certainly need information and the time to make sense of it, but are perfectly capable of acting responsibly when required to do so. Just as we expect all adults to they are also capable of taking a share in decisions affecting the life of their society.
Meeting popular needs
Democratic governments are more likely than other types of government to meet the needs of ordinary people. The more say people have in the direction of policy, the more likely is to reflect their concerns and aspirations.
The cobber makes the shoe,’ went the ancient Athenian saying, but only the wearer can tell where it pinches, it is ordinary people who experience the effects of governments policy in channels of influence and pressure from below does government policy reflect this experience.
However well intentioned the holders of public office may be, if they are immune from popular influence or control, their policies will be at best inappropriate to people’s needs and at worst self-serving and corrupt.
Pluralism and compromise
Democracy relies upon open debate, persuasion and compromise. The democratic emphasis on debate assumes not only that there are differences of opinion and interest on most questions of policy, but that such differences have a right to be expressed and listened to.
Democracy thus presupposes diversity and plurality with society as well as equality between citizens. And when such diversity finds expression, the democratic method of resolving differences is through discussion, through persuasion and compromise, rather than by forcible imposition or the simple assertion of power.
Democracies have often been caricatured as mere’ talking’ shops’. However, their capacity for public debate should be seen as a virtue rather than a vice, since it is the best means for securing consent to policy, and is not necessarily inconsistent with decisive action.
Guaranteeing basic freedoms
Democracy guarantees basic freedoms. Open discussion, as the method for expressing, and resolving societal differences, cannot take place without those freedoms that are enshrined in conventions of civil and political rights: the rights of free and speech expression, of association with others, of movement, of security for the person. Democracies can be relied on to protect these rights, since they are essential to their own mode of existence. At best such rights allow for the personal development of individuals and produce collective decisions that are better for being tested against a variety of argument and evidence.
Democracy allows for societal renewal. By providing for the routine and peaceful removal of policies and politicians that have failed or outlived their usefulness, democratic systems are able to ensure societal and generational renewal without the massive upheaval or government disruption that attends the removal of key personnel in non-democratic regimes.