Don’t trust the word democracy. (aka: the principles of a democracy)

North Korea is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Don’t trust the word democracy.

Countries can call themselves what they like but it doesn’t change the fact of what they are in real life.

I don’t know anyone, outside of the North Korean communist party, who would offer the word ‘democracy’ to describe the hermit kingdom.

But that’s not the only word you can’t trust. Example two: Vietnam. The official name of Vietnam is the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Oh, so they are kind of like Sweden, right?

Hardly.

Vietnam still has a one-party, communist system. Their economy has long since shifted into a mixed economy which indeed might fall in line with some democratic socialist countries that one would find in western Europe, for instance. But Vietnam does not qualify as a democracy. They just don’t pass the test.

What are the basic requirements of a democracy? Try these on for size and see if they sound right:

  • Fundamental worth of the individual
  • Majority Rules, Minority Rights
  • Equality of all People (before the law)
  • Necessity of Compromise
  • Individual Freedom

Fundamental worth of the individual (a little John Locke, perhaps?) Everyone has innate rights simply because they are human. These are often called inalienable rights. They can’t be removed from us. Now of course governments can prevent us from having those rights, but they are ours nonetheless because the rights come from God (or nature, if you prefer that description). This is a pretty special trait of democracy. It’s essential in creating a limited government where the rights of individuals are preserved.

Majority rules, minority rights. You can’t have a democracy if the rights of the minorities whether by race or religion do not have the same rights as the majority. Why? See point above. Laws and judicial rulings must be in place to preserve the rights of minorities. Without that, we would fall into an authoritarian regime. (Who wants that?)

Equality of all People. There can’t be any preferential treatment. Certain individuals, in government or elsewhere, have to play by the same rules as everyone else. It’s essential for any democracy.

Necessity of Compromise. Because all ideas are freely expressed, a democracy will naturally become a pluralistic society. Without compromise, you will get stagnation (see US Congress). There must be a natural give and take. No one will always get what he or she wants. If that happens, it’s called a dictatorship.

Individual Freedom. This is, perhaps, the hallmark of all democracies. Freedom to live. Freedom to pursue happiness. Freedom to express ideas, even unpopular ones. Freedom to demand government action (redress of grievance). Freedom to move. Freedom to work where one wants. Freedom to live how one sees fit, as long as that freedom doesn’t impinge on the rights of others. See point 1 and 2 above.

If a country has these five features, you can be assured it is indeed a democracy.

Democracies aren’t perfect. Some more imperfect as others, but even with all its flaws, it most definitely beats the alternative.

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