IR & Politics

Problems of Modern Democracy

Although the system of democracy, which has no rational alternative in our modern world, has been described by many states as acceptable and fair, with a little courage it can be said that democracy has failed to establish the principle of justice in countries from antiquity to the 1900s. There were two reasons why democracy could not establish a just principle: internal reasons and external reasons. The reasons from the outside were mainly to change and damage the basic mechanisms of democracy. Although the basic mechanisms of democracy are political equality and the self-determination of the people, until the 1900s, states with democratic political systems either classified society and violated the rules of democracy, or defined and applied the mechanisms of democracy according to their own political concepts. However, after the World War II, the system of international relations began to move towards a different reality and different goals. Western nations, which had been fighting each other for a long time, put an end to their political conflicts and united in political and ideological struggles with states on other continents and regions. One of the main goals of these political and ideological struggles was to encourage most countries in the world from a non-democratic system to a democratic one. The possibility of this democratic system was the systematic application of the concept of democracy in states, both politically and ideologically. The collapse of the USSR in the 1990s and the independence of many Eastern European states provided an opportunity for them to transition from rigid forms of political power to democratic systems. The successful use of this system by these states and their successful application in state practice began to form a modern concept of democracy in the system of international relations and to eliminate the problems of democracy arising from abroad. However, although modern democracy has brought development and progress by eliminating external causes, it has begun to form many questions and discussions in terms of theoretical and internal causes. Issues such as the majority, democratic electoral systems have become a problem of democracy itself and a serious topic of discussion between states and people. Thus, this essay discusses the problems of democracy from abroad and the problems of modern democracy itself.


The First and Second World Wars of the 20th century were one of the factors that led to the classification of the world’s political system. The existence of the main driving forces in these world wars, the fascist regime in Italy, the Nazi regime in Germany, and the communist (Stalinist) regimes in Russia, divided the world into two political regimes: democratic and totalitarian. Although political regimes in Italy and Germany declined after the end of World War II in 1945, the process of classification in international relations continued for some time. The difference between this classification and the previous political classification was that there was no longer a world of rigid political power, but a world of one pole from the democratic West and the other pole from the totalitarian USSR. However, in contrast to this classification, in the second half of the 20th century there were no states that joined the democratic Western system or functioned within the totalitarian USSR. The existence of these states did not lead to a new classification of the world, but to the division of it into three poles: capitalist states, communist states and developing states. (A. Heywood 1952, 402)

However, the democratization of many countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, economic changes in the Middle East in 1970, and the rise of nationalism and national liberation movements within the USSR in 1989-1991 hit many things in the system. The occurrence of these processes first led to the transition to a single democratic political system, eliminating the process of classification in the world. Secondly, as a result of these processes, the communist USSR collapsed and political liberalization and capitalism expanded in many geographies. As a result of these processes, anti-democratic political regimes began to be eliminated and the external problems of democracy began to be resolved. However, with the emergence of new democrats and the integration of many states into the democratization process to overcome the external problems of democracy, internal problems such as majoritarian elections, minorities and majorities have emerged. Therefore, this essay discusses the essence and theory of democracy, as well as internal and external problems.

What is democracy?

Since the terminological meaning of the name democracy is people’s power, three main concepts are discussed here: the people, the power and the relationship between the people and the power.

People and democracy

The first conclusion from the terminological meaning of democracy is that this system of government is the people’s government. Because democracy shares the concept of political equality between the people and the state, it can create harmony between the two concepts. Thus, the state can distribute the instruments of political power equally to all people, and all people can use the mechanisms of the state equally to each other through democracy. It is clear from this that the equal use of kratos (power) by demos (people) is called democracy.

However, although democracy seems structural in theory, in practice sometimes this mechanism does not create harmony between the state and the people, and as a result, in practice, problems of democracy can arise. The first practical problem was a process that took place in democratic systems from ancient Greece until the 1900s. In ancient Greece itself, many of the mechanisms of kratos (power) could not be used equally by demos (people). Because there was a certain age limit in the election issue, and many people – slaves, women – could not participate in this process. This ban in ancient Greece – the lack of women’s suffrage – was one of the problems not only of the time, but also of the democracy that the Western Polyarchies themselves had until the 1900s.[1] [2] The second practical problem is the problem of democracy over justice. Democracy does not mean the rule of the people, but a community of people, the majority, with a specific approach to the word of the people. Thus, we conclude that one of the terminological meanings of this word is the power of the majority. This process manifests itself more in the processes of the majority electoral system that exist in our modern world.

(In a majoritarian system, the leader and the party that gets the most votes come to power, and the vote of the minority is almost in vain. Because in the parliament, which is the legislature, the majority takes power and can easily pass laws on its own).

Power and democracy

The existence of a harmonious mechanism between democracy and government was noted above. However, this section will explain how a harmonious relationship is established between democracy and government. Certainly, the first approach is a democratic approach to governance. It is a fact that the mechanism of democracy itself is based on the principle of self-government of individuals and their free management of their existing political harmony with the state. This principle is implemented in two ways in practical democracy. The first is called direct democracy, and the second is called representative democracy. Thus, democracy, together with these two mechanisms, creates harmony between people and the people, ensuring that political institutions are equally accessible to the people.

However, although both representative democracy and direct democracy are seen as structural in theory, there are many problems and criticisms in practice. These criticisms are mainly present in the practice of representative democracy, which is a widespread system in our modern world. In a representative democracy, people participate in elections and elect their representatives, and these representatives represent them in parliament and government, adopt and implement laws for the people. However, in practice in our modern world, it seems that the existence of different political ideologies and parties distances politicians from being morally neutral. They often put the interests of their ideologies, parties, and even their personalities first. This leads to the protection and representation of the interests of the political party and its ideology represented by the representative instead of representing the interests of the people in the system of representative democracy.

People and power

The above examples (such as the majoritarian electoral system, political equality, majority and minority, representation) presented a critique of democracy, both morally, theoretically and practically. However, the third and final discussion of the terminological meaning is the relationship between the people and the government. The basis of the philosophical and political essence of democracy is the free choice of individuals by their representatives and rulers. In this election process, in addition to criticism such as majority dominance and representative democracy, there is also a critical approach to democracy called “unconscious voting.” In democracies, every citizen participates in the electoral system because every citizen has the right to vote, because society is made up of different individuals, and because each of these individuals has the right to vote individually. In a democracy, people’s choice of their representatives can lead to some radical problems. In democratic principles, the majority can sometimes be mistaken because it always sees the majority as justified and implements the decisions of the majority. The fact that fascist regimes came to power in Italy through elections in the 20th century always promises that the majority could do such a wrong thing again and seriously damage both the minority and the system of international relations.

What is democratic legitimacy?

To understand the problems of modern democracy, the theoretical and structural critiques of democracy, democratic and non-democratic legitimacy must be noted in order to identify the root causes of the problems that exist in modern democracy. After the above criticisms of the concept of democracy and the presentation of both practical and theoretical problems, the existing theoretical and practical weaknesses in democratic legitimacy will be easily identified.

Although democracy and legitimacy are seen in different terminological terms, they are politically similar and are often discussed side by side in debates about democracy. Because the fact that a state has a democratic system and institutions is automatically perceived as having the legitimacy of that state. Thus, in such discussions, three concepts are used to define the political system and democratic legitimacy: consent, concession and stability.


People do not give a state the right to govern them openly, they do it indirectly in the implementation of any political act. In the mechanism of democracy, too, because the power structures are equally exercised by the citizens of the state – the people, and citizens can freely participate in their governance, the democratic automatically gives the people the legitimacy of political power. This example can be practically presented in the United States. The fact that people in the United States can vote for the Democrats or Republicans, be members of a party, or influence the actions and decisions of party leaders shows that in the United States, that political power is as legitimate as democracy.


Discussion of democracy in the form of concessions is mainly based on pluralism and tolerance. Because the process of democracy promises all people the same rights and laws, people from different groups can live in peace in a society. Tolerance and pluralism make it possible for a minority, a majority and people from another group to participate and have a say in politics within a state. Thus, it also accepts the government as legitimate.


In stable democracies, governments and public policies can be changed by the people because the people can participate in the political process and determine their own future. Therefore, when there is a crisis of political legitimacy, the people can prevent the crisis by intervening in non-violent or non-violent issues.

A critique of the three concepts (consent, concessions and stability) of democratic legitimacy.

As in democracy, there are some inquiries and criticisms of the concept of democratic legitimacy. Many parts of the basic concept of democracy are very similar to the basic approaches of the capitalist system and the foundations of the liberal system. One of these approaches is property rights. While most democracies today have an economically free and open market system, this political system is considered by people to be one of the rational reasons for legitimization. Because people’s welfare is economically good, they do not resort to violence and radical acts in political power, and thus legitimize the existing political power. In general, property rights, the free market, and the highest peaks of individualism are more than the three principles of democracy that legitimize political power today.

Problems of modern democracy

In order to understand the problems that exist in modern democracy, theoretical, practical approaches and criticisms of the concept of democracy and its branch, legitimacy, had to be presented. Therefore, after the above specific concepts of democracy and its critique of legitimacy, it will become clear that, in fact, the roots of the problems that exist in modern democracy come from there.

In fact, as J. Peter (1939) claimed, modern democracy should not be understood as a theory that differs sharply from traditional democracy. It is only necessary to take into account the different realities formed by the political time and environment. In general, the root of the problem of modern democracy is connected with the emergence of the third democratization process in the world. The nationalist protests in the USSR at the end of the 20th century and the process of independence of the states provided an opportunity for their transition to a democratic system. When these states separated from the USSR and assessed the process of democratization, they faced very serious and difficult problems created by modern democracy. These problems were the three main mechanisms mentioned above, both in the section on democracy and in the section on democratic legitimacy.

The first problem created by modern democracy for the newly independent states was the “concession” mechanism mentioned above in the theory of democratic legitimacy. As Eastern European countries and other former Soviet republics operated under a totalitarian system for many years, their independence and acceptance of democratic opportunities left them facing the challenges of modern democracy. Because initially there was a totalitarian regime in the USSR, there was a one-party system, not a multi-party system. As a result, the newly independent states that joined the Global Governance (UN) underwent a severely difficult democratization process due to their weak political bases.

The second problem stemmed from the weak economic base system. The lack of practical experience and support for the free economy and liberal rights of the states that have lived in the communist system for many years made it difficult for them to transition to a free liberal economy in modern democratic systems. Therefore, there was an economic crisis in many countries that became independent from the USSR.

The third and final problem was the lack of tolerance and conservatism. As the culture of respect for individual freedoms did not fit into the politics of these states, both cultural and political and economic factors began to strike a serious blow at the centralized state. Therefore, it led to conflicts in the newly independent states, such as Serbia and Bosnia. In addition, modern democratic problems for the above-mentioned states, both from the point of view of democratic legitimacy and democratic theory, were able to create situations that would lead to conflict and even civil strife within those states.  As a result, these three factors have become one of the problems posed by modern democracies for newly independent states. Therefore, both Eastern Europe and most of the post-Soviet countries that gained their independence were unable to integrate into Europe.


As a result, I can say that both the approaches in theoretical democracy and the approaches in democratic legitimacy have become a system in modern democracies that seriously strikes states and creates problems for them. This system is moving towards becoming one of the most dangerous problems in our modern world, both in terms of justice, morality and radicalism. In today’s world, one of the biggest problems of modern democracy is that the majority is always justified and victorious. The fact that the majority is not always right and often mistaken has been seen many times as a result of historical democratic systems. It is inevitable that this situation will happen again on a larger scale. Therefore, modern democracy will always be in danger until it solves these problems.

In addition, there are serious problems in the representation of modern democracy today. If people elect a representative to represent their rights and votes, they often put the value of their policies and personal interests beyond the will and purpose of the people. This poses a second radical threat to democracy’s relationship with the people.

Thus, in modern democracies, the democratic system justifies the majority and does not make the decisions of the minority. In another electoral system, although minority decisions are made and given a chance to elect a representative, sometimes this representative cannot always be kept in balance in politics. Thus, as international relations and the political agenda develop, democracy is slowly losing its rationality.


  • Somin, Ilya. Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter. Second edition. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Law Books, an imprint of Stanford University Press, 2016.
  • Estlund, David M. Democratic Authority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.
  • Dahl, Robert Alan. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven [u.a.]: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Andrew Hyewood. Politics. 20th edition, 2019.
  • Dworkin, Gerald. The Theory and Practice of Autonomy. Cambridge Studies in Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 1988.




Ali Mirzazada

Ali Mirzazada is a Research Fellow at the Caucasian Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies, Azerbaijan
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