Winston Churchill once remarked that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”. In agreement with his statement, this paper will examine the problems of democratic governments using specific examples, and compare it to the failure of fascist governments in Nazi Germany and Italy and communist governments in the Soviet Union and China.
Theoretically, democracy is a stable form of government where power is in the hands of the people. In a democracy, people have the liberty to elect officials that best represent their interests, and political institutions exist as a result: Benjamin Constant argues in The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns that “true modern liberty is individual liberty” and that “political liberty is its guarantee”. (Constant, pg. 10) Liberty, then, is a requirement of democracy.
However, despite the premise of popular participation in politics, recent years have seen a decline in voter turnout during elections. (Wong, Lecture, October 24) This may be the result of a general lack of interest or, more likely, a loss of trust in politicians. Modern democracy is intended to be representative, yet it seems that corruption and political domination by the upper class have resulted in public disillusionment in politics. In India, for example, polls have shown that the majority prefers democracy, but the level of trust in elected officials is very low due to wealth-based campaigning, nepotism, and lack of transparency (Sen, pg. 90) in the election system. Thus it can be said that in democratic countries where corruption is prevalent, democracy can be undermined by an undemocratic system.
The principles of democracy can also be undermined when equality of opportunity and equality of outcome conflict, as it seems that one has to be sacrificed in order to achieve the other. During elections in countries with corrupt governments, for example, it has to be decided whether the guarantee of every individual’s right to vote or who wins is more important. (Wong, Lecture, October 24) Moreover, deep divides continue to exist and separate groups in democratic countries by race, religion, language, and class, resulting in tension and, in some cases, oppression. Thus democracy, despite its emphasis on liberty, equality and plurality, can still be problematic.
According to Andrew Janos, “the price of economic progress has been political turmoil”. (Janos, pg. 21) If the Modernization Theory holds that countries tend to become more democratic the more they modernize, then political turmoil is to be expected in democracies. Certainly this can occur in both parliamentary and presidential systems: as Linz argues, the presidential system concentrates too much power on the president, resulting in “winner-take-all” politics (Linz, pg. 56) and the polarization of political parties. This is evident in the United States, where the president is elected separately and Congress is divided...