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Why is Democracy Good? Ask Yourself These Two Questions.
Taking democracy for granted means we struggle to answer a simple question.
I’m not sure anyone’s done it exactly this way before before but maybe they should: Gather a group of 10 people in a room and without any warning or advance prompt, ask them two questions.
Why do you think democracy is good?
What do you think democracy is for?
Then with a different group of ten people, reverse the order of the two questions.
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First of all, for most people, these will surprisingly challenging questions, because there are an endless number of ways to answer them. Which answer would you choose? I’m not even sure how I would answer them (without preparation) and I literally wrote a book about this. It depends on the day, it depends who I’m speaking to, and it depends whether the most recent democracy-related news was positive or negative. Today, luckily for you, I’m feeling more optimistic than usual about democracy.
What’s interesting about these two questions in tandem is that they relate to each other, but they’re asking two very different things (or are they?). If democracy is “good,” is it good because of what it causes or allows, or is democracy good for some sort of spiritual reason, which has nothing to do with its outcomes. For example, you could say that democracy is good because it brings us closer to how God created us, therefore aligning us with our innate disposition—what Muslims refer to as the fitra. But that, by itself, would tell us little about what democracy is for.
Or you could answer the first question more pragmatically, and simply say that democracy is good because it allows us choose our leaders. But this wouldn’t necessarily get us very far, because the easy retort would simply be, why do you think it is good that we choose our leaders? And so on.