Anyone following developments in Turkey these days would notice that its Democracy is going through a tough test. The form and the way Democracy is implemented profoundly affect the quality of human lives. If any reader fails to recognize this directly, it is perhaps because he or she is living under a relatively stable Democracy where not much changes from year to year. A lot is being discussed in the media about specific daily developments in Turkey. In this post, I would look from a wider angle and give some historical perspective on Democracy.
The word Democracy originates from the Greek word Demokratia, meaning “the rule of the people” (Demos mean people, Kratos means power, rule). Translation of the word “Democracy” is one of the easiest one in the world: It is almost always very close to the original Greek word in most major languages. However countless meanings are attached to the word “Democracy”. The true meaning is probably stored up in heaven; but unhappily has not yet been communicated to us yet.
A lot of historical figures worked on the development of Democracy: Aristotle acted as tutor to Alexander the Great, Machiavelli attempted to counsel the Medicis in Florence. Jean-Jacques Rousseau through his book The Social Contract had a huge impact during the French Revolution. Nowadays, most of us are using the term to mean almost all the bright and beautiful things we think, as a civic ideal, as representative institution, and as a way of life. Asked to define the term, many would say “majority rule”.
With the majority rule comes problems of intense and persistent minority. The intense minority is the case where those who vote with the majority are affected much less by the decision, or have fewer interests at stake, than those who form the minority. Counting heads equally does not result in fair calculation of preferences and interests. The persistent minority is the case when one group finds itself in a minority repeatedly when votes are taken.
Democracy needs certain preconditions to function successfully. It needs a wealthy and literate population, media of mass communication so that ideas and opinions can circulate freely, a well-functioning legal system that people respect. Also a large middle class is essential for successful operation of the democracy. Both extremes of wealth in the hands of a few and extremes of poverty at a significant portion of the population would negatively affect it.
It turns out that Democracy is a demanding business. In Turkey, Democracy is like a raft, it never sinks but your feet are always in the water. But the good thing is there is no turning back against the current of Democracy.