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Democracy Essay

1103 words - 4 pages

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Democracy has become the most widespread political form of government during the past decade, after the fall of all its alternatives. During the second part of the 20th century, the 3 main enemies of democracy, namely communism, fascism and Nazism, lost most of their power and influence. However, democracy is still only to be found in less than half of this world's countries. China with a fifth of the total population "had never experienced a democratic government" and Russia still doesn't have a well established democracy. By adopting a democratic perspective, 3 types of governments emerge, non-democratic, new democracies, and old democracies, and all have a different challenge to overcome: either to become democratic, to "consolidate" the existing democracy or to "deepen" it.
Democracy is not, however, a new concept. Although put into practice only 2 centuries ago, the idea of the rule of the people s much older than that, having been discussed and partly implemented in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Shrouded in mystery, the invention of the concept cannot be traced back to a certain time in the past, because, for example, current historians could not properly analyse the ‘government' form of the primitive nomadic tribes, existent before recorded history. Favourable conditions for the development of some type of democracy reappeared around 500 B.C.E. in Europe, on the Mediterranean coast and later in the north.
In 507 B.C.E. Athens, the most important city-state in the Greek peninsula, "adopted a system of popular government" (Dahl: 1998: 11), which was to last until the Macedonian invasion two centuries later. The term democracy has its roots in the Greek language, meaning rule (kratos) of the people (demos). Although more cities adopted this type of government, the one in Athens is the one posterity remembers as the first example of participatory democracy. The whole Athenian experience shaped the political philosophy, even the way we understand it today. At the centre of the Athenian government was an assembly, which every citizen was able to attend. The role of this assembly was to select citizens for public duties. Whereas key positions were selected through election, other public duties were decided by lottery. Although this is the first record attempt of democracy, many of the ideas of that time have been ignored, when talking about modern democratic governments.
Concomitant with the Athenian system, in the city of Rome popular government was introduced as well, albeit under a different name, respublica (from "res" – thing and "publicus" – public). Consequently the republic was similar with Greek demokratia. At the beginning only aristocrats or patricians were allowed to participate at the governing act, but "after much struggle the common people [….] also gained entry" (Dahl, 1998: 13). Only male patricians, later lower castes as well, were able to govern, meaning that...

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