Basic course 1
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Basic course 2
Basic course 3
Basic course 4
Basic course 5




An overview of the basic course sequences:

Basic course 1 What is democracy?
Basic course 2 How has democracy evolved?
Basic course 3 What are the characteristics of a democratic state?
Basic course 4 What belongs to democratic society?
Basic course 5 What problems are faced by democracy today?

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Basic course 1: What is democracy?

Familie beim Fernsehen To help us answer this fundamental question, we are going to use a small community of people as a metaphor - the family. The family, made up of father, mother and child, is a small community with which we are all familiar. In this case, our family lives together, eats together and watches TV together. This leads to problems to which we are equally familiar. Who is responsible for washing the dishes and who decides what the family will watch on TV? Who decides?

Basically, there are two options for dealing with this problem. The first option is to let one member of the family decide because he/she happens to be in a position of power. For example, the person holding the remote for the TV is the one who decides what the rest of the family will watch.

TV Fernbedienung

There is, however, another way. Everyone can be involved in the decisions. In our example this would mean the family making a joint decision about what they will watch on TV.

In some ways the problems faced by larger communities such as the population of an entire nation for example are not wholly different from the ones faced by our small family. Here, too, decisions have to be made. Not about the program on TV, but about the program of the state, or rather how the state will be run.

Unterwerfung The same two options for resolving the problem of who will make the decisions are also open to a nation. As with our small family, the first option is to let one person hold the remote control or rather decide what has to be done. We will call this person the regent, since he/she decides what the nation will watch or rather how the country will be governed. This regent has a great deal of power and governs the rest of the people, the population, absolutely. The population has very little to say in how things are done and has hardly any rights. The population is unable to get its hands on the remote control and is forced to watch what the regent wants.

Not a very fair system, then? There is, of course, the second option. In this system everyone has rights and thus a tiny piece of power. The people in this system decide on a regent to represent them for a limited period of time and loan to them their tiny piece of power so that the regent can start the government's program. But the regent is only able to carry out this program, if the rest of the population agrees. And it is not permitted to introduce a program which would take away or limit the rights of the population.

Batterie Another way of looking at this is to imagine a system in which everyone has one battery. Together, they decide upon a regent and give him a giant remote control. For the remote control to work, it needs lots of batteries. So the citizens lend the regent their batteries. In this way, the regent is only in charge of the remote control for as long as the citizens are prepared to lend him/her the batteries.

If the batteries are empty and the regent cannot get anymore from the population, his/her time in charge is over. The population should, however, consider the consequences of not giving the regent any more batteries.

The relationship between the regent and the population can take either one of these forms. And there are plenty of examples for both. The first option, a dictatorship, in which the population has hardly any rights, was dominant in Europe until the end of the 18th century. Only then did Europe's citizens begin to realize how unjust this system was.

Only after this realization did the second option, democracy - the system with the batteries - start to spread across Europe. And this despite the fact that this system is over 2000 years old, as we will see in basic course 2. During the course of the 20th century and in different forms, democracy has been adopted by an increasing number of countries across the world.

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Materials on  "what is democracy?"

This brief example with the remote control has provided us with a short insight into the importance of democracy. Remarks from some of the great thinkers on this subject can be found on a special page (quotes). There is also an illustration available on this (illustration 1: democracy quotes). How do dictionaries and encyclopaedias define democracy? We have presented some short text extracts on the dictionary page, which attempt to define the word democracy.

We have also put together a further section going under the title of theory. This section encompasses a large number of illustrations and addresses the most important basic theoretical differences of democracy, comparing the identity theory with the competition theory. And there is also another section that deals with the different types of democracy. This section addresses the difference between direct and representative forms of democracy, as well as taking a look at different systems such as parliamentary and presidential democracies (types).

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SubjectsHuman Rights  I  Democracy  I  Parties  I  Examples  I  Europe  I  Globalisation  I  United Nations  I  Sustainability

Methods:    Teaching Politics    II    Peace Education    II    Methods



This online service on the subject of political education was developed by agora-wissen, the Stuttgart-based Gesellschaft für Wissensvermittlung über neue Medien und politische Bildung (GbR) (Partnership for the Exchange of Information Using New Media and Political Education). Please contact us with your questions or comments. Translation from German into English by twigg's Übersetzung deutsch-englisch.