ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Varieties of Democracy

Democracy requires a set of in stitutions through which its ideals and aspirations can be expressed and made to bear fruit. The institutions themselves are many and diverse and they do not remain fi xed for ever but evolve over time. The course of their evolution can not be the same for all nations be cause each nation has its own distinctive social order. Democracy changes that social order to some extent but it is also changed by it. The institutions of de mocracy cannot be the same for all na tions because the social institutions with which they become intertwined vary enormously from one nation to another.

This is a revised version of the 10th Mahesh Chandra Regmi Lecture delivered in Kathmandu on 7 November 2012. Several members of the audience raised questions after the lecture by which I have benefi ted greatly. I am grateful to the Social Science Baha and the Nepal School of Social Sciences for their hospitality during my stay in Kathmandu.

Is there a standard model of demo­cracy to which all nations should conform if they are to regard themselves and be regarded by others as democracies? In the modern world many, if not most nations claim or aspire to be demo­cracies. These claims and aspirations cannot be ignored in deciding whether or not a nation is a democracy even where the regime appears to act against the principles of democracy.

Such is the appeal of the idea of demo­cracy that few governments would venture to repudiate it in principle, although some might say that the rules of demo­cracy have to be held in abeyance in the interest of some other objective such as economic growth, or social harmony or national security. But people become disenchanted with mere words that do not get translated into action. Public o­pposition to the abuse of authority gathers strength. At the same time, those who spearhead the opposition do not themselves always act in conformity with democratic or constitutional principles. If democracy is to succeed, its rules must be respected and observed by government and opposition alike.

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