This paper gives brief ideas about democratic and non-democratic systems in modern world. The definitions of democracies and non-democracies vary from person to person. Furthermore, there are variety of explanations and democratic models, such as direct democracy and representative democracy (Heywood, 2007). Just the term of “democracy” can change into diverse ideas. For the term of “non-democracy”, it may be easier for people to understand, but in fact it has indistinct divisions between some non-democratic regimes. Besides the definitions of these two terms, this paper will explores the dissimilitude between democracies and non-democracies. And it includes necessary examples for the comparison.
Nowadays, democratic system is popular around the world. No matter Western or Asian countries, people praise democratic systems highly and believe this is nearly the perfect political system in the world. But there still have non-democratic systems in the world. What is non-democracy? And what are differences between democracies and non-democracies? Different political scientists have different explanations for the meanings of democracies and non-democracies. Moreover, non-democracies are different from democracies in theories and practices. This paper aims at introducing the ideas about the definition of non-democratic systems and focuses on three dissimilarities between democracies and non-democracies.
Definition of democracies and non-democracies
Before comparing democratic and non-democratic systems, we first need to define the terms “democracy” and “non-democracy”. Democracy has a wide range of meanings and applications. Heywood (2007) defined democracy as “rule by people; democracy implies both popular participation and government in the public interest, and can take a wide variety of forms” (p.448). According to McLean and McMillan (2012), “democracy as a descriptive term is synonymous with majority rule” (democracy). In the democratic systems, election or voting is the way to apply the principle of majority. Simply speaking, democracy is a political system that enables ordinary citizens to participate and influence in the politics. In this paper, democracy is referred to the liberal democracy which is the broadest accepted form of democracy (Heywood, 2007). Liberal democracy is a form of indirect, representative democracy and is based on competitive election. It also divides the state and social community clearly (Heywood, 2007).
The term of non-democracy is rarely seen in political dictionaries, but it can be easily understood by just reversing its meaning with democracy. Non-democracy is a system of rule by individual or a small group of people, not all people. Contrary to democracy, people are ruled by minority in non-democracies. Totalitarianism, dictatorship, authoritarianism, Fascism and other political systems are all included in non-democratic systems. Modern people view non-democracies as autocracy, savageness and cruelty (Ezrow and Frantz, 2011). Some non-democratic countries, like Singapore and Malaysia, seem like democracy (Ezrow and Frantz, 2011). So, a well-defined definition is important. In this paper, non-democracy is defined as the system of rule by a person, a party or a small group of people which means non-democracies imply that “little mass mobilization and limited pluralism” (Ezrow and Frantz, 2011). And Sliwinski (2012a) suggested that there are three types of non-democratic regimes: dictatorship, authoritarianism and totalitarianism. In order to simplify the situation, this paper mainly focuses on these three kinds of non-democratic systems. Robertson (2004) gave a clear definition to dictatorship “is a form of government in which one person has sole and complete political power” (p.145). McLean and McMillan pointed out totalitarianism (2012) “regulates every aspect of state and private behavior” (totalitarianism) and Robertson said that how to decide totalitarianism is the way to use the powers. Robertson shared the same idea with McLean and McMillan in the concept of authoritarianism, he pointed out that authoritarian ignores public opinion and uses forceful ways to rule over the country. McLean and McMillan even pointed out that “the existence of dictators” is one of the main elements for totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century (dictatorship), like Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. However, Robertson’s view (2004) is differed from that of McLean and McMillan. He stated that dictatorship, authoritarianism and totalitarianism do not have required relationship, “Authoritarianism needs not, strictly speaking, be a dictatorship and well not be totalitarian” (p.33). Although Robertson disagreed with the idea that dictatorship, authoritarianism and totalitarianism have some kind of connections, we cannot deny that these three political systems are, in some extent, similar to each other. Authoritarianism and totalitarianism also limit people’s political rights, but the latter one even control the private lives of its people. Moreover, as these three kinds of political regimes restrict people’s political rights, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish them. But anyhow the comparison in this paper is: the comparison between liberal democracy and dictatorship, authoritarianism and totalitarianism.
Comparison between democracies and non-democracies
Separation of powers V.S. Domination of powers
One of the main differences between democracy and non-democracy is the control of power. The democratic regimes separate the government powers; divide it into legislation, execution and adjudication. However, for the non-democratic regimes, the powers are only held by the ruler which means the ruler is the legislator, the executive and the judge of the state.
The democratic system needs checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power, so it makes use of the separation of powers. The legislature controls the legislative power, the administrative holds the executive power and the judiciary controls the jurisdiction. These three powers are “to make and change laws, to put laws into action and to make judgments on laws” respectively (Sliwinski, 2012b, slide 22). These three political institutions can then mutually supervise and contain each other which can efficiently limit the power of the government. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, if one holds all the powers in his own hands, he will use the power to maximize his interests and ignore others’ interests and rights. The modern political thinkers John Locke and Montesquieu then believed that the power of the government should be restricted in order to avoid the appearance of tyranny and the corruption of powers. Locke suggested in order to protect people’s rights, there should be checks and balances. And Montesquieu was the first political thinker suggesting the idea of separation of powers. He believed that every government should divide its powers into three and this is largely influenced the American constitution and the Western political systems (Gingell, Little & Winch, 2000).
For the non-democratic regimes, they centralize the powers in their own hands. Non-democracies dominate the powers and through the monopolistic power, they fully exercise their authorities without limitations. Even though some of the regimes establish some resembling institutions to create an illusion of the separation of powers, the powers are actually combined in the regime’s hands. The most efficient way to fulfill their aim -stabilizing the regimes’ status and power – is to monopolize the powers. In The Prince, Machiavelli suggested the rulers should hold the absolute power with any way to preserve his power and regime (Gingell, Little & Winch; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009). Thus, non-democracies can be seen as the embodiment of Machiavelli’s idea – the use of absolute power. However, we should be aware that the maximization of powers is for the safe of the state, not for the ruler. And the non-democratic systems are contorting this point: they abuse the power just for their own interests, but not for their states and people.
Here are some examples. The best model for the separation of powers in modern democracies is the system in United States. The separation of powers is clearly stated in the United States Constitution. The Congress only has the legislative power; the President of the United States holds the executive power and the Supreme Court enforces the judicial power. They are divisible and their powers do not overlap the power of one another. This practices the idea of mutual restraint on power. Therefore, the American political system embodies the idea of the checks and balances (Heywood, 2007). For the non-democracies, Soviet Union is a good instance. It was established in 1922 and ended in 1991. Soviet Union did not separate the powers, so that there were no limitations of powers for the party and the state. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union centralized three powers together and controlled the society and state tightly.
Political equality V.S. Political inequality
In the democratic countries, people have the chance to participate in the politics, this mainly presents by votes and elections. But for the non-democracies, they have lots of limitations in political participation which their people cannot actually involve in the political activities.
The elections represent the political equality between people. From the view of liberal democracy, this means that the value of everyone’s vote is equal; no one will have a higher value of vote then the others (Heywood, 2007). Through the elections, it embodies the idea of political equality because the citizens do have the chance to express their views to the government by their own votes. It has no doubt that elections are important. According to Heywood, elections give the public the opportunity to affect the political process and decisions. In liberal democratic system, there is regular election within several years. People can take this chance to show their satisfaction towards the government’s administration in past few years and also influence the political scene in the next several years. The most significant thing is that all the citizens do have the vote in their hands; no matter they are males or females, wealth or poverty or they are blacks or whites. From this perspective, people are equal politically and even socially (Heywood, 2007). Democratic countries, like the United States, the United Kingdom and France, have regular election system for their citizens to involve in politics and to express their political aspects. Therefore, the political equality also implies the widespread political participation.
However, in the non-democratic regimes, it is usual to apply political inequalities. Not all the people in the regime can get the right to vote and only a small group of people control the political powers. This means some people are more influential in politics than the others. Even the non-democracies introduce elections to their citizens, the regimes secretly manipulate the elections in order to repress the opposition parties. For example, in Egypt, the economic elites are more political influential after 1984. Egypt is a single-party regime which is ruled under the National Democratic Party (NDP). In 1984, the businessmen supported the NDP and the ruler Mubarak; since then, they gain more political power by joining the party (King, 2009). The poverty, who is mainly the Egyptian workers and peasants, lost the opportunity to participate in the political activities (King, 2009). Even though Egypt has the electoral system, it still regards as non-democracy because the electoral system is dominated by the NDP (King, 2009; Ezrow & Frantz, 2011). According to King, the NDP do not let the opposition parties to grow in strength and most important is that the party is able to allot the votes of labors and peasants. Not only in Egypt, other non-democracies, like China, Burma and Iran, do not have political equality and wide political participation.
Freedom V.S. Constraint
Another main difference between the democracies and non-democracies is the freedom of the citizens. In a democratic society, people enjoy the freedoms under the laws which mean their freedoms are protected by laws. Nevertheless, the non-democratic regimes usually restrict the freedoms of the people.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) regulates all people in the world have the rights to enjoy their freedoms. Freedom House, which is non-governmental organization, conducts researches on the countries’ degree of freedom and its annual report can be deemed as democratic report. Many political scientists use the report as the ratings of democracy. This implies that freedom is one of the fundamental elements in modern democracy. Most of the democratic countries have high rates of freedom, according to the Freedom in the World in 2012, like the countries in the Western Europe, which adopt the electoral democracies, all enjoy the rating of “Free” in the report. People in democratic countries enjoy their freedoms and rights because democracy is to protect all people’s interests – both majority and minority. However, it is wrong to say that there is freedom, then there is democracy. Undoubtedly, it needs a certain degree of freedoms to form democracy. As the participation in politics do implies the freedoms of opinion and expression, speech and assembly, it is impossible for a democratic country works without the enjoyment of freedoms (Hovde, 1949).
On the contrary, people under the non-democratic regimes normally do not enjoy most of the freedoms because the regimes disregard people’s rights and freedoms. Most of the regimes repress the freedom of speech, assembly and freedom of the press. Why do non-democracies constrain these freedoms? It is because they need to unite their people’s thought and ideology together with the regimes in order to prevent rebellion. North Korea, the totalitarian regime nowadays, is the best-suited example. The mass media in North Korea is fully controlled by the government and the media compliment blindly on the regime and the Kim family. The thought and daily lives of North Koreans are strictly controlled by the government. The North Koreans cannot leave the country; otherwise they will be regarded as traitors. Therefore, they do not enjoy any freedoms at all. Another Asian country – Singapore also restrains citizens’ freedoms (Burton, 2010). The Singaporean government repressed the freedom of the press in the country by enforcing the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (the Press Act) in 1974 (Rajah, 2012). And in the recent Press Freedom Index, Singapore was ranked a very low score – 135 out of 179 countries. According to Rajah, the Singaporean government also carried out the Religious Harmony Act and the Public Order Act in order to restrict the freedom of religion and freedom of assembly of its citizens.
The definitions of democracies and non-democracies are wide and diversified, by narrowing their definitions, we can explore some main differences with them. There are three main differences between democratic and non-democratic regimes include: the control of power, the degree of participation in politics and the rate of freedom. The democracies separate its power into three (legislation, execution and adjudication), achieve political equality and carry out broad political participation, and let their citizens enjoy freedoms. On the contrary, the non-democracies monopolize the powers, limit the political participation within their supporters and imply political inequality, and repress the freedoms of their people. The studies about democratic and non-democratic regimes need to continue from time to time, in order to explore more possibility and rationality about them.