A misconception is that a democratic state must be a free state. In fact, democracy and freedom can be exclusive of one another. Several examples show that this is true.
While freedom can be relative and a tricky term to define, Merriam-websterdictionary.com gives us a straightforward starting point for a discussion about freedom and democracy: Freedom: a: the quality or state of being free: as a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in
choice or action; b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another independence; c: the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous <freedom from care>
The relativity of freedom is made clear from part a of the definition. All democracies have some level of constraint in choice or action, which are often determined by the mores and values of a society. When do these constraints become pervasive enough so that a society is no longer “free”?
Merriam-websterdictionary.com defines democracy as:
a: government by the people; especially: rule of the majority; b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
From this definition, it’s apparent that democracy is not always synonymous with freedom. It mentions nothing about an individual’s freedom, rights or the “absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.”
Free elections do not guarantee a free society, only that the majority is free to choose who or what will represent them. Additionally, the “rule of the majority” implies that a minority, concerning any issue, may not have the same rights of those who are in a majority on that issue.
A free society will protect the minority from majority. It will not be ruled by the majority as stated in the definition of democracy.
Examples of un-free practices in Democracies
India holds free elections and is the world’s largest democracy. Despite this,some areas still follow a caste system, which is now supposed to be abolished. This is where members of the lower castes are free to pursue employment only suitable for members of these castes. This creates a cycle where the wealthiest of Indians continue to get wealthier, while the poor stay that way. This reasonably seems to be a significant constraint on “choice of action” that disqualifies India as a free democracy.
It’s argued that the United States has an unspoken “caste” system, which puts similar restraints on those who are born into poverty. There are practices, such as discrimination against gays and marriage, marijuana smokers versus alcohol drinkers and those with criminal histories within the United States. Do these types of policies disqualify America as a free democracy?
The struggle for justice and freedom are both controversial and ever-present, whether a government is democratically elected or taken over forcefully by military coup. Even some monarchs are associated with a good deal of personal freedom and were beloved by their citizens.
Freedom and democracy are not synonymous. There is not one financial or government system to date that guarantees an acceptable amount of freedom. It is up to the citizens of the state to fight for their freedoms, no matter the form of government.