To what extent are democracy and dictatorship different? In order to answer this question we must first examine the generic basis of both democracy and dictatorship separately. The term democracy originates from the Greeks, and is defined as “rule of the people” coming from the words “demos” (people) and “kratos” (power). It was coined around 400 BCE, to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens. Commonly, two forms of democracy are recognised, these being direct democracy and representative democracy.
Direct democracy was used in Athenian democracy, and is a system in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. Many US states and Switzerland still use this system often. Representative democracy refers to the system which is in place in Britain today. It is a variation of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people. The term dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is rules by an individual. For some scholars, a dictatorship is a form of government that has power to govern without consent of those being governed.
As is the case with democracy, there are different kinds of dictatorship. An authoritarian dictatorship is one kind whereby the power the govern is held by a small group of elite politicians. A military dictatorship is a form of government wherein the political power resides with the military. We can start to answer this question by looking at the way in which governments are formed in democracy and in dictatorship. We, in Britain live in a democracy whereby every five years we hold in general election in which everyone over 18 years of age can vote for who they would like to be their local MP.
Whichever party wins more than 50% of the MPs in the House of Commons can then go on to form a government. We, therefore as citizens of this country, have handed over our sovereignty and elected the people who will go on to govern us for the next five years until we retake out sovereignty to hold another election. We have therefore given the government the right to govern via consent. In a dictatorship however, in many cases the people haven’t given those in power, the right to be there. Figures such s Lenin, who believed in a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in Marxist terms, seized power of their government rather than being elected by the people. In the case of Lenin this was after a revolution and due to the failings of the Provisional Government the Bolsheviks were able to take advantage of their weaknesses and, through violent means, take control the the country. However, we must not make the assumption that all dictators have come to power via the means of force and violence. An example of a notorious dictator’s rise to power without the use of an overthrow of the then government, is Hitler.
He was democratically elected to become Chancellor of Germany, and then used his power in that role to change the laws surrounding the limits on his power, thus securing him as a dictator. From this we can see that the means in which a governments in democracy and dictatorships are formed are different, and can in some situations be the complete opposite of each other. The means in which a government maintains authority in a democracy and in a dictatorship, show one of the many differences between these two forms of governing. Traditionally, in a democracy, a government would use rational and proportional means of policing and punishment.
For example, in Britain as a democracy we do not have situations where people are persecuted for expressing their religious views and beliefs. However, across the world, particularly in the Middle East, there are dictatorships where you may be persecuted for your beliefs, whether they be religious, political or cultural. These places have regimes often known as “police states”, whereby people are constantly under the surveillance of the authorities, and the government controls the police and whole ‘justice’ system, making these countries less democratic.
Although we can clearly identify stark differences between democracy and dictatorship, there are certain groups of thinkers who believe that the two are actually not as different as it would appear on paper. There are those who follow Karl Marx’s thoughts and beliefs that actually democracy, in particular capitalist democracies are simply bourgeois dictatorships, whereby the middle classes are exploiting the working lasses, who he refers to as the proletariat. There is also the question of the ‘tyranny of the majority’, an issue raised by many philosophers, from Aristotle in Ancient Greece, to Alexis de Tocqueville and Friedrich Nietzsche. This issue envisions a scenario in which decisions made by a majority place its interests so far above those of an individual or minority group as to constitute active oppression, comparable to that of tyrants and despots.
In many cases a disliked ethnic, religious or racial group is deliberately penalized by the majority element acting through the democratic process. Thus, from this theory, it can be suggested that there are elements of democracy which actually allow dictatorships amongst groups of people, to be formed. It would most certainly be unwise to compare previous Birtish Primeministers like Margeret Thatcher to notorious dictators such as Chairman Mao or Adolf Hitler, but we must also consider the theory of an elective dictatoship.
It would most certainly be unwise to compare previous British prime ministers like Margaret Thatcher to notorious dictators such as Chairman Mao or Adolf Hitler, but we must also consider the theory of an elective dictatorship This term coined by Lord Hailsham refers to the way in which some governments can be dominated, or dictated by the executive body within them, thus making them less democratic as less views of the people are being put forward for law making, instead, a small body of elite politicians are running effectively running the government.
This along with a large majority in the House of Commons, such as the 1983 Conservative majority of ___? , means that the MPs in the Commons can no longer fulfil their role of representing their constituents effectively as a dictatorship of the governing party may mean that any law proposed by the executive is very likely to be passed due to the huge majority.
On paper, and in theory, democracy and dictatorship may seem worlds apart in their basis of power, how authority is maintained and how government is created, but in actual fact, when taking into account the thoughts of leading philosophers and academics, we can clearly draw some parallels between these two forms of governing.
Elements of one can often be found in the other, although fundamentally the main aims of democracy are often not met in dictatorship. The freedoms and liberties of the individual are often not emphasised in a dictatorship. However, after studying the different elements of democracies around the world, I don’t think it would be accurate to say that these freedoms and liberties of the people are even being fulfilled in democracies.