Election season in the US is always interesting. Passions run high and people are quick to proclaim their positions on government and politics. Unfortunately, as many will likely agree, election season also gives voice to many who should probably remain silent.
Recently I was taken to task on Facebook and lectured on the concept of governance and democracy by a particularly obtuse and offensive individual. When I attempted to explain that democracy should NOT be considered a strictly binary proposition and that the US was indeed a democracy, his attacks became personal and I was accused of (among other things) “verbal masturbation”. According to this master of the English language: “Most folks like me would call your ideas verbal masturbation. They sound good from the outside but are really kinda stupid”…he actually wrote: “Kinda”…somehow this person drew a line between my comments on democracy and his belief that the federal government would force parents to stand by while their 12 year old daughters got abortions without consent. I am at a loss as to the logic… But…I digress. Back to democracy!
To understand governance and democracy it is important to understand the concepts. One great resource is the Polity IV project. Democracy, while seemingly simple, can be a quite difficult concept to explain especially when considering the many different governments in the World. The Polity project attempts to quantify and qualify governance and code them based upon their level of autocracy to democracy.
First…let’s understand democracy. Wikipedia states that Democracy:
“… is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows eligible citizens to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.”
At its core, democracy is principle of government by the people. So why the confusion and what is the relevance of the Polity IV study? Good questions!
Democracy, as described by the Polity study, is defined by three factors. Each democratic government may implement these in different ways. Democracy requires the “…existence of Processes and Institutions through which citizens can 1) affect their government 2) constrain the power exercised by the executive and 3) guarantee civil liberties.” (BTW: You can read this in Dr. Heather Mark’s Dissertation found here.)
There are numerous forms and styles of democratic governments. There are direct democracies in which citizens take part in the process directly. There are representative democracies (like the US) where the citizens vote for representatives who then represent the interests of their constituents. Each of these general types of government then have sub-types. The US is a Presidential Republic, the UK is a Parliamentary Republic, and so on. It is much like dogs. All Rottweillers are dogs but not all dogs are Rottweillers. So is a Poodle more of a dog than a German Shepard? It is this type of question that the Polity study addresses. The Polity study ranks each form of government based upon the ‘democratization’ of the government. Countries can be more autocratic or more democratic. All governments will find themselves somewhere on the spectrum. Governments with a score of +6 to +10 are counted as democracies, with the higher scores representing more democratic governments. A perfect 10 is reserved for those that are absolutely democratic. Those who range from a -5 to a +5 are considered Anocracies. As Polity states: “Anocracies are a middling category rather than a distinct form of governance. They are countries whose governments are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic but, rather, combine an, often, incoherent mix of democratic and autocratic traits and practices.” Those with a score -6 to a -10 are Autocratic with a -10 representing complete autocracy.
All governments will fall somewhere in the spectrum. Simply because the United States is a Presidential Republic does NOT mean we are NOT a democracy any more than the ugly dog down the street is NOT a dog because it does not look like my rugged, handsome, purebred Rottweiller (he is good looking but not very smart, sad to say…and still pees in the house!). While the US System of democracy is implemented one way, the UK system is implemented another way. There are benefits and drawbacks to each but each IS a democratic system of government.