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International Day of Democracy

Demokratie als die fortschrittlichste Regierungsform

Die Regierungsform Demokratie bedeutet wörtlich übersetzt ‚Herrschaft des Volkes‘. Sie besteht in ihrer frühesten Form seit über 2.500 Jahren. In den westlichen Ländern ist es mittlerweile größtenteils unumstritten, dass es sich bei der Demokratie um die fortschrittlichste und beste Regierungsform handelt – dies wird traditionell am 15. September gefeiert.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time …” Winston S. Churchill (November 11, 1947)

A Brief History of Democracy

The so-called Athenian democracy, which was established in the city-state of Athens around the 6th century BC, is one of the first examples of an early form of democracy. Of course, this system would no longer meet the modern standards of democracy. So, for example, only those were citizens who were male and sons of a man who was also a citizen 1. This definition clearly excluded all women, slaves, and foreigners. The history of democracy is often narrated in terms of revolutions and bottom-up uprisings. What is frequently omitted from this story are exactly those people who had also played a suppressed role in the actual history of democracy, such as women 2: The U.S. and French revolutions that established the foundation of Western liberal democracies in the eighteenth century continue to be celebrated today – though the U. S. Declaration of Independence from 1776 explicitly states that “all men are created equal” and the French Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen from 1789 still recognized only men as citizens.

In this blog post, we will shed some light on democracy today: What criteria must be met, what advantages does it offer to its citizens, or does it possibly also have some flaws? Drawing on data from the German General Social Survey (ALLBUS; 1998, 2008, 2018) 3, the European Values Study (EVS) 2008 4, and the Politbarometer 1997 5, we gain further insights into people’s attitudes towards democracy.
Today’s Democracies

The research division of the U.K.-based company that publishes The Economist newspaper has created a so-called Democracy Index to measure the state of democracy in more than 160 countries. In annually published reports, countries are classified into four categories, which are arranged on a scale ranging from 0 to 10. A score of 0 to 4 corresponds to an authoritarian regime, 4.01 to 6 to a hybrid regime, 6.01 to 8 to a flawed democracy – and those with a score higher than 8 qualify as full democracies. According to this index, quite exactly half of the world’s population in 2020 lived in complete or flawed democracies, while the other half of citizens lived in hybrid or authoritarian regimes 6. Norway is the frontrunner in the ranking, followed by Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, and Canada. Germany ranks 14th but is still classified as a full democracy. The countries scoring lowest on the index are the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and North Korea, all with values below 1.5. The scores are obtained by having experts answer 60 questions with a numerical value and calculating the weighted average. However, the procedure is strongly criticized for its lack of transparency 7.
Citizens’ Duties

In some European countries (such as Greece, Cyprus, and Belgium), voting is compulsory, and eligible voters who abstain from voting without an acceptable reason may face a fine. In Germany, however, it is assumed that compulsory voting would contradict the freedom of voting. Therefore, everyone is at liberty to vote in elections, though a certain moral obligation to vote is emphasized 8.

ALLBUS data from 1998, 2008, and 2018 9 show how the attitudes of Germans towards this moral duty to vote have developed over the years (see Figure 1). In 1998, about half of all respondents completely agreed with the statement that every citizen in a democracy has the duty to vote regularly in elections. This value increased from 60% in 2008 up to 74% in 2018. In the latest ALLBUS wave, less than 9% tended to disagree or completely disagreed with the statement, indicating a strong sense of civic duty.  […]


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