Democracy is preferable to dictatorship, it offers greater political freedoms and liberties, producing a more inclusive and sustainable political system.
In this essay, dictatorship refers to ‘Single-Party political dominance’, which can be authoritarian or totalitarian. Democratic regimes are preferred, due to the adequate fulfillment of the public need for goods, resulting from greater public accountability. Whilst democratic representation is flawed, it remains less restrictive when dealing with public grievance, compared to the often violent and repressive dictatorial approach. Even the strongest dictatorships inevitably undergo a degree of democratisation, due to society’s preference for a responsive political system founded on liberal democratic principles. Let me explain.
Firstly, in democratic states, elected representatives are more responsive to the needs of the public and are motivated to secure collective goods. According to minimalist democratic principles or ‘Polyarchy’, representatives are freely and fairly elected, where candidates compete for votes . The competitive nature of re-election requires democratic representatives to deliver more collective good, to their constituency. This is highlighted by the concept of ‘Civic Culture’, where members of democratic society form ‘relationships of trust, cooperation and engagement’ The development of this unique relationship produces collective action between society and the political governing body. This is found under the cooperative conditions of democratic regimes. In contrast, dictatorships whilst inclined to meet the public need to an extent, – to legitimise their regime- are less likely to provide adequate collective good.
Dictatorial rule often stems from forceful seizures of power.
The consolidation of power by a singular party produces an environment lacking political competition. As a result of the controlling party’s monopolisation of power. Lack of political competition in one-party states fails to produce an obligation to meet public needs. An example of this is North Korea. The state fails to provide general public goods. The regime is only legitimised, through their proclamation of military might on the international level. Kim Jong Un uses nuclear diplomacy, to obtain collective good to satisfy the ‘bare minimum’ of public need, protecting the regime against a revolution. Un is undemocratically appointed as head of state. He misappropriates public funds, for personal benefit. In the absence of a threat to his power, there remains no obligation for Un to meet public needs. Dictators might view providing ‘excessive’ collective good, beyond the ‘bare minimum’, as a threat to their rule. As the public desperation for goods grows, a state’s power strengthens. This strength comes from increased public obedience as citizens seek the ‘bare minimum’ collective good. North Korea will remain totalitarian, for as long as there’s desperation for essentials only the state can provide and there remains a lack of political competition. Society cannot ‘function satisfactorily if there is no peace or public goods.’ For this reason, a competitive representative democracy preferable to dictatorship.
Secondly, democratic representation- despite imperfections- provides a less restrictive platform for voicing grievance, than dictatorship. Initially we must identify the inadequacies of democratic representative forms. These inadequacies are a consequence of the ‘pressure system’. The ‘pressure system’ often produces limited policy, due it being a system of limited participation. This ‘limited participation’ produces policy that benefits a small portion of society. The ‘Pressure System’ is characterised also being elitist. This view stems from the ‘disproportionate voicing of some public interests’ over others. This results in the prioritisation of the interests of those with the greatest influence, with governments prioritising those interest groups, that will directly influence their prospects of re-election. Despite this elitist bias, democratic representation is less exclusive, in comparison to dictatorial representation. The exclusive nature of a representative system can be measured by the degree of pluralism it permits. Pluralistic representation requires the free organisation and competition of interest groups, in an environment where ‘no group, is able to dominate all others.’ Although an ideal pluralist system has never been achieved in a democracy, it remains a conceptual possibility.
In contrast, a dictatorial state’s complete control means pluralism is incompatible with state interests. Dictatorships disregard pluralism. Their lack of freedoms of association, speech and the fair competition for power, prevents any form of plural expression within forms of representation. A state’s control requires state domination of interest groups. Dictatorial states can choose which groups will be heard, whilst silencing others. This selective power, exerted over groups, prevents plural representation, as some interests are chosen to dominate over others. As there is no freedom of speech there is a restricted platform for those seeking to advance particular interests and criticise the state’s policies. Speaking out against the state might be met with repression. Even Neo-Corporatist approaches to dictatorial representation -where interest groups work in coalition with the state – grievance cannot be expressed freely by the public due to fear of repression. Neo-corporatism is also viewed as an extension of pluralism. This has already been shown as incompatible with state control. Neo-corporatism as a system cannot adapt – which is an essential requirement should new interests with greater salience, arise. The overall inability to freely voice concerns limits the potential for a dictatorship to be preferable to democracy.
Dictatorial states are inherently more limited and exclusive in representation than democratic states. This is a product of fulfilling the Selectorate interests. As a group, the Selectorate is far more exclusive than democratic elites. The ‘Selectorate’ is often composed of military or other influential institutions; whose collaboration is vital, to maintain the dictatorial rule of a single party. An example of this can be found in Venezuela. Nicolas Maduro is shifting Venezuela towards a single party run state. This is being achieved through electoral and institutional manipulation. Maduro maintains power through appeasing of the selectorate’s interests. Amid socio-economic collapse, Maduro has embarked on the repression of political opponents and the appointment of military officials to administration. .He is disbanding the public representative system, to consolidate his rule. Maduro’s political dominance is only enabled by the appointment of military leaders (selectorate) to Cabinet. This has resulted in Maduro prioritising their interests over those generated by the public ‘pressure system’ despite economic collapse. This example demonstrates why ‘semi-pluralistic’ representation in democracy, is preferable to the exclusive representation of selectorate’s interests in dictatorships. Democracy provides open opportunities to voice grievances, without fear of being dominated. These opportunities do not arise in a dictatorship and this is a further reason why democracy is preferable.
Thirdly, even the most successful dictatorships must undergo partial democratisation to maintain political dominance, thus highlighting democracy’s enduring appeal. Initially, dictatorships might seem appealing providing improved socio-economic conditions. Some scholars view the societal benefits they provide, to be the reason some regimes appear successful. Singapore, an economically prosperous hybrid political regime dominated by the People’s Action Party, is a case in point. Singapore regarded as an example of illiberal democracy. Illiberal democracies permit the free election of representatives but lack political transparency and civil liberties. Singapore under the benevolent dictatorship of Lee Kuan Yew and PAP ‘transformed from a third to first world nation’. Despite the large socio-economic development, political freedoms were restricted. Singapore remains partially free as a nation in terms of civil liberties. PAP’s often illiberal tendencies are a result of the weak constitutional framework surrounding civil liberties. The weakness allows PAP to exploit constitutional rules, to restrict freedom of speech protecting the regime from criticism.
Illiberal democracies often result in single parties exploiting constitutional weaknesses for political consolidation. However, these illiberal systems are unsustainable and illegitimate. Should single parties maintain long term political dominance, a degree of democratisation must occur. In Singapore, relaxing restrictions on free press and speech, to distract from growing wealth inequality, ensures the PAP’s dominance is maintained through public appeasement. The introduction of liberal democratic principles provides a potential for a contagion effect following decriminalisation of free speech. This ‘democratic contagion’ could result in a knock-on effect in which democratic principles are expanded across all areas of civil society, resulting in constitutional reform. Such reform may result in Singapore’s transition from a hybrid to a fully democratic political regime. Illiberal democracies are seen as part of the ‘reverse wave’ nature of democratisation, in which occasionally, views within regimes, often shift from being liberal to illiberal. Liberal democratic principles are often introduced in place of illiberal tendencies. This can be brought on by political instability resulting from a failure to address issues such as wealth inequality. Public discontent from a failure to address issues can evolve into a social movement, which can become populist. Populism remains a democratic process, giving people a voice, despite negative connotations attached to modern populist movements. These populist movements call for greater pluralism within a political system and can eventually result in the consolidation of liberal democracy. Disillusioned citizens might look to emerging liberal political movements within dictatorships order to have their grievances heard and dealt with more responsively. Despite the rise of both illiberal populism and democracies, they are unreliable systems for addressing larger issues within civil society. Thus, even the most successful dictatorships undergo democratisation to appease civil society. But adoption of a few democratic principles can result in a knock-on effect for further implementation of liberal principles until full democratisation is achieved. This illustrates the popular appeal of liberal democratic principles, and why pluralist responsive forms of democracy are preferable to dictatorship in addressing social issues.
To conclude, Democracy allows us to voice grievance more freely, through less restrictive representation. Despite its shortcomings, democracy is preferable. Unlike dictatorship, it provides free choice and election of representatives, based on their performance. Even successful dictatorships resort to democratic principles to create effective responses to social issues.