The chronology of democracy has been characterized by a number of different elucidations and interpretations of the term ‘democracy’. As a consequence, there have been different theoretical and practical approaches to democracy in the diverse human civilizations. In recent days, scholars and political experts have integrated the classical descriptions of democracy with the contemporary ones to come up with emergent, and often time, inconsistent elucidations of what democracy is (Held, 2006). Despite the different models of democracy, most people agree that democracy is supposed to empower the people and enable them to participate in the decision making process over issues that concern them. Whether the government is controlled by the people themselves of by their elected representatives, it is important that there be a very high degree of accountability by those in power.
Any scholar who attempts to analyze and elucidate on the models of democracy must be willing to accomplish two important feats; firstly, such a scholar must be able to introduce and discuss the main accounts of democracy (Tilly, 2007). Secondly, they should be able to elucidate on the implications of democracy in the modern day.
Kuskin et al (2004: 460) reveal that there are a number of nations in the world whose governmental agencies are based on the system of liberal democracy; these include the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand. Liberal democracy refers to the form of democracy that is described as representative. In such a political system, there are a number of representatives that have been fairly chosen by the electorate and given the power and authority to make decisions on behalf of the people on issues such as legislative laws and political issues. These representatives thus derive their power from the people; they are expected to abide by the stipulations of their respective national constitutions (Lin and Barber, 1984). In such a democracy, the national constitution is the backbone and genesis of all citizens’ freedoms, liberties, access to due process of law and equality. Mann (1993) claims that liberal democracy, also referred to as representative democracy, is amongst the most stable democracies in the world and constitutes one of the strongest categories of civil societies. Apart from being allowed to contribute their opinions in public discussions, on special occasions the electorate in such democracies are allowed the opportunity to change the decisions made by their representatives through a process of referendum.
There are a number of criticisms that have been directed towards the liberal or representative form of democracy. One of the most emphasized is the claim that once the representatives in a liberal democracy are elected into their respective offices, they wield the power and authority to make pertinent decisions without any form of consultation with their electorate. Kuskin et al (2004) posit that the public opinion on volatile issues such as whether or not the country should go to war, or issues of constitution revision is usually ignored, causing this form of democracy to be defined as an ‘elected oligarchy’ in which power is wielded by a few people. In addition to this, critics of liberal democracy also argue that this structure of democracy lacks the ability to safeguard the interests of the marginalized or minority groups in the event that the majority accepts the oppression of the minority; consequently, liberal democracy is perceived as having the ability to safeguard individual freedoms only.
According to Held (2006), direct democracies are mostly more popular in jurisdictions that are smaller than those governed by representative democracies. Direct democracy is also commonly referred to as participatory, true or pure democracy. It refers to a form of democracy in which the electorate makes their own decisions on the laws and policies by which they will be governed. This form of democracy is a direct opposite of the representative democracy in which representatives are chosen to perform such functions on behalf of the people. A direct democracy works best when the number of people being governed is relatively small and very actively involved in their political and government agencies (Lin and Barber, 1984). Direct forms of democracy are described as being not only by the people but also for the people. There are a number of advantages that are assigned to direct democracy. In such a democracy, the people wield authority over their own lives and they can raise and deliberate upon issues that are usually concealed by representatives in liberal democracies. In addition to this, politicians are forced to respond to petitions by the people as well as be more accountable in their actions Issues such as imbalance of power and irregularities in the parliament are easily controlled by such a democracy (Kuskin et al, 2004).
The greatest challenges or demerits of a direct democracy are the fact that it is very costly to maintain. Moreover, some members of the society may tend to be more politically active than others. In addition to the fact that such a democracy is usually characterized by incidences of referenda, the government and media in such democracies have a tendency to try to sway or manipulate the people’s opinions and decisions.
Deliberation refers to the decision making technique in which the electorate is tasked with the responsibility of making public decisions after discussing and consulting with each other, collecting enough factual material from the different existent perspectives and being informed of the options available to them. According to Tilly (2007) a deliberative form of democracy is founded upon the principle that the voters and their voters come together to deliberate upon the issues that affect them, with the intention of formulating effective solutions. Such deliberations are usually open ones in which the public is expected to indicate a willingness to acknowledge, comprehend and appreciate the different values, concerns and mind sets demonstrated by others in the society. Deliberative democracy has a tendency to exist in a variety of forms and blends which complement each other and increase the levels of democracy and effective governance. Such forms include instrumental, expressive, consensual, substantive and procedural deliberations (Held, 2006).
A deliberative form of democracy supports and builds up the electorate’s voice in governance by making sure that the people in the society from different regions, races, ages, educational levels and socio-economic backgrounds are all included in the deliberative process of determining public decisions (Warren, 2001). There are a number of merits that are associated with deliberate democracy; in such a democracy the voters tend to put aside their differences and develop a special concern for each other. Such a process increases the electorate’s collaboration and common understanding. This means that the decisions that are settled for are nit only mutually acceptable, but also satisfactory to all those involved. The greatest disadvantage of this form of democracy is the fact that consensus is the only way to come to a resolution or clear conclusion.
This paper has effectively analyzed three models of democracy. Direct democracy is also commonly referred to as participatory, true or pure democracy and it refers to a form of democracy in which the electorate makes their own decisions on the laws and policies by which they will be governed. Liberal democracy is a form of democracy that is representative. A number of representatives are fairly chosen by the electorate and given the power to make decisions on behalf of the people. A deliberative form of democracy is founded upon the principle that the voters and their voters come together to deliberate upon the issues that affect them, with the intention of formulating effective solutions. Many nations in the modern day have indicated a tendency to try and blend and make use of more than one form of democracy. The most commonly blended, as indicated in the American example, is the direct and indirect forms of democracies.
Held, D., 2006, Models of Democracy, Cambridge: Polity chapters 2 and 3 Canovan, M. (2005) The People Cambridge: Polity Press
Kuskin, R. C., Fishkin, J. S. and Jowell, R., 2004, Considered Opinions: Deliberative Poling in Britain, British Journal of Political Science, Vo. 32, pp. 455-487
Li, H. and Barber, B., 1984, String Democracy, Berkeley: London, University of California Press
Mann, M., 1993, The Sources Of Social Power. Vol.2: The Rise Of Classes And Nation-States, 1760-1914 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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Warren, M. E., 2001, Democracy and Association, Princeton: Princeton University Press