What is Democracy? For one, most people who tend to boost about democracy usually have very little or no idea what this notion actually represents. The truth is that democracy in today’s world has become just a phrase, over-used, misused and often placed where it doesn’t belong. Let’s take a look 2500 years back to the time of Athens and Ancient Greece, where democracy originates from. The word stems out of two vocables: Demos (δῆμος) or people, and Kratos (κράτος) which designates power and the ability to rule. Democracy or Δημοκρατία is therefore a term which implies to a population’s decisive power. However, back in the ancient times, democracy was not a constitutional setup as one might think, but a mere segment of a governance system, seldom used only in some Poleis (Polis: a city-state in Ancient Greece, which was not a unified country in the terms of today, but rather a loose confederation of settlements – Poleis with stately features) of Ancient Greece. It was mainly determined by presence of the public in some legal procedures and the ability to vote on certain issues. The voting itself was usually conducted in the Agora, a square where citizens publicly praised or denounced certain prepositions, or by a poll – voters would throw pebbles in amphorae, whereas the final count would determine whether the motion was accepted or not. Ironically, as it often happened, most of the population was reluctant to vote. To mend this, the authorities hired a bunch of goons who would literally flog the people into the Agora by using navy ropes coated in red paint. Still, these freedoms were rather limited to a very small part of the population (women, slaves and guest workers were not allowed), whereas the issues to vote on were primarily defined by the city’s rulers, whose power was firmly undisputed. In other words, people could vote only on matters that the ruling power allowed them to. This of course can not be depicted as a true freedom, but a confined ability to make some decisions. Even though this system was highly progressive for the ancient times, it wasn’t exercised significantly, and with the demise of the Ancient Greek state it slowly fell into oblivion for more than a thousand years. In the meantime, Europe was shaken by a very turbulent millennium, rise and fall of Rome, Christianity, barbaric invasions and countless wars. By the late 18th century when democracy started to appear once again, more or less all of European states existed as monarchies. That is yet another word of Greek origin – Monos (μόνος) meaning one and Archy (ἄρχω), another expression for executive power. Monarchy was therefore a state ruled by one person, a king, whose power was hereditary and often infinite. This system which endured from the early Middle Ages was effective, and yet, the majority of one kingdom’s population had very few rights, virtually no power, no control over the government nor over their own lives. Starting with the American Revolution of 1776 and followed by the French Revolution in 1789, it became obvious that such system was no longer sustainable. These events, though they’ve shaken the world, haven’t entirely changed the governance system of the Western world. Many monarchies survived until the 20th century, and some still exist today. On the other hand, the opposing political setup became the Republic, a state where power is not hereditary. It’s roots originate from the times of Ancient Rome and the expression – Res Pvblica or A Public Affair.
So, where did democracy take us to? How do we see it and how can one make use of it today? In theory, the basic modern definition of democracy in political terms is freedom of choice. That freedom mostly reflects on a voters freedom to elect the holders of power – presidents, state officials, mayors and so on. This all sounds very nice and many countries tend to implement this system, however, theory and practice can be two very different things, often miles apart from each other. The most common types of republican states of today are single-party and multi-party states. In countries with only one political party, the general freedom of voting is often limited, however, if an individual does want to get involved politically, he or she can enter the political system of the ruling party where a method of selection is used to single out the best candidates, which implies that a certain degree of free voting does exist. The party’s policies are formed by the leadership and therefore it is seen as a head of one country. In multi-party systems on the other hand, each party has it’s owns selection methods, while the final decision on the amount of power is made through public elections. At first, these two systems look rather different, but are they really? Let’s take a look at the United States, a county that proudly calls itself the leader of democracy: American political system is multi-party by definition, however, in real life it is a two-party based system, where the Republicans and Democrats hold most of the power on all levels, from local to federal and presidential. Yes, in the USA anyone can lawfully form a party and run for office, but the question remains – how realistic are his or her chances? In reality, virtually non existent. It all comes down to the essence of this political system, and in the case of America, it is primarily determined by the interests of individuals, companies and interest groups which finance the political parties in question. In other words, individual interests form collective interests. Financing of parties ensures positions in the government, presidential terms, determines foreign policy, directs economy and even wages wars. It often happens that same financiers sponsor both major parties. Accordingly, one might eventually wonder what freedom of selection remains if both choices you’re left with have the same sponsors? If the two biggest political competitors form their agendas on the account of equal corporate concerns, how does a voter get to exercise his right to vote? Well, he does, by making a choice between Pepsi and Coke, or Coke and Coke Zero. Sure, it’s a choice, but does it make any true difference? The truth is – power is held by a small and rich group of people, and as far as the voter is concerned, he is only expected to cast a ballot and provide the legitimacy and the feeling of free choice, at his own expense of course. Don’t forget that elections are funded by the state budget. Everything else has already been set. In Europe the situation might be a bit better, with numerous parties present in the political life, but even so, the principle remains the same – big business sponsors big politics. It only adds Dr Pepper to the choice list, but that’s as far as it gets. You’ll get to drink the same, just choose the name.
Finally, what are the major differences between one-party and multi-party systems? Where is democracy in all this? Theory is in the books, in the speeches, promises and phrases which politicians deliver to us when they need our vote. In a single-party system, one has a limited voting capacity, but that’s no big secret. Everyone knows it and keeps living. Fewer elections cost less money, less time, thus making the country more stable and focused towards important issues. Yes, you might feel having less freedom, but can You actually enjoy that freedom elsewhere? As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care who runs the country, sits in the parliament or writes the newspapers. As long as the country works, and I as a citizen, have decent chances to earn a decent living – it’s good to go. On the other hand, in a multi-party so called democracy, one is told (brainwashed to be precise) of his freedoms and rights he will never truly get to enjoy, like a hay stack hanging in front of a cart horse. God knows how many billions and hours are spent in election campaigns, how much time and energy gets wasted. All has already been decided anyway, and one’s duty is just to drop the ballot and continue his dreamy life in The Democratic Matrix. In contrast, there are examples like Switzerland, where every single thing is put on a national referendum (which is maybe closest to a real democracy) however, an 8 million people country whose economy is based on private banking is a very unique case which can hardly be applied in any broader society. And even in such democratic Switzerland, the power is mostly held by representatives of those same Banks. The conclusion: Democracy might be good, only if it ever existed in reality. Until that day – the fewer parties, the better.