If there is one ‘essence’ to democracy, it would have to be “free, fair, and open elections”. But, this has not always been the case, thus we see that democracy evolves. Democracy has an aim–to promote liberty, justice, and equality. These are the ideals we live for, but they are still contested ideals, part of the ongoing struggle within our own democracy.
A brief look back at our own history shows us that our democracy looks very different than it did one hundred or two hundred years ago. But upon closer inspection, we see that this ‘evolution’ took place as a series of mini-revolutions.
Democracy was born in revolution, nurtured in the cradle of tolerance and compromise. Without compromise, we wouldn’t even have a Constitution. But democracy also grew up in contention, torn apart by a bloody Civil War, and has struggled with ‘movements’ which have left deep and lasting scars. The Abolitionist Movement, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, and The Civil Rights Movement have all furthered the cause of democracy in America.
As Rousseau said, “We live according to the laws which we choose for ourselves”, or in other words, the consent of the governed is the moral foundation of democracy.
But democracy is also built upon a pragmatic truth–“it is the best means we have found so far for addressing the problems we face”. While it may have its flaws, the only legitimate replacement is an even better form of democracy.