International School of London, Qatar
Greek thought has triggered a fire which enabled us to create a colossal cauldron bubbling and crackling with our own thoughts of a system that has shed the blood of millions who have tried to protect or prevent it – democracy.
Democracy is a notable form of governance since actions are dependent on collective choices of a country rather than a single force; democracy attempts to put the fate of the people in their very own hands. A number of forms of democracy have sprouted from this, but fundamentally, democracy revolves around the premise of citizens being able to exercise the right to vote. Due to this liberty, it is generally considered important to live in a democracy.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand precisely what “important” means, a rather ambiguous word. We must ask ourselves: Is democracy necessary for a nation? In other words: Does it provide both great and positive value? Is it critical to prosperity? Are the citizens satisfied?
Although some could argue that contemporary democratic systems still require development, few would argue that contemporary democratic systems should be replaced without reservation.
That said, Eurocentrism impacts the voices of the ones we typically hear argue. These voices come from people who have been heavily influenced by the West and have been taught to screech “oppressive authoritarian regimes don’t have freedom, so democracy must be important!” while cherry-picking, misconstruing, and falsely dichotomizing information without glancing over their shoulders at the state and opinions of the 6 billion people not living in the West.
Of course, we must determine the importance of living in a democracy through judging democracy in practice, rather than in theory. In spite of the fact that living in a society where citizens are able to exercise power may sound ideal on paper, in practice that is not always the case due to loopholes which power-hungry individuals are able to exploit.
My firsthand experiences in three differing governmental systems, two of which are not classified as democracies, makes me question if it is always important to live in a democracy. These countries – the United States, Vietnam, and Qatar – have all profoundly altered my perspective on the importance of democracy in their own way. In addition, I attend an educational institution with over 70 different nationalities, allowing me to hear viewpoints from all corners of the globe. Thus, to avoid the bias of my personal experiences, I believe that Brazil and Greece are worth mentioning when it comes to understanding the extent of the importance of democracy.
We can sieve the products in our cauldron of democracy so that democracy symbolizes freedom, justice, and progression because some believe that the government alone does not have the right to make decisions which would affect all, much less be trusted with it. The United States, known for their fierce advocation of democracy, prove that for them at the moment, it is indeed important to live in a democratic system of some form. The rule of law is set in stone, civil service is competent, and freedom and equality are deeply valued in the culture. These are some of the prerequisites of successful democracies and permits democracy to deliver quality results. When a country establishes the necessary conditions, democracy is undoubtedly important because it is the only governmental system as of now which effectively addresses the wants and needs of its people.
We can sieve the products in our cauldron of democracy so that democracy is shown to be completely futile and oftentimes detrimental due to a separate issue: corruption. Vietnam faces most forms of corruption, from nepotism to bribery to embezzlement. If Vietnam implements democracy right now, the government could overpower what the people want – with ease. In other words, in a corrupt democratic system, the authority can intimidate and manipulate its people to reach the outcome they seek so that democracy would only slow down decisions which the authority would have made regardless. This means that it is not important for the people in exceedingly corrupt countries to live in a democracy because that would only obstruct progress as a whole. Corruption and democracy struggle to coexist because corruption undermines democracy. In order for democracy to be important to live in, countries need to limit corruption as much as possible first. Otherwise, the voice of the people will not be relevant against the megalomaniac faces of those who yield power.
We can sieve the products in our cauldron of democracy so that democracy cannot function properly due to a lack of a free flow of information and ideas, such as freedom of expression and governmental transparency. Living in a democracy can never be important if the government relentlessly conceals and censors information. How will people make beneficial decisions without knowing all the facts? In addition, the voice of the opposition is a cornerstone to reaching the best decision. What is the point of democracy if people are not allowed to speak against their government? It is not ideal for countries such as Qatar to establish a democracy right now because it drowns the voice of the opposition. In cases like this, the government would only establish a democratic system to give the false illusion that people have freedom when key pieces of successful democracies – freedom to expression and access to information – are withheld. Democracy does not secure freedom of expression; these two are independent of each other. People must have the ability to express and listen to beliefs and opinions freely without retaliation, censorship, or legal ramifications before institutionalizing a democracy that is important to live in.
We can sieve the products in our cauldron of democracy so that democracy is shown to be ineffective in adapting to its situation due to the fact that it is incredibly slow. Brazil recently elected a new president, an avid supporter of the previous military dictatorship. This mirrors the many calls for the imposition of martial law as it reflects the frustration at the slow political parties in the past. Socioeconomic inertia amongst crises creates the perfect breeding ground for extremism. As crises often cause countries to become polarized and extremist, it does not serve well for democratic systems, which require conflicting parties to both make concessions. When under threat, the government must make immediate decisions and democratic results such as bipartisanship prevent the quick decisions that are necessary. Thus, we should only establish democracy in countries which have achieved relative stability. It is not important to live in a democracy when a country faces life or death crises that requires rapid solutions.
We can sieve the products in our cauldron of democracy so that democracy leads to disastrous outcomes due to uneducated voters who do not understand the consequences of their choices. The father of philosophy, Socrates, who was Greek himself and witnessed the origins of democracy, gave up his life after passionately opposing giving voting rights to the uneducated. If you were on a plane, who would you want to make decisions for the aircraft? You would definitely believe it is important for those educated in piloting, navigation, or engineering to be in charge rather than anyone on board to be in charge. The same applies in democracy: is it not irresponsible for those who know nothing about politics to make political decisions? This then gives rise to demagoguery, which confirmed Socrates’ fears when Greece then had leaders, such as Alcibiades, who were entirely incompetent and morally repugnant, yet still elected due to the uneducated citizens who could not make reasoned decisions since they were blindly swayed by charisma and emotional oratory mixed with populist claims. Democracy is not important to live in if it leaves the knowledgeable and well-informed at the mercy of the ignorant masses.
There are simply too many instances where democracy has neither great and positive value, where democracy is not critical to prosperity, where democracy causes unsatisfied citizens; where democracy would not be important to live in. This is why I cannot full-heartedly affirm that it is always important to live in a democracy. Nevertheless, I do believe that citizens making their own decisions for their country is inherently the fairest course of action because people should have a right to govern themselves. That is why, to an extent, it is important and I think that it is the system all other systems should eventually aim to incorporate. However, looking at the bigger picture at the present moment, I acknowledge that with the different social, political, and economic situations spanning across the globe, it is not always entirely important for the people to live in a democracy as of now because democracy can threaten progress.
Only when we minimize corruption, only when we guarantee freedom of expression, only when we attain moderate stability, and only when we educate ourselves will democracy be definitely important to live in because only then will the system effectively listen to us.