In his article, Democracy as a Universal Value, Amartya Sen asserts that democracy is a universal value. In order to develop his argument Sen needs to state his definition of democracy and define what he means by universal value. In the course of Sen's argument he gives his view of the relationship between democracy and the economy. He then defends his view of democracy as a universal value against a main argument that deals with cultural differences between regions.
Amartya Sen uses a maximum definition of democracy. Sen believes that a democracy has more qualities than just rule by the majority. "Democracy is a demanding system, and not just a mechanical condition (like majority rule) taken in isolation" (Sen 5). Sen believes that democracies must have fair elections along with the guaranteed protection of freedoms and liberties. He states, "Democracy has complex demands, which certainly include voting and respect for election results, but it also requires the protection of liberties and freedoms, respect for legal entitlements, and the guaranteeing of free discussion and uncensored distribution of news and fair comment" (5). Sen asserts that elections can be defective and unfair if they are held in the absence of freedoms that allow opposing sides to present their views and allow the electorate to hear them and discuss their opinions. When democracy is practiced properly, Sen believes there are three different ways that it can enrich the lives of its citizens. "First, political freedom is a part of human freedom in general, and exercising civil and political rights is a crucial part of good lives of individuals as social beings" (5). Second, democracy increases the level of government acknowledgement that people get "in expressing and supporting their claims to political attention" (5). Democracy gives people the power to keep their government responsible and accountable. Third, the practice of democracy requires public discussion and exchange of information, views, and analyses; this exchange of information helps a society form its values and priorities (5).
Sen considers something a universal value if "people anywhere may have reason to see it as valuable" (6). Some people have argued that democracy is not a universal value because not everyone agrees that democracy is valuable and important. However, according to Sen, complete, unanimous approval by all people is not needed for something to be considered a universal value. Using this definition Sen successfully defends his claim that democracy is a universal value, despite the fact that some people may not agree on the value of democracy.
In his argument on the universal value of democracy Amartya Sen discusses the relationship between democracy and economic development. He notes that it is often claimed that nondemocratic systems are better at bringing about economic development than democratic ones. Sen disagrees with this claim. He asserts that this hypothesis...