“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 Churchill, 1947
The concept of democracy was first codified in ancient Athens, approximately 500 B.C, and since then has evolved (and been completely stamped out then risen again) throughout the history of the world. In fact, if an ancient Athenian saw elections in the modern western world he would almost certainly not call it democracy. After all, nowadays women can vote, we don’t have slavery (at least not legally) so there’s no need to make the distinction between free men and slaves, and you don’t need to be a landowner to have a vote.
On the other hand, whereas the Athenians practiced direct democracy (that is, people voted directly on issues) where it was every citizen’s duty to take part (with the given qualifiers above on what exactly constituted a citizen), we today practice a form of representative democracy which actually owes much more to the ancient Romans than to their Greek contemporaries. The Roman Republic (from the Latin ‘res publica’ – ‘thing of the people’) had an elected senate – who during their terms would tackle issues and vote among themselves rather than holding referendums for the people to vote on every issue.
Even since then, republics have changed over time – the USA and Italy (among others) may have a senate, whilst others such a the UK have a parliament which fulfills a similar role, but the roles of consuls and tribune of the plebs have long since been left behind.
With the evolution of democracy in mind, it seems like there needs to be some more thought into making a better form of governance. Western confidence in democratic institutions is ridiculously low (8% in USA, 9% in France and 16% in the UK), and as people become frustrated by the lack of change (as central parties attempt to appeal to everybody by rarely doing anything controversial; with short term, election-cycle-friendly plans that struggle to provide any meaningful action) they turn towards the extreme fringes, whose appeal is based on how extreme they can be (see the rise of Donald Trump, Front National and UKIP on the political right, and parties such as Podemos and Syriza on the left).
From my personal view, neither of these options are ideal. The choice of stagnating or imploding is not a choice I relish. So there must be a way of making a democracy that actually gets meaningful things done, engages with the people and (crucially) doesn’t rely on scapegoating a group in order to bolster popularity (again, both sides do this – the left blame the rich, the right blame the poor and often take aim at immigrants). I’m sure lots of men and women much smarter than I am have already tried to tackle this, so forgive me if I can’t find the answer, but there must be something.
I’ll get back to you.