Earth & Conservation

How Should Democracy Really Work?

Today, the term is so broad that even countries with seemingly undemocratic political structures still call themselves democracies. So then, what is a democracy?

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Our modern idea of democracy originated in Ancient Greece, more or less during the fifth century B.C.E. In Athenian society, there was great value in the notion that any man (provided that they were indeed a man and an Athenian citizen) could take an active role in civic life. For most official roles, names were drawn at random in a process known as sortation. You can find out more about that institution here.

Today's governments have come a long way since the ecclesia, but the term "democracy" (from the Ancient Greek, meaning "rule by the people") is common throughout countries of various sizes, populations, economic levels, and geographies. However, certain countries, including the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (aka North Korea) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are far cries from the ideal version of a government that is "of the people, by the people, for the people," as Abraham Lincoln famously said in The Gettysburg Address. These are countries with longstanding authoritarian rulers, often holding puppet elections with those in power somehow always managing to win in an incredible landslide. In some respects, the U.S. is not immune from this. A recent Cambridge Journal report found that political power is overwhelmingly in the hands of the elites.

So while there may not be the platonic ideal of a direct democracy today, it's important that governments aspire to those ideals. Voting representatives into office is the most common form of democracy today and there's a reason for that. First, when people have more input and faith in their leaders, it encourages peace and stability. The EIU also reports that as there's been a worldwide shift toward democratic practices, education has increased and the middle class has grown.

Learn More:

Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens (Perspectives on Politics)
"Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semisovereign, or largely powerless?"

Ancient Greek Democracy (
"In the year 507 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms that he called demokratia, or 'rule by the people.'"

Chomsky: The U.S. Behaves Nothing Like a Democracy, But You'll Never Hear About It in Our 'Free Press' (
"In a powerful speech, Chomsky lays out how the majority of US policies are the opposite of what wide swaths of the public want."