On the principles of democracy

A.C. Grayling, an English philosopher and author of many books, has written a new book entitled The Good State. On the Principles of Democracy. In the book he deals in a clear and convincing way with essential questions about democracy, such as: 
  • What exactly does democracy mean? 
  • What are the essential principles underlying an effective democracy? 
  • What is the purpose of governance in a democracy? 
  • How can democracy best be protected against undermining forces from outside and within? 
  • Who should have the right to vote and who should not? 
Read more about the book below and why I think it is important.

What form of democracy works best?

Grayling also elaborates on the question: Which forms and models of democracy work best? Does a winner-takes-all two-party model as used in the UK and the US work better or is a coalition model, as used in The Netherlands, more effective? Is a direct form of democracy with frequent use of referendums preferable or a representative democracy?

Grayling has clear answers to these questions. He argues that England's Westminster model, which has been emulated in more than 50 countries, has features that make it inherently undemocratic. Grayling explains that an effective democracy doesn't just try to prevent a minority from taking control. An effective democracy should also prevent a majority from simply having its way. After all, a good state serves the interests of all people. Consensus from all based on compromise is better for quality of life, according to Grayling.

He also explains that frequently working with referendums is in principle a weakness within a democracy. In addition, it usually doesn't work. Complex issues are presented to the population in a simplistic and oversimplified manner, while the complexity of the issues rather requires a well-considered agreement.

Although Grayling clearly states that democracy will always remain a work in progress and that no country has an ideal democracy, he sees representative democracies with coalition governments such as in The Netherlands as the currently most advanced.

Why is this an important book?

Humanity is distinguished from most other animals by our ability to live and work together on a large scale. Our advanced knowledge of how best to organize and govern societies are among the greatest achievements of humanity. We've been thinking about these complex questions for a few thousand years and we've made progress.

How we organize and govern our societies has a major impact on our standard of living and well-being. Democracies generally perform best (or least badly) as a form of government. But democracies cannot be taken for granted. If we don't maintain, protect and develop them, they can deteriorate. This is what is currently happening in several countries including the USA.

As humanity we always have important issues to think about such as the Corona crisis and global warming. Hopefully we will not have to think much about those two problems within a few decades. Democracy will always remain important and current. This book helps to think about the topic more carefully.

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