In the comments thread to my previous post, Alexey, a Russian, asks, not unreasonably, what exactly is 'democracy'? Immediately we run into a cultural collision. There is, it seems to me, a tradition in European philosophy that demands exact definitions of terms. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition this is avoided where-ever possible. The greatest example, perhaps, is the fact that the British constitution has never been written down. It is just a great pile of ancient and modern practice that has accumulated over a thousand years. On the way, of course, various practices have been quietly (or on occasion, not so quietly) dropped, and so by this 'two steps forward, one step back' process we have edged towards the situation we have now of rule by parliament.
Obviously, in keeping with my English heritage, I am not too keen to define 'democracy' like some French philosophe but I suppose it is possible to point to some characteristics which you would expect to find in a democracy. First and foremost is rule by a freely elected parliament whose members must face their electors on a regular basis. Second, but just as important, perhaps even more important, is the establishment of an independent judiciary to whom appeals can be made when parliamentary or electoral rules are broken. Those two factors are, it seems to me, the absolute cornerstones of democracy.
Now, before my regular moaners and groaners start telling me that parliament is the political equivalent of 'a ship of fools', I quite agree. But that is because they are people, just like us and, let's face it, most of us are fools too! Democracy will never produce perfectly wise rulers which is precisely why the absolutely critical factor is the ability, enshrined and protected by law, that we get the chance regularly to throw the rascals out. And yes, they will probably be replaced by another collection of fools but that is infinitely preferable to having some truly stupid maniac in total command for as long as he likes - or until he is murdered.
Of course, none of that helps my Russian e-pal, Alexey, because I am describing a state of affairs that has arisen over centuries of trial and error. His poor country and people are locked into a prison run by thieves and robbers who have absolute control over the police and the judiciary. How they move from where they are to a state of democracy I simply do not know. All I do know for certain is that it will be very painful!