The suffix –cracy is derived from the Greek combining form –kratia, which comes from the Greek word kratos, meaning “power” or “rule.” Taken by itself, –cracy is not necessarily good or bad. The root word added to this suffix, however, can make a significant difference in the type of government to which the citizens of a country experience.
In a “democracy, power (-cracy) lies in the hands of people (demo, from the Greek root demos, meaning “people”). In an autocracy, power is controlled by a single individual (auto, from the Greek root auto, meaning “self”). In the 21st century, most of countries fall under the heading of “democracy.”
To create and sustain a democracy, three elements of independence must be upheld: freedom of thought and opinion, freedom of expression, and impartial and independent justice. While these three elements are important for all of a country’s citizens, it is possible to argue that these elements are of particular importance to academicians, journalists, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys.
It is these groups that help to protect democracy and freedom for the citizenry as a whole. If the independence, or freedom, of any one of these group is jeopardized, then democracy is likely to be at risk. Collectively, these groups help to safeguard of democracy through the mechanism of checks and balances on the government.
Journalists, for example, inform citizens with the facts about the actions of government officials. Academicians think independently, express their opinions, and critique topical issues important to the country’s citizens. Judges independently adjudicate legal cases based on the evidence and the law rather than personal preference or whim.
Prosecutors independently try cases in court on the basis of the evidence collected rather than on animus for the defendant. Defense attorneys independently represent their clients in court. When any of these groups feels political pressure to act in a certain way, the ability to remain independent can be extremely difficult. If that resistance falters, citizens are more likely to be skeptical about court decisions, prosecutions, adjudications, news reports, and the views of academicians.
In an autocracy, all of these groups lose their ability to think and act independently which, in some cases, can mean disagreeing with or opposing the country’s leader or the political party in power. In an autocracy, journalists are organs of the person, group or political party in power, simply repeating what they are told to say. Academicians are forced to think what they are told to think and to speak what they are told to say. Judges and prosecutors are used by those in power to justify their acts and to suppress and oppress opponents. Defense attorneys are not allowed freely to defend their clients.
After the failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016, a total of 4,424 judges and prosecutors and 8,693 academicians have been fired; 300 journalists have been arrested; and 187 media outlets have been shut down—all by government decree. A total of 1,323 attorneys are being prosecuted. The numbers paint a dismal picture of the country’s future in terms of freedom of thought and expression and an independent and impartial judiciary.
The independence of these professionals is the essential and universal value that allows people to judge whether a country has a democracy or an autocracy. Independence is the value that needs to be upheld and that the citizens of Turkey need to insist the government restore. The number of silenced voices can suggest the direction in which a country is headed. The question that will have to be answered in the future is clear. Which values will win: democratic or autocratic?