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Chapter Four: Autocracy and Democracy

Section 4: Characteristics of Autocracies and Democracies


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 "Rumanian Dance" performed by the Lysaya Dance Ensemble for the Russian Festival at the Jewish Community Center, June 14, 1998.



The mechanisms for decision making in autocratic and democratic systems are radically different. In an autocracy, one person, or a small group of persons, makes the decisions; everyone else follows to implement the decision.



In a democracy, everyone has a voice in the decision. The autocratic method is efficient and more clear-cut. If the leader is good, the decision should also be good. Democratic decision making takes into account much more information -- particularly about the interests of the various members of the society. Thus, there is a potential for higher quality decisions. Democracy promotes as well as requires a higher level of development on the part of its members; each person is more able to contribute valid inputs to the decision-making process.



Democratic systems provide more freedom of choice to the members of the society. The result is greater personal commitment to the society and its decisions. For this reason, implementation can be much more effective in a democracy.



Implementation meets resistance in various forms in autocracies. In business organizations, Argyris has identified negative effects that can be applied more generally. The lower levels of such systems manifest apathy, hostility toward the upper levels, alienation, and, reasonably enough, a tendency to form trade unions for self-protection. Implementation will still be effective where the criteria are clear.



In fact, White and Lippitt, in Autocracy and Democracy, find that more work is accomplished in autocratic systems than in democratic systems (in the context of their experiment with fifth-grade boys clubs). However, where the criteria require some independent judgment, the diminished faculties and motivation of the lower levels of an autocracy make effective implementation of decisions less likely. White and Lippitt find that the quality of work in a democracy is higher.






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