To explain the meaning of democracy, some basic questions need to be answered. Why is it believed that democracy should be the preferred form of government in the world?

What is the definition of democracy?

When talking about the meaning of democracy, it is important to define it precisely.

Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as the “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. The focus is on the concept that the population elects a government through regular, free and fair elections.


In Europe and the English-speaking world, democracy is often assumed to take the natural form of liberal democracy, and popular sovereignty but is limited by a constitution that guarantees individual liberties (like free speech) and rights (like a fair trial).

Crucially, these fundamental freedoms are not subject to a democratic vote.

Democracy does not certainly have to be liberal. Certain nations today have illiberal democracies in which voting continues but liberal features, such as an independent judiciary and a free press, have been compromised.


The guarantees of liberal democracy are designed to ensure that no ethnic, geographic, class, or business interest unduly dominates or exploits others and that fair and universal assent to government policies is obtained.

The importance of liberal democracy is arguably twofold: no other system of government guarantees the right to freely express political preferences, and another system promotes progress through peaceful competition between different interests and ideas.

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Do You Want to Know the Essence of Democracy? Why Do We Need It?

This question is asked much more frequently as democracy is threatened by various forces around the world.


Some question the value of the referendum when it leads to seismic changes like Brexit and the election of demagogues that threaten liberal values.

The American system, too, long the model of democratic freedoms, seems so polarized that it threatens to become impotent and its resilience to technological, demographic and cultural change is being called into question.

Meanwhile, over the past 30-50 years, the European Union (EU) has adopted a more technocratic, unified form of politics, in which democracy is arguably less responsive to citizens and large sections of the population feel excluded from the process of government.


More recently, non-democratic, authoritarian governments like China have been lauded for weathering the COVID-19 pandemic better than democracies because they are better able to enforce certain behaviours from citizens without regard to individual freedoms or dissent a free press.

Why Democracy Is the Best Form of Government?

Liberal democracy offers, at least in theory, a mechanism for some form of rule by proportional representation, in which citizens are empowered to effect change through participation and to persuade those in power to act for the common good.

Nations like Great Britain and the US were not true democracies until relatively recently.


British suffrage was gradually extended from 1830, and it was not until 1918 that women gained the right to vote. In the United States, African Americans in the southern states did not receive guaranteed voting rights until 1965.

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Democracy has endured in part because of its ability to accommodate the change from below through the expansion of voting rights and better protection of civil liberties.

In contrast, authoritarianism is inherently centralized and restricts free thought and expression. It can bring about rapid change but is only ordered from above.


Perhaps what has been observed in democracies since 2016 points to the need for further renewal and further development of democratic systems. Because the more reluctant democracies become to change, the more likely they are to wither away.

The importance of democracy in the world

Democracy has played a crucial role in the history of civilization, helping to transform the world from power structures of monarchy, empire, and conquest to popular rule, self-determination, and peaceful coexistence.

A direct form of democracy was first practised in ancient Greece, but there were many slaves in this society and hardly anyone was a citizen and eligible to participate.


Democracy then disappeared until its resurgence as “representative democracy” in the late 18th century. Since then, it has been common knowledge that modern human history follows a trend toward greater democracy, with some scholars describing the phenomenon in three waves.

The first wave, between the late 18th century and 1918, saw the American, French, and Haitian revolutions, the gradual emergence of democracy in Britain, Bolivarian revolutions establishing democracies in South America, and the collapse of Germany, Ottomans, and Austro-Hungarians Rich in democratic republics after WW1.

The second wave, between 1945 and 1960, saw the reorganization of the defeated Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan into strong democracies, and decolonization unfolding around the world, creating independent and largely democratic nations.

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The third wave from 1975 to 1991 saw the end of dictatorships in Portugal, Spain, and Brazil, democratic transitions in Taiwan and South Korea, and finally the collapse of the USSR, creating free, democratic, Eastern European states.

But in contrast, since 1991 there has been what Larry Diamond calls a “democratic recession” as former Warsaw Pact states like Russia, Hungary and others have slipped back into authoritarianism.

Democracy in Africa

Since decolonization, the collapse of communism and the end of a series of civil wars, the number of African countries with democratic systems of government has increased.


Some countries like Ghana are seen as resilient democracies, while for others the democratic transition is more fragile after months of pro-democracy protests in Sudan in 2019, a civilian-led transitional government is now paving the way for military-ruled democracy after decades.

African states and societies grapple with the twin complex challenges of democratizing and developing their economies in the context of the world’s most diverse continent with some of its least developed countries.


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