Why the concept of democracy is universally valued and essentially contested?
Nqubeko Ngubo, Rhodes University
Democracy has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life (Dewy, 1970: 13), nurtured by the somewhat false notion that even though democracy is the worst form of government, but it is better compared to other forms that have been tried from time to time. Through this perception and the United States’ democratization of the world project, it has become apparent that democracy is universally valued, but is it or should it be a universal value? Does consensus on intrinsic human dignity and basic human conditions dictates that states should be organized democratically? What if there were empirical evidence that some non-democratic form of government is more likely to produce human happiness, cultural achievement, and sound money? These are the questions that this piece of writing will attempt to answer. It will do so in a manner that will lead to a conclusive discussion as to why democracy is universally valued and essentially contested.
There are many forms of government that have been tried from time to time, but what is it that sets democracy apart yet so contested. This question can be answered in three parts, it the procedural, economic development, and participatory aspects that makes it more acceptable. In terms of procedure, democracy demands that that everyone agrees on the same rules of the game. This is one of the most desirable characteristics of procedural democracy as it respects, protects and promotes human dignity, at least in theory. It does this through conferring rights unto individuals, rights that concern every aspect of human life, hence Dewy (1970: 14) metaphorically describes it as a way of life. This element of democracy placed great store in concepts of fairness and in principles of due process and who were convinced that democracy meant adherence to parliamentary procedure, free elections and a strong prohibition of corruption in any form.
Over and above procedures, what makes democracy more valuable is the claimed relationship it has with economic growth. Supporters of democracy argue that the motivations of citizens to work and invest, the effective allocation of resources in the marketplace, and profit maximizing private activity can all be maintained in a climate of liberty, free-flowing information and secured control of property. Democracies can limit state intervention in the economy, are responsive to public's demands on area such as education, justice and health, and encourage stable and long run growth. Opponents of democracy, on the other hand, argue that democracies cannot mobilize resource swiftly due to social, ethnic and class struggles. While some authors favour authoritarian regime to suppress conflicts, resist sectional interests and take coercive measures necessary for rapid growth, others remain overall sceptical on whether regimes, rather than markets and...