Democracy in any country means the rule by elected representatives. It has been defined as the government “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Democracy rests on the principle of representation. The people elect their representatives by vote in an election. These representatives attend the legislature and act on behalf of the citizens. If the citizens are not satisfied with their representatives, they may not re-elect them in the next elections.
Democracy is said to be a better form of government. It is the government of the people as distinguished from the government of an individual or of a class of people. It makes all the citizens interested in the affairs of the country by sending their representatives in legislatures.
Democracy is also a safeguard against revolution. Since people themselves elect the members of government, the need for a revolution does not arise. A democratic government guarantees freedom of thought, action and speech. This freedom has advantage as it enables the individual to grow freely. Democracy thus offers favourable atmosphere for development of human personality.
But democracy has its weaknesses, the greatest of which is that it may be the rule of ignorance. “Nine people out of every ten”, says Carlyle, “are fools”, and citizens who are not sufficiently intelligent or educated are likely to commit errors of judgement in the casting of votes. The best men may thus fail to get elected. Elections are usually a matter of propaganda. However, the voters in countries like Britain and America have not proved so lacking in judgement as many of the opponents of democracy would have us believe, though it is true that in our own country the people being illiterates rarely give evidence of sound or independent judgement.
Democracy is wanting in efficiency. For prompt and effective action, unity of action is essential. “One bad general”, said Napoleon “is better than two good ones”. In a multitude of minds, much unprofitable discussion takes place whereas unity of control is needed for a vigorous national life. According to Newman, for example, the British Government cannot cope with the emergencies created by war as effectively as a dictator can.
This criticism, however, is not very convincing because in times of war the British Prime Minister usually wields the powers of a dictator. During World War II, for example, Sir Winston Churchill faced few real difficulties as a result of the system of democracy in England. A sounder criticism of democracy in times of war would be to say that secrecy in military affairs becomes difficult, if not impossible, and that the opposition usually lowers the morale of people by its loud condemnation of the actions of the cabinet.
It was thought that the First World War had made the world safe for democracy, but this forecast proved to be wrong. While democracy worked quite well in France and the English-speaking countries, most other countries swung towards dictatorship. So successful and powerful did their dictatorships become that the days of democracy seemed to be almost over. Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Japan, Russia-in all these countries dictatorship triumphed and flourished, till the outbreak of another World War, greater than the first, plunged the world into bloody strife the like of which had never been witnessed before in history.
But dictatorship is certainly not without its merits. As Carlyle points out, society is an organism and not a machine. No mechanical system like the ballot-box can, therefore, prove satisfactory. This safer course is to give all power to a dictator. The dictator must, of course, be one who has an exceptional ability to organize, direct and administer. Parliamentary rule usually means government by cliques of politicians whose purview is strictly limited by their private interests.
A dictator, on the other hand, can concentrate all his energies on the uplift and improvement of his country. This is borne out by the phenomenal success achieved by Hitler and Mussolini in their respective countries. “My programme”, said Mussolini “is action, not talk.”
Unfortunately, the methods of dictatorship are, and have to be, ruthless. Dictatorship employs force and violence to maintain itself. It resorts to physical compulsion, prisons, concentration camps, censorship, intimidation, purges and executions. Both in older Russia and Germany countless executions were ordered for the stability of dictatorship. A dictatorship cannot brook the slightest opposition. Thus there can be no freedom of thought or speech there. Intensive propaganda is employed, as was done in Hitler’s Germany, to retain the support of the people.
Dictatorship, therefore, by its very nature hampers the free development of the human personality. It does not allow for diversity of political opinion and belief but tends towards political regimentation or standardization of human beings. The greatest danger of dictatorship, however, is its partiality for war as an instrument of national aggrandizement. Practically every dictator preaches war, partly because he is actuated by personal ambition and partly because he suffers from an exaggerated nationalism.