Is Democracy a Justifiable Method for Collective Decision Making?

Subject: Politics & Government
Pages: 9
Words: 2571
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9 min
Study level: PhD


Modern society is challenged by a number of complex issues connected with the necessity to identify and follow the required forms of government, demonstrate rational approaches to decision making, and respect human rights and freedoms. The promotion of democracy as the main form of government turns out to be an answer to the majority of questions. However, despite the fact that democracy is frequently observed everywhere in this world, many people still fail to understand and use this term properly. I believe that democracy can be a helpful tool in the creation of strong and successful societies. Unfortunately, it is not enough to be aware of some democratic concepts. It is required to gather different opinions, underline the essence, and follow reasonable examples. This paper aims at discussing democracy as a justifiable method for collective decision-making that has to be limited to be effective for both, the government and citizens. It is expected to discuss the differences between representative and direct forms of democracy through the comparison of ideas developed by Rousseau, Tocqueville, and Plato. Then, the evaluation of political power, general will, liberalism, and political participation will be introduced to explain the concept of democracy, its merits, and demerits and to investigate its worth compared to other forms of government that may be used as appropriate alternative systems.

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Democracy and Its Forms

Nowadays, millions of people support the idea of living in a democratic society. When people tell about democracy, they usually consider such concepts as equality, liberty, and dignity (Stewart 2012). However, it is wrong to think about democracy as an outcome of human decisions. Stewart (2012) underlines that democracy should not be defined as “a question of structures”, but it has to be evaluated as a “state of mind” based on honesty and the possibility to develop trustful relationships between politicians and the public. Unfortunately, not all politicians know how to trust their people. They are ready to act, promote free voting and choice, and demonstrate their respect. Still, they cannot give any guarantees that such a system can work. American democracy proves that electoral power is not perfect. People give their votes to a particular person believing that they directly participate in their country’s growth. However, even a candidate who has many votes can easily lose promoting bureaucratic bungling (Bassetti 2012). Deep explanations are required to understand why it is reasonable to believe in democracy as an effective method for collective decision-making.

Democracy is one of the possible forms of government that makes all people eligible representatives of their countries. When people live in a democratic world, they can participate in the formulation and creation of laws that they find are the best for them regarding their interests, abilities, and needs. However, even if democracy is the core of a country, it may gain two different forms, and not all people are able to recognise its differences. For example, there is direct democracy that is also defined as pure democracy. Coffman (2016) explains this type of democracy as the main element of collective decision-making when individuals are able to express their choices and check all alternatives available to them at the moment. Still, direct democracy is rarely used today, and representative democracy happens frequently promoting an idea of voting for a representative being elected to represent them in Congress or other legal bodies. Direct and representative democracies have their merits, providing people with voting rights, recognition of human interests, and cooperation between the public and the government. The main demerit of these two types is their obscure difference when the decisions of citizens have or may not be upheld. Direct democracy may be beneficial for small counties. Still, the populations of many countries are large, and direct democracy remains a myth letting representative democracy work.

Philosophers’ Thoughts on Democracy

The peculiar features of representative and direct democracies should not be neglected, and the works of various philosophers can be used to prove why this difference matters in political theory and ideologies. In this paper, I want to pay attention to the three ideas of how to interpret democracy in its intentions to become a collective decision-making approach. Plato, Rousseau, and Tocqueville were the representatives of different epochs with various experiences, knowledge, and access to public interests. Despite their differences, goals, and intentions, their thoughts about human rights, tyranny, and active participation in the formulation of the general will can be used to create a strong and clear attitude to democracy with its direct and representative qualities (Farr, 2015). Though each of these three philosophers was not eager to support democracy as the main form of government, their ideas helped to understand that democracy was inevitable.

Plato is a representative of ancient philosophy. His approaches and views were based on those limited ideas available to the population. Still, his work cannot be called out-of-date or inappropriate for modern people because they were based on personal interpretations and properly chosen concepts. Plato was known for his identification of democracy as one of the worst forms of government because it resulted in the tyranny of the majority. Democracy could not be approved because it was just a whim of the population to protect their interests and underline their needs. However, the expertise that is usually required for properly governed populations can be easily questioned because it is hard to be good at everything. Plato explained democracy as the possibility of politicians paying attention to people’s opinions and understandings of what was right and wrong. Politicians were not ready to protect the ideas of ordinary people at their own expense. In his discussion, Stewart (2012) made a good statement talking about the promises and answers given by modern politicians. These people believe that they are aware of everything and can solve any situation. Therefore, democracy is nothing more than another opportunity to enslave people and support tyranny.

The tyranny of the majority was also a core notion in the works of Alexis de Tocqueville. This philosopher used Plato’s ideas and addressed the problem of democratic order as a force to promote human equality and support socio-political evolution (Nelson 2015). Tocqueville’s observations of the American style of life helped him to explain the tyranny of the majority as the condition when a majority tried to take actions regarding their personal needs at the expense of the minority. The goal of such tyranny was the possibility for one part of the government to gain much power in a short period of time. Any form of democracy is not able to cover all the historical and cultural heritage of the population. Therefore, even if democracy is chosen by people as a form of government, there is no chance for all people’s interests and demands to be taken into consideration. The result of such inabilities frustrates and proves that democracy cannot have a correct form, and there will always be the tyranny of the majority that determines votes, rights, laws, and regulations.

The forms of democracy also bothered one of the leading French philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who questioned the necessity and worth of representative democracy but protected democracy as an inevitable form of ruling. Compared to Plato and Tocqueville, Rousseau protected sovereign democracy as a possibility to empower all people or its larger part (Wade 1976). He believed that when people started choosing representatives of the government, they took the first step in losing their freedoms. Democracy has to be direct only. Representative democracy cannot be defined as democracy at all because it limits human rights and determines freedom.

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Political Power as a Craft

Despite the intentions to protect the freedoms of the population, democracy is explained as a form of political order that has its measurements, qualities, and controllers. Political power remains an integral aspect of my understanding of democracy. On the one hand, democracy implies freedom. On the other hand, democracy is a form of order. An order cannot be successful in case it is led by insufficient people. The presence of order in a system is the presence of rules and standards that cannot be ignored. Such regulations cannot be introduced without a thorough analysis, and the chosen approach and explanations should be rooted. Therefore, political power has to be understood as a craft that has its purpose – to provide the population with helpful laws and regulations. It has to be administrated by the experts who know how to use theory, improve practice, and respect citizens.

General Will in a Democratic Society

Moral values, standards, and human freedoms are the main characteristics of political powers that support the idea of democracy. Similar values along with properly shaped political aspirations determine the creation of the general will, one of the integral concepts in political theory. Rousseau contributed to an understanding of this concept a lot, explaining the differences between what the will of all and the general will are all about. According to Rousseau, the will may have several interpretations (Farr 2015). On the one hand, the will may be based on a number of private interests that have to be taken into account when a decision should be made. The result of such an approach includes the possibility to gather all people’s wills but the inability to explain and analyse them properly. On the other hand, there is the general will that comes from the necessity to consider the common interests only, meaning that it should come from all people and apply to all people.

A political community may possess the general will only when the law is defined as general in its application but stays universal in its scope. Today, society is divided according to a number of factors, including race, social status, age, gender, and geographical location. This division is hard to neglect or avoid. Therefore, it is hard for me to believe that any political community may possess a general will. As an exception, this type of will may be inherent to small communities that live separately disregarding the needs and rules of the majority of ordinary people (the example may be the representatives of Amish communities).

Liberalism and Democracy

The difference between the general and public will is not the only challenge that is observed in political theory. Political and social relationships are complex by their nature, and people have to learn each concept and every definition separately. For example, many populations are still confused by the inherent tension that exists between individual liberty and democracy, believing that both concepts are similar due to their promotion of freedoms and human rights. However, the liberal emphasis on liberty and democracy cannot be neglected. Liberals believe that it is the responsibility of the government to protect its people from different harms caused by other people, countries, and outside factors. At the same time, the government has to identify its own threats to the liberties of its people to stay democratic.

Liberalism helps to understand the relation between liberty and democracy. It is not enough to believe that the main principle of democracy is based on the fact that every person deserves a right to liberty. Democracy does not guarantee liberty because democracy is a collective concept that includes collective decision-making and the general will of all people when liberty is an individual ability to consider personal goals and interests with no interference from the government’s side.

Political Participation and Democracy

The development of a democratic system is a difficult process that requires a number of tasks being completed and a number of goals to be identified. Political participation is an integral part of a democratic system in addition to such facts as a representative government, freedoms, and political transparency (Nelson 2015). Political participation provides people with a chance to share their concerns and preferences with the representatives of the government. However, it is hard to understand if this kind of activity may be interpreted as a route to freedom. Citizens can develop their thoughts and express their views towards the rules and laws. In the United States, democratic political participation is voluntary, and people are not obliged to participate. Comparing political participation to freedom and its non-obligatory nature, it is hard to say that some people may voluntarily refuse their freedoms. In Europe, people are interested in political participation because they believe in the impact of their decisions and the possibility to influence the government of the countries they have to live in. However, again, this participation has nothing in common with freedoms, just a possibility to share personal opinions and vote.

Alternatives to Democracy

Political participation may also be a characteristic of other forms of government that are good alternatives to democracy. For example, the United Kingdom continues to be one of the most successful examples of the monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as its ruler since 1952. Compared to democracy where equality and liberty are promoted by the law, monarchy does not restrict the rights of a monarch since this person is responsible for all regulations and laws. This form of government is good until a leader demonstrates good attitudes to people, stays kind and compassionate, and works well to promote the country’s prosperity. Another evident alternative to democracy is totalitarianism where nobody has freedom and rights, and all political activities and choices are controlled by the government. An example of such a regime is Chinese communism. Communism is a harsh form of government where people are deprived of all principles and interests. Still, this political order protects its citizens against outside negative factors and creates appropriate conditions for all people despite their differences. Sometimes, it is enough to live several years under such a ruling to clarify its benefits.

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The benefits of democracy make people blind and eager to choose an easy and more humanistic way when all rights and freedoms are available. Democracy deserves its positive contemporary reputation by equality, the protection of citizens’ interests, the possibility to avoid monopoly, and the promotion of political education with the help of which political participation can bring positive results. Though this form of government may be characterised by corruption, poorly made decisions, and unpredictable voting results, political changes and collective decision-making with clear limitations and measurements ensure hope and positive future insights.


In general, Rousseau, Plato, and Tocqueville proved that democracy could be defined as a justifiable method for collective decision-making. However, it is possible only in case the democratic rule is limited by political participation, the general will, and the experts who accept political power as a craft. It is not enough for the population to identify its freedoms and believe in individual liberties to prove the strength of democracy. Democracy is a complex concept that implies a number of responsibilities and options for people with the help of which they can understand their rights, ask the government for protection, and avoid unnecessary social judgments.

Reference List

Bassetti, V 2012, Electoral dysfunction: why presidential losers can win the White House. Web.

Coffman, KB 2016, ‘Representative democracy and the implementation of majority-preferred alternatives’, Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 46, no. 3, pp. 477-494.

Farr, J 2015, ‘Locke’s ideas, Rousseau’s principles, and the general will’, in J Far & DL Williams (eds), The general will, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, pp. 88-114.

Nelson, BR 2015, Western political thought: from Socrates to the age of ideology, 6th edn, Waveland Press, Long Grove, IL.

Stewart, R 2012, Why democracy matters. Web.

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Wade, IO 1976, ‘Bicentennial issue: historical and literary relations between France and the United States’, The French Review, vol. 49, no. 6, pp. 926-937.