Since completing university, Paul has worked as a bookseller; librarian; and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Winston Churchill famously once stated that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other systems that have been tried (or words to that effect).
For many in the Western World, it can often be taken for granted that a democratic system is superior to all others, but as Churchill implies, it can still have many flaws as a system.
The word: "Democracy" originates from an ancient Greek word that meant "rule of the people" and originally referred to the political system that existed in places like Athens in the 5th century BCE. Not all the population in ancient Greece were allowed to vote, however, slaves and women were excluded.
Modern democracy has its roots in 17th Century England and America, although there were still large segments of society who were not allowed to vote at that time. It wasn't be until the 19th and 20th centuries that suffrage (the right to vote) began to expand to include virtually everyone.
In this article I look at the pros and cons of democracy, listing the relative advantages and disadvantages of such a system.
7 Pros of Democracy
- Democracy is fairer because it lets the people living in a country decide who is going to rule them. Other systems, such as absolute monarchs, military dictatorships, theocracies, etc. rely on a small clique or cabal of people, or an individual, or arbitrary methods such as hereditary birth for deciding who will rule, bypassing the wishes of the majority of the population.
- Voting is an excellent way to establish legitimacy for a leader, or government in the modern world. This is because he or she can argue the right to being leader, on the grounds of being chosen by the people via an election. This promotes political stability.
- Democracy is an effective way to ensure a smooth transition, when governments and leaders change. Where there is an absolute monarch, or dictator, arguments can often develop as to who is the rightful successor, leading to political strife and even civil war in some cases.
- Democratic systems are good at ensuring openness and keeping a check on corruption. This is because rival political groups are constantly attempting to expose government mistakes and crimes. This level of accountability does not exist in most one-party/autocratic systems, where criticism of the government is often made very difficult.
- The democratic system can act as a safety valve for the discontented. Citizens know that they have a vote and that the leader/government may well change at the next election, so they are less likely to resort to rioting, general strikes, or violent rebellion.
- Democratic governments are less likely to go to war. This is because they generally need the will of the people behind them, whereas an autocrat can often take his/her country to war on a whim.
- Democracy encourages a sense of belonging for its citizens. They can participate fully in the political processes and feel a sense of ownership.
9 Cons of Democracy
- There is a tendency towards short-termism. This is because leaders/governments are generally elected to serve over a specific length of time (typically around 4 or 5 years) and concerns over getting re-elected often mean that they often don’t look beyond the next election. Some social, environmental and economic problems require much more long term solutions, however.
- The tyranny of the majority is a constant threat to minority groups, as a leader or government may only serve the interests of the largest social groups and ignore, or even repress the rights of others.
- Some countries argue that their cultural history simply does not lend itself to democratic systems of government and that other forms of government work better. The Western concept has its roots in Ancient Greek and Roman European culture, and may not be suited to Eastern and African countries.
- Democracy can result in unwieldy coalitions, or endless squabbling and political deadlock. Other political systems can find it easier to proceed in a unified direction. It’s argued by some that ancient Rome achieved more under the autocratic Caesars than it did under democratic rule.
- A fully functioning democracy relies upon an educated and informed public. The political process can be manipulated and distorted by corporations, wealthy individuals, a biased or poor quality media, and special interest groups.
- Democracy panders too much to the needs of the individual and encourages people to vote selfishly, thinking purely in their own interests, rather than for what is best for the country as a whole.
- A conflict of interest can sometimes occur, where a politician, or government has to decide between acting in the best interests of the country, and increasing their chances of re-election. Often they will choose the latter.
- Elections take up a lot of time and vast amounts of money can be spent on them. It could be argued that all the millions spent on political adverts might be better spent on other, more beneficial things.
- The democratic process encourages politicians to make promises that they know they can’t keep, in order to be elected. This creates public cynicism and disillusionment in the long run.
4 Different Types of Democracy
Democracy can take more than one form. Below are 4 different types. Note that the 4 types are not necessarily exclusive and governmental systems can and do often combine elements of more than one.
- Direct democracy. People take a direct role in steering policies and decisions, usually through referenda, or even large public forums. This form was common in ancient Greek city-states, particularly Athens.
- Representative democracy. Also known as representative governments, or indirect democracy, this form functions through people voting for representatives, who then act on behalf of the group that elected them. Most modern democracies use some form of this type of democracy.
- Constitutional democracy. In this type, the will of the majority is limited by by legal and institutional means. The purpose of this is to protect the rights of individuals and minority groups. This style is used in Japan, Germany, and the USA.
- Monitory democracy. This form developed following WWII. It received its name from Australian Professor John Keane and works through institutions being created which subject governments to checks and balances, in order to involve more citizens in the democratic process.
Did You Know?
- The world's oldest recognized democracy is the United States of America , which adopted the system of elected politicians after its birth in 1787.
- Libya is the world's youngest democracy, becoming one after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in 2012.
- Out of the 193 countries that belong the United Nations, 167 are democracies, which translates as 87%!
- One third of people in the world live in countries with an autocratic system of government, including the world's most populous country, China.
- Other autocratic countries include: North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Qatar.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is democracy?
Answer: Democracy literally means government by the people. In practice, this usually means a system where elected representatives make the decisions.
© 2014 Paul Goodman
Sky on August 19, 2019:
Are the voting systems corrupted?
me on December 19, 2018:
One of the cons means that democracies basically can vote for whatever makes them happy, not what would make everyone happy.
Nate on November 30, 2018:
I dont understand the cons, someone please dumb it down for me. Thanks!
MattJ on September 01, 2018:
This was a very elegant article. The pros and cons were carefully selected and very diverse. Loved it.
Thomas on June 01, 2018:
No, China does have a democratic government. it's called Democratic centralism.
886 on May 04, 2018:
democracy has more pros than cons at least i think so
Mrs Pace on March 16, 2018:
You kids need to get yourselves organised
Billy Billyson on March 07, 2018:
As you can see, this is why we should be a dictatorship.
hi on March 07, 2018:
@ESKETIITTT a lot of things
No no no on March 06, 2018:
Who made them work in the cotton fields
Yes yes yes on February 01, 2018:
Who was working in the cotton fields
queen-victoria on January 16, 2018:
I loved marx quote most about democracy soon turning into socialism, very good point. Democracy is just for big masses of people. Mostly democracy becomes the greates weapon for politicians to take control over people easily than to become a dictator. You basically persuade people that they choose when you actually rule them with your flattering speeches while campaign. Marx theories(unfortunatelly just theories) are the best that has a connection to politics. We should watch world and everyday events carefully. There are big changes to face and Marx theories to come true to life
NO on November 08, 2017:
can someone please dumb down these cons for me
ESKETIITTT on October 26, 2017:
whats the difference between totalitarianism and democracy
Whocares386 on January 21, 2017:
If there aren't qualified voters, you either educate people or you only allow to people who have a ''Voter Certification''.
There is an article about that:
doigas on January 10, 2017:
bro on December 01, 2016:
what a cool website and you saved my life thank you so much website and it is very cool
douglas on September 09, 2016:
This is a really good information SITE
Joe on August 29, 2016:
Really love your work good job on the pros and cons
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on October 14, 2014:
Wonderfully written and laid out.
Your overview of the positives and negatives of democracy show why democracy works when it works and doesn't work when it doesn't work.
If we don't have problems with short term thinking and pandering exclusively to the influential, democracy really is the best way to do things.
Chris from India on October 12, 2014:
Loved your hub BigBrains2. It was very lucid and understandable. Very informative too!
dr wahid pirzada from Ahmedabad, India on October 12, 2014:
Congrats on hub of the day selection.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on October 12, 2014:
Great blog-- I particularly appreciate the pros and cons style and am ruminating on your list of "cons"... hadn't realized there were so many! Congratulations on the HOTD! Voted up and pinned!
Carpe Diem from Philippines on October 12, 2014:
There's no such thing as a perfect system. But for me, democracy is still the best.
Robert Sacchi on October 11, 2014:
A tyrany of the minority is also possible in democracies. This can happen two parties, or coalitions, are almost evenly divided. A party with a single agenda can play the role of kingmaker. The result a bunch of laws passed to buy this single agenda party. Yes, this also happens in non-democratic systems.
Carlo Giovannetti from Puerto Rico on October 11, 2014:
Really good article. Congrats on the HOTD as well!
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 11, 2014:
The 'democracy by the ancient Greeks wasn't a 'one man one vote' system as only the aristocracy had the vote, and it was only a few of them!
The Romans a system that while it wasn't democratic as we know it there were some merits to it that gave society strength and allowed the leaders (in the earlier days of the republic) to make decisions for the benefit of their society as a whole. It was when they went away from this to almost a system of a monarchy that things began to unravel.
Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on October 11, 2014:
Winston Churchill had a bad habit of saying exactly what he felt even if it offended others. In this he was right democracy is the worst form of government apart from everything else we have ever tried. I believe that he said that at the time he lost the post war election. He was envisioning the change to a salaried parliament and the effect this would give in enabling businesses to have undue influence on parliament.
Time has proven he was correct to have reservations. A nicely presented and interesting Hub well deserved the Hub of the day awarded!
Treathyl FOX from Austin, Texas on October 11, 2014:
Vaguely remember Churchill saying something or other about democracy. The ideal of democracy is a wonderful thing. Even if you can not (or rather it might not be so easy) to practically apply all of the principles, making a genuine earnest attempt to realize the ideal – i.e. “the dream” - is far better than any other systems of government that take away an individual's liberty to govern themselves. I have lived in America all of my life and think to myself – 'If our democracy is so bad, why do we even have a problem with illegal immigrants? If the USA sucks, there are other parts of the world to immigrate to.' So I know this HUB isn't about bashing America or democracy, as a whole; but just wanted to throw in my two cents anyway. Oh! My other two cents to “those in charge” is: QUICK DICKING AROUND WITH THE VOTING PROCESS!! My peeps in Texas know what I'm talkin' about. :) Congrats on being chosen as HUB of the Day.
RTalloni on October 11, 2014:
Congrats on your Hub of the Day award. Democracy is always an interesting study. From early Greeks to Roosevelt, the cons standout. That education is still promoted as the safeguard is chilling to consider because we apparently have not learned from history, but the fact remains, that is what people have embraced. Have you read The Great Republic from Sir Winston Churchill?
SAQIB from HYDERABAD PAKISTAN on October 11, 2014:
North Korea is autocratic? I doubt
Overall Well written Hub
Kept on going ahead
Sue B. on October 11, 2014:
Congratulations for getting Hub of the Day! This was an interesting hub and I think you outlined the pros and cons of democracy well. I would agree that it does not seem to be the ideal approach to governing but then- what is?
I am surprised you had so many grammatical errors on your hub. I would recommend not approving my comment and re-reviewing the hub and correcting them. Please let me know if you need help finding them.
Despite grammar, your ideas did come across and I thought your hub was interesting.
Hal Gall from Bloomington, IN on October 11, 2014:
My comments may seem a bit harsh, but it's my opinion that Democracy is the biggest obstacle to individual freedom ever invented. It has been described as "Two wolves and a sheep voting on what is for dinner".
All that those in charge have to do is convince a small majority that their message is the right message (using whatever means are necessary), and individual rights go out the window.
The U.S. is actually supposed to be a Constitutional Republic, where the rights of the individual take precedence. Sadly, corporate interests have taken over our country.
Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 11, 2014:
Congratulations on HOTD! This is very deserving of the accolade. This is quite interesting and thought provoking. Democracy is still the best type of government overall, but I have to agree with your cons too. No government style is perfect and there is no utopia but so far it meets our needs here in the U.S. Yes, it is quite the great and successful eclxperiment.
Vaibhav Mittal from Gurgaon, Haryana on October 11, 2014:
Amazing article! I am yet to make my first hub and this one is deeply inspiring. :)
FlourishAnyway from USA on October 11, 2014:
Congratulations on HOTD. For all its ills and shortcomings, I'll still take democracy hands down. Voice and choice is better than none.
Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on October 11, 2014:
First class research and quality. Obama has aged so much since your photograph. Presentation is tip top as are the images and videos. Well done.
voted up and all.
David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on October 11, 2014:
I'm glad to see a piece like this get Hub of the Day. Congratulations, BigBrains2. A real "thinking" article. Over the years, I've come to think that democracy isn't about the will of the people to decide who governs them so much as forcing politicians to go to the well of the people every now and then for legitimacy. You don't have to fool all of the people all of the time-- just 51% of those showing up at the polls every few years.
Rhonda Lytle from Deep in the heart of Dixie on October 11, 2014:
While I can't say I agree with every point, you make some great ones. Congrats on a most well deserved award for this article! It's really well laid out, concise and fair to both sides. Kudos!
Işın Tuzcular from Istanbul on October 11, 2014:
Great Hub. In these days I wonder whether the cons of Democracy is more than the pros. :(
peter565 on October 11, 2014:
What you say is very true. If you look at history, democracy state usually have better chance to survive against corruption and ruler misusing their power. But the problem is that, if this country's people have problem, then the leader frequently still need to bow to public pressure, more then dictatorship. For example the US needed to went through multiple president till slavery can be abolished, despite none support the slavery in the Southern state. But it also play a major role in keeping a nation prosper. One of the reason Europe could become the most powerful region in the 19th century was democracy, it ensure only capable people get to run the country and during the 19th century, when Ottoman Empire and China, the originally two most powerful nation had incompetent Kings, it was Europe's turn to take the lead.
mySuccess8 on October 11, 2014:
Very well explained pros and cons of pure democracy. In real democracy, even some of the pros can lead to cons when candidates resort to immediate populism instead of long-term improvements for the country and population as a whole, which this Hub has also discussed. Great Hub and congrats on HotD!
pramodgokhale from Pune( India) on October 11, 2014:
I am an Indian, Photo of Churchill displayed hurt me . we Indians dislike Churchill. He was the villain in our freedom struggle.
Many isms and systems had been tested , some succeed and some failed.
Democracy is a soft system but allows to vent individual feelings or expressions. this system allows us to change government and make a way to install new government if old government under perform.
i enjoy democracy and freedom of expression .
India was not a nation state but a fractured state with 500 hundred princely states , under British regime it became on state and made it powerful under single roof.
Indian democracy with flaws is the only sustained democracy in third world. Do not compare with Japan and Korea. India is a plural country with many faiths, languages, tribes and still struggling with literacy and poverty eradication.
So something is better than nothing.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 11, 2014:
Churchill's a hero of mine and I think he got it right about democracy.
Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on October 03, 2014:
Excellent Hub, BigBrains2. You summarized the pros and cons of democracy very well. Churchill had it right. Democracy is very messy but it is the best system we have.