Democracy Is a Means of Addressing Problems, Not an End in Itself

Regarding the thoughtful and thought-provoking opinion-page article Democratic' Unraveling in the Third World," July 24: I disagree with the author's characterization of democracy and the democratic process - what he calls "the word." While the word is increasingly used in today's world, it is not a singular term. Democracy is instead a dynamic and descriptive term. It characterizes the movement of societies toward opening their government to competitive political systems, dissenting voices, and civic participation in the decisionmaking process. I agree with the author that this assessment should not be limited to "simple-minded preoccupation with electoral forms." Such superficial examinations ignore nonpolitical efforts to sustain a pluralistic culture. Still, electoral forms provide the mechanisms through which power can be peacefully transferred and are an important step in a more open society. Democracy should be viewed not as an end but as a means toward addressing problems in society. Though movement toward more open political systems may initially release pent-up energies of ethnic and tribal rivalry, democratic governance ultimately provides the institutional mechanisms through which to channel those energies into peaceful, constructive political debate. We must resist the tendency to view democratic movements as a threat to stability. We should instead view them as the means toward resolving pressing problems of human existence: the lack of human dignity, tolerance, and social justice in the world. J. Brian Atwood, Washington

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