The twelfth advantage of democracy: tolerance of imperfection. The case for democracy is not perfection. It is more modest: democracy is likely to be the better form of rule for most people. To be democratic is to accept the imperfect. It is because we humans and our communities are messy that we need the cumbersome democratic way of managing our affairs. The tolerance of imperfection is an extension of people’s tolerance of each other. Democracy is never finished but always in the making, and will so forever remain. The vibrant democracy is not the finished one, but the one in which shortcomings are acknowledged and the imperative of continuous reform recognised. Only dictatorships can aspire to perfection. The philosopher Karl Popper, in The Open Society and its Enemies, argued that it is the idea of perfection that causes ideologically determined regimes to go tyrannical, since the next logical step after certainty is that ends justify means. Democracy is built on tolerance, on the recognition, in the words of Immanuel Kant (as paraphrased by Isaiah Berlin) that “out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” That which gives the spirit of democracy its majesty, is tolerance of the imperfect in the human condition.

For more detailed analysis, see How Democracies Live.