Democracy is a complicated developmental process forever evolving. It is a form of government unique for each country. The impetus comes from the people’s desire to improve the human condition involving freedoms, rights, equality, and the ownership and utilization of material resources.
This effort is marked by constant struggles between the few who hold power and wealth, and the masses who have less or none. You may call it a class struggle between rich and poor. The democratic change is by no means smooth, often characterized by violence and revolution. Furthermore, many factors influence (or hijack) this change including religion, ideology, ethnicity, technology, money, military force, even a leader’s personality.
Because democracy develops at different paces between countries, we can still see the various stages of its development in the world today. The most primitive form of democracy can be found in the jungles of Papua New Guinea where the village chief of a tribe rules and makes all the important decisions. The most sophisticated type of democracy is found mainly in Europe and North America. It’s the democracy of Western cultures featuring one person one vote, government changing hands regularly and peacefully, and a well-developed governing system based on written laws sanctioned by an independent court.
Despite its sophistication, Western democracy is by no means perfect, and may not be suitable for non-Western countries or cultures. It is still a class struggle between the top 1% elites and the rest, influenced (or hijacked) mostly by money in a subtle way. The rich don’t have enough votes to elect the candidates they like, but they have plenty of money to bribe the legislators and other high government officials. Their goal is to influence the legislature to enact laws that will favor their business enterprise. Their excuse is always to lower taxes for them so as to create jobs for the people. Will lower taxes for the rich create jobs for the poor? Think!
Between the most primitive and sophisticated lie various kinds of democratic stages across the world. Absolute monarchy has a long history lasting for thousands of years although it is almost extinct by now. The separation of church and state has been achieved in Europe for a long time but not in Iran for instance. Dictators supported by the military are not uncommon such as Hitler, Stalin and Kim Jong Il. A dictatorship does not have to be a person, it can be that of a political or religious party like those in China, Iran, and the former Soviet Union. Dictatorships always employ the excuse that they are doing good things for the people.
What are the things that make a sound democracy? First, there must exist a strong middle class, as demonstrated in Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia. Without a strong middle class, even a democratic change can degenerate into an oligarchy as in Russia. One exception is India whose people were accustomed to voting before a solid middle class had developed. Another exception is China where a solid middle class has been born but the communist party reins supreme.
Second, there must be free flow of information. Different governments restrict the flow of information in different ways, some openly and some in a subtle manner. In the United States, although information flows rather freely, there exists the problem of overload. Many organizations, commercial or political, engage in bombarding the people with biased information day in day out. It is misleading advertising tantamount to brainwashing. They want to program a biased thinking into people’s brains so that when election times come, those programmed minds will come out to vote for their selected candidates. If you want to see the information overload, just turn on the TV and the radio, or read a newspaper or the Internet. They are full of misleading advertising, maybe 20% facts or truth. Therefore, the free flow of information does not always guarantee a sound democracy. The idea of transparency should be the goal. A good democracy should be transparent to the people regarding how its government works, and how cozy is the relationship between big business and the government.
Third, money is the root of all evils. It corrupts democracy ranging from the most primitive to the most sophisticated. The evils of money is the most difficult problem to solve because all persons are corruptible. Corruption always exists. It is only relative between countries. Money will always find a way to the person who wants to take a bribe. A less corrupt country fulfills the essential condition of democracy, regardless of what political system it has, because what the government does is good for the people, which is the most important thing. A less corrupt government must consist of high officials with moral integrity who do not succumb to the seduction of money. That means a true democracy is governed by the rules of morality, not by laws corrupted by money.