A Definition of Democracy

Democracy means more than a particular set of government institutions. It refers to relationships: between the state and its citizens, among diverse groups and among individuals.

A good inclusive definition of democracy as a way of organising society is provided by John Gastil (1993). He defines democracy in the following terms:

Democracy connotes wide-ranging liberty, including the freedom to decide one’s own course in life and the right to play an equal role in forging a common destiny. Democracy means social and civil equality and a rejection of discrimination and prejudice. Democracy embraces the notion of pluralism and cultural diversity. It welcomes a wide range of perspectives and lifestyles, moving different social groups towards peaceful coexistence or respectful integration. Democracy represents the ideal of a cohesive community of people living and working together and finding fair, non-violent ways to reconcile conflicts. In sum, democracy embodies all three elements of the famous French Revolutionary slogan (liberty, equality, fraternity). (Gastil, 1993: p.5)

As you know from Unit 1 in this course, Heads of Government identified democracy as a fundamental political value for the Commonwealth in the Harare Declaration, recognising 'the inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic processes in framing the society in which they live.' This means that the Commonwealth is committed to democracy both as a style of government and as a style of decision-making.