What is democracy?

It can be argued that there are two definitions of democracy: the theoretical, philosophical definition, and its definition by practical application. In the article Democracy and it’s Practice: A General Theory of Democratic Relativity, Daniel Tetteh Osabu-Kle explores this dichotomy and its effects on the political process.

Democracy, of course, simply means the “rule of the common people”, but as noted by Robert Dahl, the way in which “people” are designated is ambiguous. As a common example, the United States, pillar of democracy, constituted former African-American slaves as being enumerated by only “three-fifths,” as opposed to the whole number of free persons, for nearly a century. Exclusion, therefore, is entirely possible under the theoretical concept of democracy, even if in practical terms it creates a cognitive dissonance.

In order to demonstrate and quantify how democracy works in practice, Osabu-Kle creates a formula for establishing democracy, whereby Y = the level of democracy, can be determined by dividing K = the democratic product constant by X = the level of dictatorship. By establishing a dependent constant, Osabu-Kle establishes that there can be no perfect democracy or perfect dictatorship, rather one that elides between the two or continues along a rectangular hyperbola. This does not mean that corruption of the democratic process inevitably leads to a dictatorship, but rather that the political continuum is constantly in flux, and a seemingly stable political structure, such as the United States, is actually moving between these two poles in a converse relationship to each other.

As an example, the dependent constant K may indicate a period of “prosperity, peace and harmony”, which would correspondingly increase the level of democracy. Alternatively, a period of fear, war or distraction, such as the 9/11 attack, one would see a increase in the level of dictatorship, or greater power in the hands of the government than the people.

Osabu-Kle compares his model with that of Robert Dahl’s in Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, the main difference being one of terminology, where Dahl replaces “level of democracy” with “political participation” and “level of dictatorship” with “political competition”, but with the same conclusion that pure democracy in a philosophical sense cannot occur in real-world application. As he puts it, “democratic practice is a balanced product of democracy and some level of dictatorship”. The models that Osabu-Kle conveys in this article are representative of what we, the people, see as democracy in action: that of a persistent struggle “between Society and State” that enables democracy to retain its dynamic and living status.


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