In twelve recent posts, I have listed the Twelve Advantages of Democracy. Those advantages, taken together, are my answer to the Why Democracy? question. They are powerful advantages, the reasons people take to the streets and risk their lives for the blessing of living under democratic order, as currently in Iran.
There is a divide between regimes that are (more or less) democratic and those that are (more or less) autocratic. The difference is not in perfection or beauty. Democracy is often messy and always unfinished. Autocratic regimes can be impressive in strength and performance. But there is a difference for the people who live under the respective regimes.
If your country is democratic, you are
- less at risk of tyranny
- more likely to possess rights
- more likely to enjoy autonomy
- more likely to be protected by rule of law
- more likely to experience political equality
- more likely to handle citizenship duties
- more likely to benefit from effective governance
- more likely to live in an environment of prosperity
- less at risk of suffering poverty
- more likely to live in peace
- more likely to experience managed disagreement
- more likely to enjoy a culture of tolerance.
These are real, practical and tangible advantages of real democracy as we know it. There is nothing abstract or theoretical about it; this is the way things play out for real men, women, children and families in today’s world. If you live under an autocratic regime, the risks and likelihoods all fall differently. You are then more at risk of tyranny, and so on. If you have a choice, your best bet by far is democracy.
Still, the advantages are only probabilities, not certainties. Democracy does not guarantee any of it. The theoretician Alexis de Tocqueville, for example, observing American democracy in the 1830s, warned of possible “soft despotism,” a kind of tyranny under a surface of democratic forms. The Greek philosopher Aristotle warned, as have many others, of the danger of mob rule. In his city of Athens, the world’s first democracy only lasted about two hundred years.
Today’s democracies are not always impressive. In Britain, the home of the Westminster Model, rather than effective governance we are in a long run of misrule. In the United States, the home of the American Constitution, the ability to managed disagreement and tolerance is going lost.
None of that negates the advantages of democracy. It only suggests that we are not alert enough to what democracy does for us to stand guard over the democracies we have. If we allow them to wither, as in Athens, we will soon enough know what we have lost.
For more detailed analysis, see How Democracies Live.