What is Democracy: Concept and Meaning

What is Democracy: Concept and Meaning: Democracy over time has become a much used and abused term. It has come to mean different things to different people.


What is Democracy?

Definition: Thought Liberalism, Marxism and their various offsprings differ significantly on the meaning of democracy, yet both are in agreement on the following:

  1. Popular and political participation in statecraft;
  2. Equality among citizens

Liberty too figures here, though the Marxists have a very different view of it.

In fact as you might have gathered from the preceding sub-section, the differences between Liberalism and Marxism actually stem from the points of agreement given above.

That is the Liberals and the Marxists differ on the nature and extent of popular and political participation and as already mentioned on the notions of equality and liberty.

Be that as it may you can keep the following formulation in mind whenever you study about democracy,

Democracy= Popular and Political Participation in Statecraft + Equality among Citizens + Liberty.

democracy means

Historical Background

Democracy by a popular consensus is supposed to have Greek origins. In fact the word democracy comes from the Greek word ‘demos’ which means the people.

Now what did this mean in ancient Greece? The Greek city-state of Athens is supposed to be the first practitioner of democracy in the world.

Here the people or the citizens participated in the affairs of the state/matters of governance. Democracy was thus popular and political participation juxtaposed against state affairs. 

This type of democracy came to be known as ‘Direct Democracy’ in contrast to ‘Representative Democracy’; democracy as we know it today.

In the representative type of Democracy ; the type prevalent in India, UK, USA, France etc, instead of citizens themselves directly participating in Statecraft, choose their representatives to conduct the business of running the state.

For this reason, representative democracy is also sometimes known as elective democracy or indirect democracy. Great Britain or the UK to use its more modern name, is the mother of present day representative democracy. Democracy here followed a topsy turvy route involving a prolonged peoples’ struggle against the monarchy eventually leading to the well-known Westminster Parliamentary Democracy.   

Representative or elective democracy is now the universal norm, though it may exist in different forms viz, Parliamentary or Presidential.

Thus looking into the history of Democracy, we find that it has traveled a long way from the direct Democracy of ancient Greek to the present day representative Democracy  of the UK and other countries.

However all through it has implied popular and political participation in the affairs of the state with political participation being based on the elective principle and also on liberty and equality of citizens.

Having dealt with the history of the concept, albeit briefly we can pay some attention to the various perspectives of Democracy.

This would facilitate a better understanding of democratic processes-the main focus of the present Unit.

Various Perspectives: Broadly one has the Liberal and the Marxist perspectives to contend with and their various offshoots/variations.

The Liberal perspective lays more emphasis on political equality, while the Marxist perspective stresses socio-economic equality.

The Liberals and the Marxists have always had diametrically opposite views on what democracy is.

The liberal version of democracy with its concomitant of adult franchise, periodic elections, individual autonomy, rule of law and equality before law is contemptuously dismissed by followers of Karl Marx as a ‘bourgeois’ phenomenon.

The Liberals on the other hand dismiss Democracy practiced in countries such as the Peoples’ Republic of China and the erstwhile Soviet Union as a sham(false) democracy.

Here we are not concerned with which of the above two perspectives is correct/closer to reality. What should matter for you is the knowledge that there are different perspectives on Democracy.

Also the fact that though there are wide divergences between the two perspectives, there is some meeting ground between the two. This brings us to the generally accepted meaning of Democracy.

State Institution and Non-state Actors:

Democratic process or alternately the working of Democracy in any country entails a consideration of those state and non-state actors that concern themselves with the issues of popular and political participation, equality and liberty.

Having said this under the category of institutions, one can include the organs of government, the election machinery and local self-governing institutions.

The non-state category essentially comprises the civil society which in turn comprises pressure groups and lobbies, NGOs and people’s movements.

Thus a look into the Democracy process in India requires an examination of all the above listed components. Thus is what has been done in the reminder of this Unit.      

Also Read those articles in below

Basic Features of The Indian Constitution

Constituent Assembly and Drafting of The Constitution

Historical Background of The Indian Constitution: The History


For reference Click Here


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