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The democratic debate

When we think about democracy, we are likely to consider a system of representative government that has periodical and fair elections and where the majority decides. This is, indeed, a definition of ‘liberal democracy’: a system of government that combines two political traditions, liberalism and democracy.
Teacher with primary children in a classroom

When we think about democracy, we are likely to consider a system of representative government that has periodical and fair elections and where the majority decides. This is, indeed, a definition of ‘liberal democracy’: a system of government that combines two political traditions, liberalism and democracy. Liberalism aims to guarantee individual freedom, separation of powers, and the rule of law. Democracy emphasises equality and shared decision-making. Merged together, these two political traditions create the form of government many of us are used to.

Types of Democracy

‘Democracy’ has a number of different faces. Sant (2019) reviewed more than 370 academic articles about democratic education trying to find out how we could define democracy for the purpose of education. Her analysis revealed that there are at least five alternative ways of advocating for democracy.

  1. For some, democracy is a system that guarantees inclusivity in processes of decision-making. From this perspective, it is important that the rules of the game are fair and clear so we all can participate looking for the common good.
  2. For others, the key democratic values are diversity and plurality. A system can only be considered democratic if people can embrace their traditions and live the lives they wish. In this respect, minorities need to be protected from the tyranny of the majority.
  3. For a third group, a democracy is not a democracy if people do not participate. Participation in all spheres of our life is needed because it allows us to interact with others, to make decisions, and to learn from our actions.
  4. Others emphasise the importance of justice within democratic traditions. From this perspective, a democratic system needs to secure equal opportunities and outcomes for all. If there is discrimination and inequality, there is no democracy.
  5. A final group considers democracy an open project. The beauty of democracy is precisely its openness to change. Each generation has a possibility to define new democratic ways of engaging and organising themselves.

Whilst most of us effectively live in a liberal democracy, these other five traditions influence the way we understand democracy today and can shape our tomorrow.

References

  1. Sant E: Democratic education: A theoretical review (2006–2017). Review of Educational Research. 2019; 89(5): 655-696. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654319862493
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