Chapter 8 – In the name of Democracy

Democracy comes from the Greek words “demos” which means people and “kratia” which is rule or power. Combined, it’s “demokratia” which means “rule of the people” and it was introduced sometime in the 5th. century BCE. Conversely in ancient Athens, women were not included and neither were slaves. Instead, democracy applied only to the elite and to free men. On the opposite end is “aristokratia” which means rule of the elite or in our interpretation, the aristocrats. In practice however, democracy has been more a rule of the elite both in ancient and also more recent times. It was only in the 19th. and 20th. century that this changed to have become closer to what we perceive of it to be in today’s world.

Cleisthenes, the father of Greek democracy. Photo: Ohio
Cleisthenes, the father of Greek democracy. Photo: Ohio

A democratic government in today’s context should mean that eligible citizens participate equally to the proposal, development and creation of laws but through elected representatives. It’s therefore back to empowerment of a few. Besides laws, this also includes social, economic and cultural issues. Democracy is supposed to mean political self-determination which is a simple enough phrase but somehow holds complex meanings.

Democracy is also a word that has been abused, manipulated and impinged upon so much so there are multiplicity of democracies which encompassed chapters and volumes in definitions and elaboration. As a matter of fact, it can get dizzying, if not nauseating. The United States is a democracy and so is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or more commonly known via its other name, North Korea.

Comprehensively, democracy is an all-numbers game. It embodies freewill and free choice; and promulgates that the majority rules. But maybe we have gravely misconstrued the basic principle of democracy or it could be that we have been purposefully misled because this is not always the way democracy works in the real world. There appears to be so many facades, guises and renditions of democracy that we can’t help but begin to wonder time and again what it’s all about. Most vitally, is whether we have been fooled?

In an election, popular votes which basically mean the choice of the majority, don’t necessary ensure victory to assume governance of the people. Victory and the right to form a government are often contentiously based on wily and controvertible manners as to how constituency lines are drawn. Alas, the power and value of each person’s vote are in reality, disproportional. So, is democracy just a fallacy, flawed ideology, utopia, or just a common scam much like some of the more dubious marketing schemes and concepts found throughout the commercial world?


When power is held by one person, it’s usually called a monarchy where you would have a King or Queen as the head of state. Power resting on or held by a few people is called an oligarchy but in reality both are encompassed within what’s described as democracy. This is because the president or prime minister of a nation wields considerable power and the cabinet, congress, parliament, senate or what you want to call it are in actual fact small groups of people to whom the mass has transferred power to. Speaking about change, voting a government out or another in, is a by all account a revolution. It needs not necessarily be an armed struggle or the introduction of some new political ideology.

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories”.  * Thomas Jefferson

There are so many forms of democracies all co-existing on blurred lines so much so that it  resembles a “Supermarket of Democracies” out there. So let’s all have a sumptuous helping of democracies and try to acquaint ourselves briefly on what are the different forms of democracy we have today. Yet, this is not all!

A direct democracy is where the people govern directly. It’s also called a pure democracy. Alternatively, Athenian democracy is a form of direct democracy developed in ancient Greece and it’s also called a popular democracy. Apparently, omitting women seemed democratic in ancient Athens. Those are just for starters and there are lots of democracies to come.

Then there is industrial democracy where workers make decisions, share authority and responsibility in their place of work. Hence, it is also fittingly known as workplace democracy. The Chinese Communist Party could be considered an intra-party democracy where there’s a democratic process within a single-party state or government.

Then there is representative democracy where power and control are held by the people’s representatives. Under this, there are a number of variations including what comes next which is liberal democracy – a representative democracy plus the addition of protection to individual liberty and property through the rule of law. But illiberal democracy is also a form of representative democracy except that the elected representatives have wide powers and rule as they please. This resembles more like primetime con, doesn’t it?

Speaking of power or “too much” power, when will it be before representatives are considered to have too much power? This is simply open to debate, if not, argument. The thing with representative democracies is it typically would not favour the incumbent to hold fair elections. Therefore, rigging or conducting fraudulent elections are fairly common while ethics and exuberant promises during campaigning have become prominent; and smear campaigns would be the flavour of the day.

Electoral democracy is another facet of representative democracy and as the name suggests, it is based on election or voting. The democratic dominant party system is where one party can form the government either on its own ballot strength or via a coalition of parties. With parliamentary democracy, there is usually a cabinet or inner sanctum and headed by the prime minister. To append to these, a Westminster democracy is also a parliamentary democracy but modelled after the British system. Jacksonian democracy is a system devised by President Andrew Jackson of the United States. It promotes the strength and power of the President and executive branch over Congressional power – or in short, grabbing more power from Congress. Jeffersonian democracy is named after the third President and a founding father of the United States. It advocates equality of political opportunity for men while opposing aristocracy, privilege and corruption.

Thomas Jefferson – 3rd. US President. Photo: US Public Domain
Thomas Jefferson – 3rd. US President.
Photo: US Public Domain

“Soviet” means council. Hence we have a Soviet democracy which is also called a Council democracy where workers of a demarcated area vote representatives to fill bodies of power. Local voters elect their representatives who then go on to elect the regional representatives and move higher on until you reach the indisputable leader. It’s akin to erecting a pyramid except this is a power pyramid. The totalitarian democracy is where citizens elect their representatives and leaders but have little or no participation in the governing process or making of decisions. This seems rather common, doesn’t it?

Then there’s the demarchy with people selected from citizenry who then become candidates in an election and towards governing certain specific areas of government. It could be for natural resources, power, the environment, defence or any other sector. A non-partisan democracy is also a representative democracy sort of government, where electing is held by secret ballot in universal or periodic elections; and without reference to any political parties. When the leader or ruler holds immense power but whose rule benefits the people, it’s called an organic democracy. Then too what constitutes, or are defined as “benefits”, is left to interpretation and debate.

A defensive democracy is where certain rights are limited to protect the institutions of democracy. This seems wholly ambiguous, doesn’t it? When religious values of particular religions are infused into the laws, you can have religious democracy which includes theodemocracy, Islamic democracy and Christian democracy. But it need not end there since there is a kaleidoscope of religions in this world. Anticipatory democracy as the name suggests is based on “calculated” anticipation and not whimsical anticipation – where disciplined and market-informed expectations of the future dictate major decisions. Customarily, the majority ought to rule but a consensus democracy is ruling by consensus or more appropriately consensus decision making in legislation.

Of course those are not all as there are still other forms of democracy. In a way, most countries are constitutional democracies because they are governed by constitution whereas when you select representatives to vote on your behalf rather than to elect somebody to do so, then it becomes a delegative democracy. Anyhow, when decisions are legitimately made by incorporating deliberation via consensus and majority rule, it’s called deliberative democracy; and when policies and directions are discussed and debated by those in a political party after decisions are made by majority vote, it’s called democratic centralism.  .

Democratic dictatorships or “demokratur” are democracies which are substantially lacking in freedom of expressions, check and balance and laws are not enforced by the state. In the Chinese context incorporated into the constitution by Mao, the “people’s democratic dictatorship” allows for the state to invoke dictatorial powers against reactionary forces deemed detrimental to the state. It was rationalised that without such powers the government risks being overrun by the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie” and other social degenerates.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)

Democratic republics are republics formed through democratic process and have elected representatives whereas economic democracy is a theory where people could access equity and subsistence or elements for their living standards. Basically, this means you have the freedom to purchase and transact. Grassroots refer to the local community. Hence grassroots democracy is a situation where a political process is designed, where as much decisions as possible is made by their representatives. This is usually at the local or municipal level which is the lowest geographical level. It’s a direct opposite to national supremacy.

With the advent of cyberspace, interactive democracy is a proposed system where citizens could utilise information technology to propose, second or oppose policies and can vote in a referendum after laws are refined by parliament – all via IT.

Market democracy is a system and ideology amalgamating three key elements which are a market-based economy, economic incentives via free markets and a liberal moral and culture system which promotes pluralism or diversity. It is also known as democratic capitalism or capitalist democracy. This was instrumental in the conception of the modern welfare states.

The multi-party democracy is actually a two-party system making voters align themselves with one or the other. This creates large numbers of “either-or” supporters which could put a damper on principles and policies because of differences in ideals and priorities. Like they say: “too many cooks spoil the broth”!

Mao, Kissinger and Zhou Enlai 1972 – Photo: US Public Domain

The Maoist concept of “Bloc of Four Social Classes” is called New Democracy or New Democratic Revolution. Aimed to conquer feudalism and realise independence from colonialism, it promulgates that the working class regardless of ideological differences should work with the Communist party to achieve immediate goals and greater objectives – leading to matured socialism and communism. It seemed necessary in China then, owing to the aftermath of centuries of imperialism.

In a participatory democracy, citizens participate in decision-making and with greater political representation. This is different from traditional democracy where you have less influence after your representatives have been elected. With this system, you have more control over those you empower as custodians and trustees.

Radical democracy, besides incorporating the fundamental and essential freedom and equality, also include differences in its ideology. It is also called “the root of democracy” and rationalises that in attempts to reach a consensus, differing opinions, genders, classes and races are oppressed. Therefore it promotes the nurturing and tolerance of differences and dissent in the decision-making practice.

Democracy has also been adopted into communication where blogging to compete with or to undermine mainstream media is known as emergent democracy. Also, e-democracy refers to freedom in using technology such as the Internet to augment upon democratic processes in a democratic republic or a representative democracy.

Liberal democracy is the predominant political system in the world and it is representative democracy functioning under the principles of liberalism. It protects the rights of individuals and minorities and has free and fair elections; where many parties compete and there’s separation of powers. It is an open society which subscribes to the rule of law and extends equal protection to human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedom for all. Liberal democracy may be a constitutional monarchy, a constitutional republic, a presidential system or a parliamentary system.

“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people”.  * Oscar Wilde

One thing realisable is that for a long time, Capitalist democracy was at loggerheads with Communism, Socialism, Fascism and practically all other forms of political ideologies. The whole world was precariously kept on edge for decades as a result of the Cold War biting in and the arms race having sprung up. Communism was wholesomely being demonised by capitalist democracy, vis-a-vis.

Yes, for a long time, immense dedication and emphasis were directed towards the development of nuclear arms and their flexible deployment. We can still remember the days of the founding of SLBMs or Submarine Launch Ballistic Missiles, capable of being launched from submarines lurking in the depths of the world’s oceans. Technically, nuclear-powered subs need not be refuelled for up to 25 years. Then they engineered ALBMs or Air Launched Ballistic Missiles with multiple warheads all capable of striking varied targets from aircrafts.

Before all these, there were the dreadful ICBMs or Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles which could be launched from silos within one continent to obliterate a target in another continent. Much of these owe their gratitude to the Nazis – compliments of Adolf Hitler’s genius rocket engineer, Werner von Braun. He pioneered Hitler’s rocket program which saw them raining down upon London. After WWII, he was saved from the Nuremberg Tribunal and instead relocated to America by the victorious Allied Forces and was instrumental in pioneering America’s rockets program – the precursor to NASA.

Dr. Wernher von Braun – Photo: US Public Domain
Dr. Wernher von Braun – Photo: US Public Domain

Such was the Cold War even as the Capitalists and Commies implemented the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks after realising that neither of them needed all those doomsday weapons – since just a few could have easily wiped out humanity. They realised that they might as well direct resources to better use. After all, maintenance of these weapons was costing them an arm and a leg. So much for the fission and fusion race! Yes, even the Communists want money and need motivation as well.  Consciously speaking, both Democracy and Communism are just mere ideologies – much like what all the leading religions of the world are. They are all no better than experimentations with the hope of finding a reliable and less susceptible system of managing humanity.

One is from the Greeks going back to the 6th. century BCE while the other is from Marx – a Jewish-Christian from the 1800s CE. But isn’t democracy supposed to represent “freedom of choice”? If so, why then is it opposing Communism when Communism itself was a “choice” and another form of democracy too? Furthermore, certain Communist regimes brand themselves a democracy as in the case of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea. Hence Capitalism versus Communism is just a matter of money-making, money management and mutual demonization. This is therefore a classic case of compounded contradiction.

In fighting Communism, countless lives were lost – whether in the Korean or Vietnam wars and all through their protracted spill-over effects. Still, why all the wars? After all, the Communists just took the longer road before realising that induction of at least some form of capitalist principles and practices can go a long way to save the day. Isn’t China still a communist country? Yet it’s raking in tons of money with a boom in personal wealth as well. What about Russia and Vietnam? How “Communist” are all of them these days anyway? Communist countries with the exception of North Korea have all reformed tremendously and positively.

The SM-65 Atlas - first US ICBM. 1957 Photo: US Public Domain
The SM-65 Atlas – first US ICBM. 1957
Photo: US Public Domain

Voting and power-of-attorney are very much alike, even if we fail to realise so. In both scenarios, you give others the right or the mandate to do as they please – or as often remarked, as they deem fit. You empower them and once they are “hired”, it would be virtually impossible to fire them and you’ll need to wait until the next voting exercise comes around to attempt to do so. It could be 4 or 5 years.

Those who can’t resist retaliation against what they see as abuse of the mandate will muster demonstrations and are regularly met with harsh reaction from those they hired as managers and custodians of their welfare via a democratic process. Many are baton-charged, hosed and drenched in caustic chemical-laced water while some dragged like dead branches of trees by people whom they “employed”. What’s real is that servants are manhandling their masters in a mass perversion of sensibility.

Like they say, you can fool some of the people some time but you can’t fool all the people all the time. It’s often the screw-ups or grandiose aspirations of politicians, whom by the way are just mere humans like you and me, but are in a position to mess up big time and callously place the mass in precarious misery.

Some conveniently consign it as the “will of God”. But hardly, it’s certainly not the will of God but are in fact guileful people who abuse our God-given freedom. In reality, we humans can do practically anything we like even to perpetrate annihilation of humanity. After all we have the push-button technology to launch doomsday weapons and render the world inhabitable for humans together with a wide myriad of species and life forms into total desolation and extinction.

Author: J. Sam Barr

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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