Why I Love Democracy

the greatest political process on Earth

Stephen Yearwood
5 min readApr 18, 2024
Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

I love democracy. I loath, abhor, detest and just plain hate the well-known quote from Winston Churchill regarding it. Democracy — a democratic political process — is not the worst form that process can take “except for all others.” Rather, it is the only just form that process can take.

I love democracy first and foremost because I love justice above all else in this world. A democratic political process is the only just form that the political process can take because in it all members of the community are free to participate in that process. Since the political process is the process of effecting choices for the community as a whole (i.e., choosing among perceived alternatives and taking action to bring that choice to fruition), every member of the community will be affected by those choices. That is why every member of the community — every citizen — must be free to participate in that process for it to be just. Only a democratic process, with freedom of political speech and a democratic distribution of all further political rights, such as voting and running for office, meets that requirement. A “democratic” distribution of those rights means they are available to all citizens but for universally applicable restrictions, universally applied (with age being the only one that is indisputably universal). So, only a democratic process can produce political outcomes that are just.

Now, every (adult) person has some notion, however vague and stunted it might be, as to how society should be governed. That includes in some general way how people should act as well as some idea of how the political process and the economy should be structured and should function. ‘How society should be governed’ is, at the most practical level, what justice is.

That people have very different ideas concerning how a society should be governed is a conundrum for any democratic society. Even if everyone in the community were agreed that democracy is the best possible form of the political process because it is the only just form that process can take, there would still be vast room for serious political disagreements. Indeed, that ‘the people’ are the final repository of political power — the ultimate “deciders,” as the former President (W.) Bush would say — necessarily increases the contentiousness in and among them in the political process.

Citizens can embrace political conflict as a badge of honor, but there is always the possibility that conflict can get out of hand, that it can lead all the way to physical violence. The prospect of losing a political contest in a matter of supreme importance to people can tempt people to resort to the most desperate measures to prevent it.

One great practical value of democracy is that it is a vehicle for nonviolent social change. Over time, both material circumstances and dominant values can and do change. It is only right and good for the governance of society to reflect such changes. No less a thinker on these matters than Thomas Jefferson recommended a “revolution” every twenty years for that very reason. Democracy makes ‘keeping up with the times’ a more incremental, continuous process without the dislocations — and worse — of a revolution.

Yet, people might even decide that democracy isn’t such a good idea, after all. For the sake of democracy itself, citizens in a democratic society must therefore be willing to maximize ‘live and let live’. We must minimize the extent to which we seek to require others to live according to our beliefs and ideas about how people ought to live their lives. As much as possible, we must refrain from criminalizing choices that individuals might effect.

So what should be outlawed? Basically, the standard should be conduct that results in universally undeniable harm to other people in the community. At the same time, we must all be fully aware that people are perfectly free to do anything that is not against the law, whether we approve — or even are offended — or not.

The greatest threat to democracy is people who are seeking power as an end in itself. People can dredge up issues that have no business being the concern of the community as a whole to serve as vehicles for the exercise of power: to use the political process to impose one group’s will on all others for the sheer self-satisfaction of it. It is difficult enough for us mere humans to be able to define in good faith conduct that is ‘undeniably harmful’ to other people in the community without interjecting out-and-out ‘power trips’ (as we used to say back in the day) into the process.

Beyond a democratic political process and the conduct of individuals (and the conduct of people acting on behalf of organizations, public or private), the other major issue to be decided is what the structure and sanctioned functioning of the economy should be. A long, long time ago, but on this very planet, this author began to wonder if a democratic distribution of money could be applied to the economy to make it more just — and still be able to function. It turns out such a thing is possible. The results: no unemployment or poverty (at any level of total output), the possibility of eliminating taxes/public debt for funding government (at every level, from the smallest hamlet to the national government), and systemically increasing sustainability — without having to redistribute anything, without imposing any cost on any employer, without imposing any limit on income/wealth, and without requiring people to act any particular way (altruistically or selfishly, cooperatively or competitively, etc.). [For anyone interested, that is summarized in a “5 min read” here in Medium (but not behind the paywall) in “And the Answer Is . . .” (with a link at the end to more about the proposal)].

Another practical benefit of democracy is that new ideas can come along as needed to meet new challenges — which for us mere humans often arise as a result of previously implemented “new ideas.” What can we do? Change, ever-renewing newness, is the one constant in this wide, wild world of material existence. Still, democracy at least allows for society to come up with the best possible ideas for dealing with whatever challenges we face as a society, whatever their sources. The greatest failure possible in a democracy is to fail to consider new ideas simply because they are new — and, being new, likely requiring some effort to understand.

Finally, though, we have to consider that even democracy is “in need of some restraint” (to quote Mick Jagger/Keith Richards from their song, “Sympathy for the Devil”). A value isn’t necessarily ‘good’ even if it is “dominant.” There has to be some meta-value that can prevent a democratic political process from wandering into the evil realms of injustice. Yet again, even meta-values evolve over time, but if we can at least focus on justice, and pay attention to what has been learned about justice while seeking diligently to see how our understanding of it can be improved, then we and our posterity can share the incomparable joy of living always in an ‘ever more perfect’ society. [The reader will perhaps not be surprised that I have some thoughts in that area, too: “Can’t Get Any Simpler” (“2 min. read,” with links for more, also here in Medium but not behind the paywall).]



Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice