When comparing political philosophies, two types of government which are often at odds with one another are democracy and dictatorship. Why would these two terms come up together so often? It is probably because one could argue that they are exact opposites of one another. Where a democracy is based upon allowing the people to govern the land via majority rules voting, a dictatorship takes any and all influence away of the general population, and instead places it all in the hands of a single, absolute ruler.
When researching any type of government, or political philosophy, it is important to remember that the way these ideals read on paper is sometimes different than the way they ultimately play out in practice – sometimes considerably so. People are living, thinking beings with needs, wants, tendencies and feelings. Therefore, it is somewhat expected that they will behave in ways the philosophers and law makers did not anticipate. How the government reacts to these unexpected changes, and whether or not they bend to the will of the people has a lot to do with those in power at the time. Regardless, there are recognizable core values and beliefs at play in both a democracy and a dictatorship. Even though they may not exactly align with their written origins, there are still plenty of differences to explore between the two.
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What Is a Democracy?
Ideally, the power in a democratic government comes from the people. Elections are held wherein citizens of a given location (be it country, state, province, town, city, etc.) are able to vote for the candidate whom they feel will best represent their personal wants and needs when in a position of power. Therefore, the main principle behind democracy is that of representation. Even though the people themselves are not able to create and enforce laws, there is an expectation that the elected representatives will act on their behalf.
Naturally, this means there are necessarily people who are under represented in their district, assuming their preferred candidate was not elected. This can lead to a bit of a backlash, and if there is enough of a groundswell of support for a new candidate, the current official may not win re-election. Of course, there are also cases where the elected official fails to come through on their promises to the people who voted for them, making it unlikely, or at least less likely that they will win re-election either.
What Are the Benefits of a Democracy?
Democracy is sometimes said to be the best form of government. Namely because it derives its power from all of the people, and not just a small group. This is also part of the reason democracy is thought to be a safeguard against a revolution. Considering the people in charge were put there by the people themselves, there is less of a need to overthrow the government violently. Instead, the people can simply elect someone else if they feel they are being under served.
Freedom is also a huge aspect of democracy. Freedom of thought, worship, speech and action (assuming it is peaceful and within the limits of established laws) are often the backbone on which the rest of the government is built. These freedoms enable individuals to grow and pursue their personal dreams and goals. Democracies foster growth in the arts, sciences, literature, invention, and innovations of every kind. When the people are free to work as they see fit, they will have more opportunity to make overall improvements to all of society.
What Are the Drawbacks of a Democracy?
Many would argue that the very thing that gives a democracy its greatest strength, might also become its biggest weakness: the people. An often cited fear is that if the population is ignorant of certain issues, or just generally not well educated, they may make errors when casting votes. If they do not fully understand the implications of their votes, it could allow for an unscrupulous person to gain power, and thus, begin to reverse some of the inherent freedoms in a democracy.
Democracy is also remarkably inefficient and slow. When it comes to change, there must be votes on the matter, and the voting process can take quite some time. First, there is campaigning to consider, and public awareness initiatives to help keep voters apprised of the situation. Otherwise, there is a bill drafted and revised as many times as necessary. Either one of these scenarios ends with the aforementioned vote, and if the “best” course of action gets voted down, it just slows the process down even more. Change is an important aspect of any society, but democracy can slow that process to a snail’s pace. This may lead to other forms of government appearing to be more progressive, and more eager to embrace new things.
What is a Dictatorship?
A dictatorship is a form of government where the majority, if not all of the power is granted to one individual. The people being governed have no say in the way they are governed, and are unable to make any changes to the political system. Whereas democracy thrives on freedom, a dictatorship thrives on oppression. There are no competitive elections held, so therefore no chance of unseating the dictator. There are often human rights issues involved with dictatorships, making them considerably more difficult to live in than a democracy.
What are the Benefits of a Dictatorship?
As referenced earlier, elections are imperfect things. While the majority of a population is represented, there is always going to be a portion of the population that is not. Society is a large and unwieldy thing, and some would argue that trying to apply something as potentially volatile as elections to it is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, by giving all of the power to one person, the government can move quickly, and more like a machine. A dictator is a leader who possesses exceptional talent in the fields of organization, and administration, and is also able to act decisively and without fear of dissenting opinions. If a country were to find itself in a situation which required a quick but firm decision in order to keep its people safe, a dictator is able to act in that manner. A dictator has little else to do but concentrate completely and utterly on the betterment and advancement of their own country, and can often achieve great success in this way.
What are the Drawbacks of a Dictatorship?
All this decisive action without fear of retribution can (and does) lead to ruthlessness. Since there are no laws voted on by the people, all law making, and law enforcement must often become brutal and violent. Dissenters to the dictator are considered direct threats, and so dictators often make use of dubious prison sentences, intimidation and ultimately execution in order to prove their power over potential upstarts.
Censorship, propaganda and media blackouts are often cited as problematic issues in dictatorships, because it is important that the people living under the government not get too many ideas from sources that contradict their leader. There is no freedom in a dictatorship, and that extends all the way down to basic freedoms like thought and speech. People can and do get into trouble for speaking out against the government.
It goes without saying that there is no allowance for political diversity, and often no allowance for individual expression or creativity. This can lead to extremely unhappy people, and often, violent revolutions.