Democracy is an expression which is very dear to those who love mankind and who believe that the salvation of the world lies in the acceptance of the ideals upon which it stands. If rightly interpreted, it means freedom, justice and equality for all classes of people under a form of government which besides being formed by people themselves is dedicated to the noble task of ridding the people of their moral and material standards and giving them peace and contentment.
The history of democracy is the long and continuous struggle of the masses for their liberation from the tyranny of monarchs and autocrats, from the injustice of the privileged class and their vested interests, and from the exploitation of backward people by the colonial powers. The Civil War in England, the French Revolution, The American Declaration of Independence and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia are some of the highlights of this struggle. The idea of modern democracy takes origin from the writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau whose bold advocacy of the rights of the ordinary man sparked an upheaval which ultimately gave greater control to the people over their destiny.
Napoleon Bonaparte, according to some political historians, was the greatest destroyer of feudal monarchies, and for this reason was a strong leveling influence in the relations between the people and their rulers. He emptied dozens of thrones and so thoroughly destroyed the power of contemporary princes that they found themselves unable to restore their hegemony even after his exit from the arena of the European politics. No man sowed the seeds of democracy as recklessly and as unknowingly as this victor of Austerlitz.
Although nothing is simpler to define than democracy, nothing is more difficult to understand than a democracy in action. Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg utterance defined democracy as “a government of the people, by the people and for the people”, thus giving it a more classical and final form. Yet it is not a complete definition, for democracy is something more than a government. Like liberty and equality, words which have never been properly defined, democracy has larger meanings than a single definition can convey.
George Bernard Shaw was right when he said that democracy does not exist anywhere and that the slogan of democracy was a convenient truth which helped governments keep themselves in power. But whatever Shaw may say in order to hold democracy up to ridicule and howsoever strong may be the denunciations of dictators such as Hitler and Stalin of such a system of government, one must not ignore the fact that the ideals of democracy appeal to the minds of all intelligent people who are self-respecting and who desire an end to all forms of exploitation.
When the obstacles of corruption, fanaticism, and racial discrimination are cleared, democracy, which in the real sense means perfect equality between human beings in all sphere of human activity, will become a universally accepted way of life.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.