Understanding Us/Uk Government and Politics: A Comparative Guide

By Duncan Watts | Go to book overview

12
Democracy in theory
and practice

In recent years, the leaders of many countries have described their systems of
government as democratic. The emphasis they place on certain institutions of
government and their interpretations of the role of the state and individual in
society may vary, but the label carries definite prestige and esteem. Britain and
America are usually seen as examples of model Western representative, liberal
democracies in which the people choose representatives who govern on their
behalf and according to the wishes of the majority. In newer democracies, some
familiar features of liberal democracies are absent or undeveloped
.

In this chapter, we explore the nature of democracy and differing forms that it
takes across the world. However, the main emphasis is on the way it works on
either side of the Atlantic. Basic similarities and differences are highlighted, with
consideration given to alleged defects in its operation
.


Democracy across the world

At first sight, democracy appears to be an immensely popular political creed. Dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini sometimes proclaimed their acceptance of and support for democratic ideas, even though their governing approach was highly authoritarian and intolerant of opposition. Leaders of countries whose governing arrangements were as far apart ideologically as the old USSR and the USA called themselves democratic. This is why Crick referred to it as 'the most promiscuous word in the world of public affairs. She is everybody's mistress and yet somehow retains her magic, even when a lover sees her favours being…illicitly shared by another'.1

The so-called People's Democracies which existed under communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe offered an alternative and widely divergent model of democracy to those familiar with the Western one as practised in Britain and America. Marxists liked the egalitarian implications of democracy, and welcomed the goal of social equality brought about through the common ownership of wealth. Communists everywhere would unite in condemnation of American society, where racial integration proceeded only slowly and

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