What is democracy?

Bernard Crick noted that democracy is 'perhaps the most promiscous word' in political discourse. Therefore, establishing precisely what is meant by 'democracy' is a difficult task. 

The word finds its roots in the Greek 'Demokratia'; which translates to 'rule' (kratos) by 'the people' (demos). This Ancient Greek conception of democracy was 'direct' in that the people themselves participated in the decision making. Whereas, modern 'representational' democracy sees people elect politicians to do that decision making for them. 

The former model of democracy is more faithful to the idea of 'rule by the people', whereas, the latter 'representational' model perhaps provides a more practical method of government. 

Beyond this distinction between direct and representational democracy there are a host of other questions that can be raised. Is democracy merely the existence of free elections, or does it entail a wider provision of rights and freedoms? If so, at what point can we define a state as being truly democratic? Are there degrees of democracy, or is it a binary state?

Therefore, it is clear that the concept of democracy is perhaps more difficult to establish than one might imagine. Perhaps a better way to establish the nature of democracy, is to establish what it isnt. Democracy isnt a dictatorship or an absolute monarchy. Power should not be entirely vested in an individual or a small elite. In a democracy citizens must have a level of control over their leaders. Abraham Lincoln's proclamation that representative democracy should be 'of the people, by the people and for the people' is perhaps the most succint encapsulation of this idea.

Angus H.

4 months ago

Answered by Angus, an A Level Politics tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


PremiumHeather M. A Level Politics tutor, GCSE English tutor, GCSE Psycholog...
View profile
£26 /hr

Heather M.

Degree: Politics (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: Politics, Psychology+ 2 more

Government and Politics
Extended Project Qualification

“I am Durham University graduate and I studied for a BA (Hons) degree in Politics. Throughout my time in school and university I have developed a passion for knowledge, and I really enjoy being able to understand...”

Kieran F. Uni Admissions Test -Personal Statements- tutor, A Level La...
View profile
£20 /hr

Kieran F.

Degree: Law (Bachelors) - Bristol University

Subjects offered: Politics, Law+ 2 more


“Hi, my name is Kieran and I am currently studying Law at the University of Bristol with A Levels in English Literature, History and Law.”

PremiumNatasha L. GCSE Politics tutor, A Level Politics tutor, GCSE Spanish ...
View profile
£24 /hr

Natasha L.

Degree: International Relations with Proficiency in Spanish (Bachelors) - Exeter University

Subjects offered: Politics, Spanish+ 5 more

Government and Politics
English Literature
-Personal Statements-

“About Me:I am a final year International Relations student at the University of Exeter and I have also studied Spanish as part of my degree. I have always enjoyed studying politics and history and hope I could pass some of this enjoy...”

About the author

Angus H.
View profile
£20 /hr

Angus H.

Degree: Politics (Bachelors) - Warwick University

Subjects offered: Politics, Philosophy+ 1 more

English Literature

“Top tutor from the renowned Russell university group, ready to help you improve your grades.”

MyTutor guarantee

You may also like...

Other A Level Politics questions

How can I best prepare for a politics essay-based exam?

What is democracy?

How are Judges appointed to the Supreme Court?

What is the difference between left and right wing schools of thought?

View A Level Politics tutors


We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss