What does ‘democracy ‘mean’? One hears the word tossed around in many contexts, with the implicit assumption that ‘everyone understands’ what it means. Not! In my major of mathematics – a subject of much rigor – it was necessary that definitions be clear, concise, and consistent. While we don’t need as much rigor in most disciplines, clear definitions are still the foundations on which knowledge must be built. (N.B.: “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is…” ) Are there standard definitions of democracy? If there are, they are unclear in everyday usage.
As an example, when the neocons said that a nation was a ‘democracy’, that meant it: had some kind of elections; had a free market economy; and agreed with US policies. Moving on, I propose that there are four types of democracy: pure democracy; economic democracy; social democracy; and political democracy.
Pure democracy is what existed in Athens: every free male had an equal vote; every issue was majoritarian; and the majority ruled. (N.B.: Since Socrates was tried for being an atheist, I’ll steer clear of pure democracies.)
Economic democracy is what has existed in the United States, from the era of Carnegie and Rockefeller to the Internet boom: one was not restricted in matters of birth or class from success in the business world. This gave us an advantage over countries where one had to have the ‘right school tie’ to succeed.
Social democracy is an environment where anyone who qualifies – irregardless of religious, racial, and ethnic background – can participate in most aspects of society, including access to public facilities, to education, and to social, charitable, and civic organizations. While this has not universally been true throughout US history, we have been making progress in this matter since the late sixties.
Political democracy describes the situation where all citizens are eligible to vote, there is wide voting participation, and each vote is fairly and accurately counted: perhaps the US will be there some day…
Summary: etymologically, ‘democracy’ means rule by the people. Having said all of the above, to give a concise defininition: “democracy is government by the consent of the governed”.
Proverb: “As the twig is bent, so the tree is inclined” &, “If the twig is not secured, the tree will point in no specific direction”