What Is Democracy?
When someone uses the term “democracy,” we generally have to use context to try to figure out which connotation of that word is actually intended. And some of the possible meanings are more-or-less contradictions of other connotations, so it’s important that we indicate as clearly as we can which meaning is intended.
Throughout this website, when we discuss democracy, we mean the concept of a substantive democracy in which “rule by the people” is an accurate description. When other meanings are intended, we will use quotation marks and/or modifiers to indicate that we mean something else (e.g. pseudo-democracy, liberal “democracy”) or we will use a more accurate word (e.g. oligarchy, plutocracy).
To begin to clarify what democracy is, let’s first go over what democracy is not. First and foremost, democracy is not holding elections to determine governmental offices. While elections might be used within democracy, it is not the defining feature. Electing government officials is common in many nations, none of which are democracies. Most nations that elect their governments should be more accurately called oligarchies (rule by a minority faction), and for those in which the ruling minority faction is also the wealthiest segment of the population and/or operating in the interest of the wealthiest, they should more specifically be called plutocracies.
One might assume by discarding the above conception that we must mean that only a direct democracy can be truly called democracy. This is not our intention at all. This focus on formal process is just a diversion from what is important. Again, we stress that real democracy must be substantive rather than merely formal. This means that the outcomes of governmental decisions and execution of laws and policies must be in accord with the best interests of the people, rather than serving any elite faction, or even a majority.
Another common understanding of democracy which should not be inferred here is “rule by the majority.” Democracy must serve the common good of the people as a whole, not just a majority.
The problem with the latter is that it is likely that one or two factions may be part of almost every winning temporary coalition, and will thus become dominant, resulting in an effective rule by a minority, i.e. oligarchy. We need to look beyond mere majority if what we seek is democracy.
(2018-03-26 This is a work in progress, to be continued…)