Is one government system/type by definition better than another?

I can’t help but feel when I read about the differences between East and West in modern politics that the concept of democratic government is seen as in some way more advanced or, by definition, better than autocratic/non-representative governments. “We are pleased that the Iraqis have now achieved a democratic system of government” - why? They don’t seem to want it. Sure, those of us who live in a democracy probably wouldn’t be too thrilled if overnight our government was replaced by (for example) an absolutist autocracy, but isn’t that because democracy is what we’re used to and suits our (the countries that have it, anyway) needs? Doesn’t it work both ways?

I’m not seeking to be sensationalist, just asking if one government can really be said to be better than another, in either sense? Surely how “good” a government is is based on how well it serves the needs/wishes of those it governs. If an autocratic hereditary monarchy works for a country/nation/group then is a democracy automatically better?

Ultimately I guess I’m asking if democracy is the pinacle in the process of the evolution of governmental systems that it is purported to be? I’m not convinced that it is…

the whole democracy being the best thing is a human rights/civil liberty thing rather than a statement about how well it works compared to other governments.

on paper different people will probably argue that various different types of government are better than democracy. On paper communism is great, its just when you put it into practice that the problems arise.

The west (generally, obvously there are many westerners that dont individually agree with this) tends to believe that democracy is the best as an imbuilt reaction, almost like a religeos belief. We are brought up to believe ‘freedom’ is the most important feature of any society. because of this many people find it hard to understand why a countrys population wouldn’t want democracy.

to use a rather poor analogy, i have grown up having cable tv. I moved a few weeks ago to a house with no cable tv. I was seiously concerned that life would be miserable without access to the shows I watch week in week out and had formed comparative addictions to. But guess what, contrary to my inbuilt reactions and beliefs it turns out not only is it possible to live without cable tv but there are actually many other equally good entertainments out there ready to take its place…

Well quite, and this belief as you so rightly point out isn’t shared by everyone. There is the whole “but if they all knew better they’d pick democracy” debate but I don’t really want to go there, it stinking of jingoism.

I think that’s a very good analogy actually. It’s easy to assume that change would be bad, doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t get used to it. I would stress, though, that I’m not advocating getting used to living in a system that made use of imprisonment/execution without trial or anything like that. I like my government system the way it is, generally - shame about the Queen, but you can’t have everything…

Government is a tool. And like any tool, its use benefits the entity that uses it.

In a dictatorship, a small group (or a single individual) controls the government and uses the government to control the nation. So the interests of the population as a whole are subordinated to the interests of the small group.

In a democracy, the population has control of the government - not immediate, but the government is answerable to the people. So the government will serve the interests of the whole population not just a small minority.

Actually what about the notion of a benevolent dictatorship? I’m not convinced that either
a) a dictatorship is, of neccesity bad for the general wellbeing of a nationstate


b) That democracies are run primarily for the general wellbeing of anything other than vested interest groups (and corporate contributors). Before someone jumps all over that and mentions that they can be voted out - let me add that it seems to occur in many countries that they can only be voted out by way of electing another party/person who is so similar that it makes little difference

Here’s the problem, you don’t get to pick a dictatorship. I mean, even if a populace willingly submits to a dictatorship, what if ten years down the line they change their mind? What if the dictator takes a bad spill downt he stairs, hits his head, and has a complete personality change? What if the dictator’s appointed successor is a madman who thinks his job is to eradice all human life from the planet?

There’s no input from the people once that dictatorship is in place, and that’s why absolutist governments are inferior. Even aside from the “rights” issues, there’s no checks on the power of the ruler or the power of the government in the system itself. The only checks are the mob and possibly elements within the ruling class. But in most dictatorships the mob is armed with sticks and stones and the ruler is armed with tanks, airplanes, missile launchers, and automatic weapons. The popular opinion is hardly a serious form of balance against government excesses in the face of all of that.

Most Iraqis wanted democracy when Saddam was in power. When people are living under tyranny and offered freedom they will almost always lean towards freedom.

However, when people are faced with choosing between safety and freedom, most of the time they will choose safety, and that’s the sad truth. Iraqis now see the instability that has come with Saddam’s fall and some of them question if freedom is worth all this. As it is though I’ve seen little evidence the Iraqis oppose the concept of democracy or don’t want a say in the political system. What they oppose is in the details (how the occupation is being handled, presence of troops, place in the new government etc.)

Wasn’t it Winston Churchill who said something to the effect of ‘democracy is the worst system of government except all the others’? I think that pretty much rings true in the long term. Sure, its possible that some absolutist autocracy, or despotic government MIGHT be benificial to a nation…for a time. But what about the NEXT one? Or the one after that? Eventually you are going to get a Nero (or worse) in the bunch…or you are going to run up against the real problem with such governments. The succession. What happens when Castro AND his bro die off? What happens when Saddam dies peacefully in his sleep and his two sons go out it hammer and tongs? What happens when lil’ Kimmy dies off and the rest of those fine folks in North Korea try to decide who is in charge next?

Democracy is a superior system to any other thats been tried over the long term (and with the caviot of once the population buys into being ‘citizens’ and once the process, constitution, etc are firmly established…rule of law and all that) because it assures the succession, and it holds the government to the will of those being governed. In the long run you aren’t going to get many Nero’s (or a long line of mad rulers raised up solely because of birth) in a Democracy…and they won’t be staying very long in any case. The worst you will do is an occational Mad Bush…and if your democracy is firmly established then the most you will have to ‘suffer’ is 8 years. :stuck_out_tongue: Conversely, think about someone like Bush rising to absolute power in your autocracy or despotic dictatorship…THATS something to give one nightmares.


Sometimes (or even many times) a dictator is a simple power grab meant only to benefit one or very few people. However, there has been a notion of a “benevolent dictator”. I think many dictators at least start out on this path. Ths idea being that one person with a really good vision for the country has the wherewithal to see it happen. No mucking around with lengthy compromise. Sometimes compromise leaves you with something as useless if not moreso than whatever it was that was trying to be fixed. A dictator can be bold and decisive and get the job done.

Or so the dream goes but of course they always fail in the end. There was an article (I think) in The Economist a few years ago exploring this. They looked at benevolent dictators and reviewed how well the countries were faring. Pretty much across the board they were not as successful as democracies in terms of bettering the people’s lots in life. Good intentions aside one person simply cannot make the best decision all the time. They are human and make mistakes and bad decisions like everyone else. Without a healthy debate and need to compromise that democracies demand their mistakes can be rather bad. Add to that the old saw that power corrupts which inevitably it does. Many benevolent dictators start out strong and for the people and by the end tend to just look out for their own ass. After that you have transfer of power. Even assuming a really good dictator who made great decisions when that person goes the country is screwed.

I’m not going to tell you my ideas, entirely clear to me yet (if they ever will be), so instead I’ll tell you about some notes i was writing out from my political philosophy lectures given by Dudley Knowles recently ( ). His lectures are good so i assume his books will be to if you fancy a read. one of my fave books on the subject is ‘An introduction to political philosophy’ by Johnathan Wolff

Here’s what got from one of the lectures:

Does democracy really equate to freedom? surely there’s a difference between consent and legitimacy. “no state is so bad that it can’t get the consent of the majority of its people”. Here’s an example he used: a leader could remove opposition (i can think of loads of ways to do this) pick a fight with and demonise a county, encouraging nationalism and therefore gain the support of his people. he suggests that to be legitimate, citizens need to be able to find a good reason to support it, not just support it.

I really hope i haven’t broken some sort of copyright rule or something by writing this.

Hits the ‘report to mods’ button

Interesting, thanks the recommendation. I’m not familiar with Dudley Knowles but I might look him up.

What people want is a roof over their heads, clothes on their back, food on their table, some work to do and maybe raise a family and pursue some interests without being attacked, killed, robbed or otherwise hassled.

The role of government is to protect the people from themselves (law), outside aggressors (military), unforseen emergencies (fire, rescue) and build and maintain infrastructure and public works.

People resent “democracy” when they the result is a lower standard of living or level of security. I have regarded Ben Franklins statement “Those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither” to be fairly naive. There can be no freedom without security.
Democracies and free market economies are largely regarded as superior systems
not because they are inherently more moral than other systems, but because they are more flexible and able to better meet the needs of the people more rapidly. Dictatorships, no matter how benevelent, cannot react to the changeing needs of all it’s people as quickly as more decentralized government.