Defining and measuring democracy

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There is no consensus on how to measure democracy, definitions of democracy are contested and there
is an ongoing lively debate on the subject. The issue is not only of academic interest. For example,
although democracy-promotion is high on the list of US foreign policy priorities, there is no consensus
within the US government on what constitutes a democracy. As one observer recently put it, “the
world’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remains
undefined--and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit” (Horowitz, 2006, p 114).
Although the terms freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, the two are not
synonymous. Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise and
thus ultimately protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive,
most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracy
include government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed, the existence of free
and fair elections, the protection of minority rights and respect for basic human rights. Democracy
presupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises whether
reference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. As discussed
below, there is a question of how far the definition may need to be widened.

There is no consensus on how to measure democracy, definitions of democracy are contested and thereis an ongoing lively debate on the subject. The issue is not only of academic interest.

 

For example,although democracy-promotion is high on the list of US foreign policy priorities, there is no consensus within the US government on what constitutes a democracy. As one observer recently put it, “theworld’s only superpower is rhetorically and militarily promoting a political system that remainsundefined--and it is staking its credibility and treasure on that pursuit” (Horowitz, 2006, p 114).Although the terms freedom and democracy are often used interchangeably, the two are notsynonymous. Democracy can be seen as a set of practices and principles that institutionalise andthus ultimately protect freedom. Even if a consensus on precise definitions has proved elusive,most observers today would agree that, at a minimum, the fundamental features of a democracyinclude government based on majority rule and the consent of the governed, the existence of freeand fair elections, the protection of minority rights and respect for basic human rights. Democracypresupposes equality before the law, due process and political pluralism. A question arises whetherreference to these basic features is sufficient for a satisfactory concept of democracy. As discussedbelow, there is a question of how far the definition may need to be widened.

 

Zie blz 27 van Democracy index 2011 - Democracy under stress voor bovenstaande tekst