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On democracy

To examine the concept of democracy, and encourage the oldest students to exercise their democratic right to vote.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To examine the concept of democracy, and encourage the oldest students to exercise their democratic right to vote.

Preparation and materials


  1. In most European nations, the state is there to serve the people. This is indeed fortunate – the state is awesomely powerful, and can use an extraordinary amount of force to defend its citizens. However, one question that has puzzled political scientists and philosophers for thousands of years is that such power can be subverted and used for individual gain by the powerful, at the expense of the many. One need not look beyond a daily newspaper to see this today.
  2. One reason why the states of Europe and North America, in particular, have not succumbed to this phenomenon is the prevalence of democracy. That is one argument for democracy. There are many more. It seems intuitively fair and just that people decide who makes decisions for them. If the government fails to satisfy the hopes that got them elected, they can be replaced. Indeed, it is very difficult to argue against some form of democracy. If a group of people together decide that democracy is bad and should be replaced, they are exercising democratic will and choosing what sort of society they want to live in.
  3. Opposition, then, is based on particular forms of democracy. Democracy is an ideal, the ideal of a nation’s governance being identical with the will of her people. Different systems exist to try and capture this will. In Britain we elect representatives to speak for their communities. A group of senior leaders take command of particular areas of governance, such as health, education, defence and transport. They work with unelected public servants to achieve goals that they set out during election campaigns. Whatever your view on the current government is, the system has merits.
  4. Of course, democracy is not perfect. The will of the people can be altered by propaganda, and reason can be clouded by emotions. Moreover, sometimes the people’s choice is not the best choice. No advocate of democracy should ever forget that Hitler was elected in due process, although the political system of Germany at the time was only partially democratic. Democracy is fragile: it takes years to build and can be destroyed in an instant.
  5. Indeed, it is entirely possible that a British government, having been voted out, could just decide not to leave. If they controlled the army and the police, it would be very difficult to remove them. However, if a government were to try to do that, it is likely that the police and military would not follow their orders and the coup would fail. Why would they do that? The reason is that they would not see the regime as legitimate.
  6. That is the beautiful and precious thing about democracy: it produces a belief that the people’s wishes are valuable and carry authority. With such an ethos, a truly unpleasant government is extremely unlikely. Even if the people sometimes make bad choices, that ethos would be worth fighting for.

Time for reflection

Light a candle and play some reflective music.

Think about the system that we live in, the democratic system that everyone over 18 is entitled to be part of.

Think about the aspects of government that you agree with.

And the aspects that you find hard to accept.

When you vote, you will be contributing to the life of the whole country, to our society and your local community.

We give thanks for our democracy.
May we participate with pride,
and value our responsibility and freedoms.


A classical choice may be best for this assembly.

Publication date: May 2010   (Vol.12 No.5)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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