Democracy as a way of life
principle of Democracy is the worth and dignity of the individual” -
Every human being is an embodiment of an ideal, and has a mission to
perform in life. As long as he keeps to that ideal, that person prospers
spiritually, socially and economically.
Wishful thinking – the longing to change the present world's
political system into a different and better future – is often
ridiculed, but it is a regular feature of the human condition. Pursuing
ideals is a natural human endevour down the ages.
Vaishali, the fountain
of democracy in India.
About 2,600 years ago the Greeks laid claim to an invention, that now
ranks among the most important inventions of mankind. Born of resistance
to tyranny, the invention was a potent form of wishful thinking that
still appeals to the people all over the world. The Greeks called it
A similar idea flourished in the Eastern part of the world in Bihar,
India. Bihar's past provides the background to the history of ancient
Vaishali is one of the prominent places connected with India's past.
This place which is in Bihar was the capital of the Lichhavi and Vajji
Republic, and a well-known centre of republican or democratic
There was a time when no king ruled this part of the country and more
than 7,000 representatives of the people carried on the work of
The administration of justice here was so good that the Buddha
himself paid it a handsome tribute.
Vaishali was without doubt the fountain – head of democracy at the
time. Democratic ideas were evaluated and practised by Westerners and
Easterners, a long time ago. The idea of democracy is not new to the
One finds nowadays scepticism about the applicability of democracy to
modern conditions. Some consider it too outdated, and hence unfit, for
the Space Age.
Their doubt is based on the fact that democratic ideas and
institutions were created in – and presumably for – a world radically
different from today.
It is questioned whether a political system evolved by pre-industrial
people, earth bound and primitive in their technology, can have much
meaning for an urban centered high energy society so scientifically
advanced that it is capable of instant global communication and
The idea of democracy to which the people a long time ago made a
historic commitment, as an ideal to be attained and as a system to be
instituted, faces hard challenges in the modern world.
Scepticism about the future of democracy in the modern world is
It can be explained at least on two grounds. In the first place, we
are dealing here with a political system that is comparatively new in
the history of mankind.
Even though democracy was practised in Greece 2,600 years ago, and in
a few scattered communities thereafter, it has achieved wide recognition
only in our own times.
The word ‘democracy’ acquired universal currency only in the 20th
century. Until recently, the people of the world, with a few rare
exceptions, had not been exposed to democratic practices, appeals, or
It leads us to the second reason for doubt about democracy and for
its current failure in much of the developing countries. However much
simple democracy may appear on the surface, it is actually a system of
extreme intricacy, intellectually and practically.
To the young and untrained nations, the experience of trying out
democracy can be devastating. For, in its totality the democratic system
– requiring patience, and being based upon persuasion and law rather
than brute force – presents a picture of bewildering intricacy that only
the most mature try to manage, but those who understand it know that it
is one of the noble political inventions of mankind.
There is no substitute for it if one wants to avoid cruelty and
instability, and its very difficulties offer a challenge worthy of
The modern form of democracy took shape in the 16th century.
It is necessary to begin with the Protestant Reformation of the 16th
century. This was beyond doubt the first great revolution in the Western
world. Like all genuine revolutions in the Western world, it had a
continuing and ever-widening impact.
It did more than merely attack the centralised authority and defy the
dogmatism of the Church of Rome in religious affairs. It affected all
The Reformation broke the mould of ancient certitudes and, where it
succeeded (as in England, Scotland, and Northern Europe), it unleashed
human energies for challenge and inquiry in all fields, including the
In this sense, the Reformation must be regarded as a gigantic step
Especially, the greatest of all freedoms, that of the mind, one of
the indispensable ingredients of democracy.
In regard to the development of democracy, the influence of
protestantism was political and psychological, or one might say psycho
political, in that it created an atmosphere for the questioning of
long-held verities and assertion of individual judgement in all matters.
For the essence of the reformation idea was the rejection of absolute
authority, first in church and then in State.
Repudiation of this absolutism, which in monarchical Europe was
frequently a combined one, was the first move on the road to
self-government and ultimately democracy.
Democracy, is a system over which the citizens exercise control and
wish they can use for themselves. It is their government, as de
The political institutions of democracy call for public
participation, uncoerced voting, periodic elections of the law makers
and most important officers, and regular terms of office fixed by law.
All of this adds up to a mechanism that, in the final sense, means
that the people govern, or feel that they govern.
Structurally, these elements give democracy a steely strength.
Psychologically, the mechanism of democracy has the effect of reducing
actual or potential discontent to a reasonably safe minimum.
In non-democratic societies, where the people have no legal outlet
for their grievances and frustrations, they sooner or later resort to
They have no other alternative. Democracy requires patience,
prudence, compassion and goodwill. John B. Buchan, in his ‘The pilgrim's
Way’ quotes “Democracy ... is primarily a spiritual testament, from
which certain political and economic orders naturally follow ... It has
two main characteristics.
The first is that the ordinary man believes in himself and in his
ability, along with his fellows, to govern his country... The second is
the belief of the worth of every human soul – the worth, not the
And that sums up the essence of democracy.