UPSC SOCIOLOGY MAINS SYLLABUS
Paper 1 – Chapter 7
Politics and Society:
(a) Sociological theories of power
(b) Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups, and political parties.
(c) Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology.
(d) Protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution
Representative democracy is a limited and indirect form of democracy: It is limited in the sense that participation in government is infrequent and brief, being restricted to the act of voting every few years. It is indirect in the sense that the public does not exercise power by itself, but selects those who will rule on its behalf.
GENESIS OF REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY
Representative democracy has come to the fore in the late Middle Ages in the states of Western Europe after a fierce war between the absolute monarchies on the one hand and the high aristocracy on the other. This war was waged and intensified with the aim of stripping the absolutist power of the monarchs, who exercised their power arbitrarily and without a constitution and laws. The idea of issuing written constitutions was intended to limit the arbitrary power of the monarch, dividing and defining three independent forms of exercise of state power and at the same time defining the bearers of these powers.
CHARACTERISTICS OF REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY
The powers of the elected representatives are defined by a constitution that establishes the basic laws, principles, and framework of the government.
The constitution may provide for some forms of limited direct democracy, such as recall elections and ballot initiative elections.
An independent judiciary body, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, may have the power to declare laws enacted by the representatives to be unconstitutional.
In some representative democracies with bicameral legislatures, one chamber is not elected by the people.
Representative democracy is based on many complex principles, whereby the most important ones are:
– Equality of all citizens before the law;
– The legitimacy of state power;
– Fulfillment of popular sovereignty;
– Participation in public life;
– Majority rule and minority rights;
– Protection and respect for human rights;
– Political pluralism;
– Free and fair elections;
– Separation and restriction of power.
PUBLIC OPINION IN REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY
To a great extent, democracy depends on public opinion. In a representative democracy, every government has to think of what will be the public reaction to its policies. All parties want to capture and retain power. Coming back to power in the next successive election depends on what people think about its work when a party was in power. Strong public opinion plays a very significant role in capture of power and forming government by a single party or a combination of parties, called coalition.
Thus for democracy to work well, citizens need to apprise themselves of various views. Among the agencies, which help in formulating sound public opinion are the press, the electronic media and cinema. In today’s digital age, internet, social networking sites and TV also play an important role in shaping perceptions and opinions. Political parties have their media cells and spokespersons who defend their policies at various platforms. New mediums like Facebook and WhatsApp are being used to strike a direct bond with the voters.
ADVANTAGES OF A REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY
When operating as it should, it is a highly efficient form of government. A representative democracy is often a desirable choice for larger countries where the logistics of voting are a long and painstaking process. Although a representative democracy takes away the direct decision-making power of individuals, it does not completely eliminate their influence on the government. Even individuals who are not engaged in the political process benefit from this representation. For example, if the representative helps pass a law to lower taxes in that district, everyone benefits, even those who did not vote.
DISADVANTAGES OF A REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY
A clear majority does not usually rule in a representative democracy. There are many political parties in most systems that each have a specific platform of priorities they wish to pursue.
When those platforms are opposing one another, it creates gridlock within the government that can stop some of the work from being done. When there is a representative democracy in place, people know that they will receive governmental representation, whether they choose to vote or not. For some, that means they choose not to participate in the voting process because they automatically receive this representation.
Representative democracy has become indispensable for democracies, whereby citizens find it easier to make decisions. The very essence of representative democracy consists in the fulfillment of the will of the majority of citizens, through institutions and representative bodies directly elected by the people. The sovereignty and governance of the people is not directly exercised by the people but through the representative bodies elected by the people and empowered by the mandate to govern the state.