Modern Democracy

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Establishing and maintaining any governmental regime requires an endless amount of factors that are difficult to achieve, but preserving a functioning democratic regime can be even harder. There are numerous components that are needed to achieve and uphold a successful establishment, but the ones of utmost importance are proper education, free and fair elections, political trust and legitimacy, and socioeconomic order and development, because they are all directly related to one another. The world has seen countless examples of failed and successful democracies, all of which taught us lessons to learn from in the future.

Creating a representative political system of self-rule can be extremely difficult to establish, let alone maintain, especially if a country has never experienced a democratic regime. Changing the way a government is run and the way officials are elected would be hard for any state, but especially one that is making such a huge transition from one form of a regime to another. Elections are a complicated component because they require contingent consent and unbounded uncertainty. The elected officials, as well as the citizens, must submit to the rules of democracy and the outcomes of the future elections, even if they are unsure or unhappy with the results. Consent and uncertainty pose a threat to democracy because they create a divide of loyalty to the government versus loyalty to the regime. In the case of Germany and Britain, their electoral systems utilize the majority party elected to then choose the chancellor/prime minister, which prevents the divide of supporting the government versus the regime. However, in countries like the United States, the leader/president is elected separately from whichever party wins the majority in the general election. This can cause grave dissatisfaction among the people and encourage blame and distrust in the democratic regime, causing it to backslide. Social trust is a huge indicator of the health of a democratic society, and a democracy needs social trust to maintain a balance between its people and the government. Social trust among the leader and the people is also needed to maintain a democratic, which is not always produced by a democratic election. In cases where leaders are directly elected by the people, there is a high possibility that the person elected may not be qualified for the position even though he/she/they have a large amount of support. This is especially probable if the regime is in transition, which occurred in Russia in 1991. Russia was in the midst of transitioning to a democracy and held its first presidential election which resulted in Boris Yeltsin, who received 58 percent of the vote. The problem was that he was unqualified and uneducated on how to create/sustain a stable economy, causing the citizens to become angry and disappointed. These negative feelings towards Yeltsin were transferred to the government and the poor combination of an unsuited leader and lack of social trust started the failure of democracy in Russia.

A liberal democratic regime requires an endless amount of components to be successful, but some of the most integral factors are proper education, free and fair elections, political trust and legitimacy, and socioeconomic order and development.

The chance that a country will develop and maintain a competitive political regime depends upon the extent to which the society and economy can provide education and communication. This is because if citizens do not/have not had a proper education then they are unable to form well-rounded political opinions. From this, they will either exercise their political freedoms poorly or feel they do not have enough information to participate at all. Also, if citizens are improperly educated, they will be unable to establish general political beliefs that would promote them to join political parties/vote for certain candidates within their political party, Dahl explains that most people develop their political beliefs early on due to the fact that they are only receptive to political beliefs and ideas in their first 20 years of life. After this stage, it becomes increasingly difficult for people to change their political beliefs. This indicates how important education is in establishing a democracy because without it, people would be unable to make educated decisions in terms of voting, political parties and participating generally in politics. “Beliefs guide action not only because they influence or embody one’s more distant goals and values…but because beliefs make up our assumptions about reality, the character of the past and present, our expectations about the future, our understanding of the hows and whys of action: in short, our “knowledge”. Therefore, without any education, there would have no beliefs or general knowledge in which our world should be or what type of regime a state should establish.

Education is also a huge factor of democracy because it is directly related to the concept of free and fair elections. Without proper education, the people would not have political beliefs to vote on in elections, and without free and fair elections there would be no liberal democracy. Democracy is characterized by free elections because it is a governmental regime made by the people and for the people. Free elections are a necessary factor because if a leader is put into power not through popular vote, then it is not a democracy and is most likely an authoritative or tyrannical type of government. However, there are many ways in which a democratic leader can be elected. For example, the United States utilizes a federal system in which there is a balance of powers between federal and state powers, as well as a balance of powers within the federal government. Countries like Germany and the United Kingdom employ Westminster or majoritarian models of government which concentrate power with a bare majority and lead to executive-parties dimensions. A consensus-democracy, which the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Austria all have today, is a government “by and for as many people as possible” and establishes federal-unitary dimensions that are loaded with bicameralism, federalism and judicial review. So, even though all these democratic societies have different structures, electoral systems, legislative branches, and party systems, they all include one important factor: free elections. Each leader is elected by the people, whether through a majoritarian system, two-party system or mixed-member proportional representation, every single one has free and fair elections because without them, the people would not elect their leaders and there would be no democracy. Being aware of the citizens’ preferences is a key factor in a democratic regime because democracy is based upon the people and the people’s opinions. Free and fair elections ensure that the government is responding to the people’s preferences because they allow the people to exercise their political freedoms. In order for this to happen, citizens need unimpaired opportunities to formulate their preferences, signify their preferences, and have their preferences weighed equally.

In terms of political trust and legitimacy, Ronald Inglehart explains that interpersonal trust is conducive to a stable democracy, but democracies do not necessarily produce interpersonal trust. As mentioned above, social trust is extremely important for a democratic society because of the people are so involved in who participates within the government. If people do not trust who is in charge of the government, then there is no way that they will support it. Without social trust, democracy would backslide into a situation in which the citizens would not engage in the government at all; if the people do not vote, then the regime no longer democratic. Also, just because citizens have the right to vote does not always guarantee that they will exercise that freedom. However, when citizens trust their government and its system, it ensures that they will make the effort to continually participate in the governmental system.

Socioeconomic order is necessary for a democracy because with democracy comes a large amount of inequalities. People often blame these inequalities on the value system rather than the government officials in charge and those that do not suffer from the economic inequalities have much more of an interest in having equal opportunities than helping those in need. Therefore, bridging the gaps between classes creates trust in the government and that it will maintain economic balance for the people and the country as a whole. There is also a high correlation between wealth and democracy because countries that have money have the luxury of education, welfare systems, effective taxing systems, and proper institutions while countries in poverty tend to remain undemocratic because they do not have the means to become/maintain a democracy. Institutions play a huge role in perpetuating socioeconomic order because they can specialize in certain areas of the economy to improve the problem spots, rather than focusing on the entirety of a country’s economy. Whether an institution is focusing on unemployment, the trade market, taxes, natural resources or any of the major elements that promote growth, these institutions are working to improve the socioeconomic order and development and therefore working towards a better democracy. Even Dahl argues that there needs to be socioeconomic sanctions and high levels of literacy, income, and institutions in order to have the optimal prospects for democracy because they are essential parts of democracy.

Despite the fact that a country may have all the necessary aspects to create a successful democratic regime does not always mean that the regime will last. Before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Gorbachev tried to implement two reforms in Russia: stabilization and perestroika/privatization. In doing this, Gorbachev forfeited the centralized power of the Soviet Union and initiated regional autonomy which was a direct threat to communism and the Soviet Union. Some of the regions controlled by the USSR used this decentralization of power to secede and form their own independent nations and were especially able to because the military was disabled in these regions. When Yeltsin was elected as the first democratically elected president, he also tried to implement privatizing reforms to ensure that the Soviet Union would not rise again. These reforms were successful at first, but once private shares were introduced to the industries, people realized that they could form corrupt monopolies and oligopolies. This lack of socioeconomic order alongside an inept leader was only the beginning of the failure of democracy in Russia. When Putin rose to power in 1999, he was already a popular politician, but the economic growth that Russia made through his oil revenues made him even more popular. Russia’s people and politicians allowed him to do what he wanted because of the economic growth he produced. As an effect of this leisure, Putin used his popularity to mask the corrupt actions he took to consolidate his own power, both as president and prime minister. Putin was never held accountable for his actions and was allowed to pervert elections; without its free elections, Russia was no longer a democracy. In order for a federal division of power to work, the constitution needs to state exact lines of division and prevent them from being changed by leaders through executive action.

Overall, the political institutions and checks and balances were not in place to stop corruption or hold any leaders accountable, which promoted Putin to transform the government into what he wanted. The Weimar Republic also experienced a failed democracy in many ways similar to Russia. Before it was taken over by Hitler during World War II, the Weimar Republic was experiencing extreme economic struggles post World War I and there were no political institutions in place to deal with the crisis. There was also no political legitimacy or social trust in the regime because they had no defense system or outside support, and the entire country was filled with such anger for the consequences of World War I which they turned into hate for the democratic regime. The Weimar Republic, as well as Russia, also had a power-hungry leader that removed all democratic institutions in order to gain power. However, the two leaders obtained their leadership roles in extremely different ways. Russia’s citizens were deceived into giving up their liberal rights while Putin was in power, whereas Hitler deceived the public in order to get elected and become a dictator. Hitler also utilized extreme fear tactics to maintain his power, while Putin simply corrupted officials to exaggerate his power.

While the Weimar Republic experienced a horrible failure of democracy, it was reinvented as Germany post World War II and eventually transitioned back to a democracy in 1990. This transition was easy because Germany had a background with an established democracy and progressed to a democracy while other once Nazi-occupied countries also transitioned to democracies. Today, Germany uses a democratic-parliamentary system in which they elect government officials through a mixed member proportional representation system which elects the Chancellor from the majority party. Japan also has maintained a successful democracy since its establishment in 1952. Japan’s effective transition to democracy is greatly due to the fact that the United States implemented most of the policies and wrote the constitution that is still enacted today. The United States and MacArthur established labor rights, farmer/tenant laws, women’s involvement and unionizing in Japan’s transition to democracy. They also created a multi-party parliamentary electoral system that elects a prime minister as the head of state along with two legislative houses and kept the emperor role as a ceremonial position.

So, what have we learned from all these failures and successes? When looking at Dahl’s take on democracy, we learn that democratization takes such a long time because countries will fail multiple times before finally succeeding. We learn that political institutions must be in place and effective before the democratization is taking place so that they can focus on more specific areas. The biggest lesson to learn is that trust is of the utmost importance. It not only stabilizes and legitimizes the government, the government officials, and the political parties but it validates the democratic regime as a whole, making the establishment and/or the maintaining of the regime successful and strong.


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Inglehart, Ronald F. “Globalization and Postmodern Values,” Washington Quarterly, 23, 1 (Winter 2000).

Inglehart, Ronald F. “”How Much Should We Worry?”” Journal of Democracy 27, no. 3 (2016): 18-23. (accessed December 16, 2018).

Inglehart, Ronald F. “Trust, Well-Being and Democracy,” in Mark E. Warren (ed.), Democracy and Trust (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 88-120.

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