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15.4G: Theories of Democracy

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    8447
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    Theories of democracy advocate different degrees of participation by the people with the government.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Distinguish between parliamentary democracy, minimal democracy, direct democracy, radical democracy and deliberative democracy, and relate them to the concept of “true” democracy and freedom

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Democracy, or “rule by the people,” is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation determine public policy, the laws, and the actions of their state together, requiring that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion.
    • The most common system that is deemed “democratic” in the modern world is parliamentary democracy, in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a legislative assembly.
    • Theoretically, Aristotle contrasted rule by the many (democracy/polity) with rule by the few (oligarchy/aristocracy) and with rule by a single person (tyranny or today autocracy/monarchy).
    • Under minimalism, democracy is a system of government in which citizens give teams of political leaders the right to rule in periodic elections.
    • Direct democracy holds that citizens should participate directly in making laws and policies, and not do so through their representatives.
    • Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion.
    • Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion.
    • Radical democracy is based on the idea that there are hierarchical and oppressive power relations that exist in society

     

    Key Terms

     

    • democracy: a system of rule by the people, especially as a form of government; either directly or through elected representatives
    • autocracy: A form of government in which unlimited power is held by a single individual.
    • deliberative democracy: Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision making. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the lawmaking processes.
    • direct democracy: Direct democracy (or pure democracy) is a form of government in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives.

    What Is A Democracy?

    Democracy, or rule by the people, is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation determine public policy, the laws, and the actions of their state together. Democracy requires that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion. In practice, democracy is the extent to which a given system approximates this ideal, and a given political system is referred to as a democracy if it allows a certain approximation to ideal democracy. Although no country has ever granted all its citizens the right to vote, most countries today hold regular elections based on egalitarian principles, at least in theory.

    The most common system that is deemed democratic in the modern world is parliamentary democracy, in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a legislative assembly. The members of the assembly then make decisions with a majority vote. A purer form is direct democracy in which the voting public makes direct decisions or participates directly in the political process. Elements of direct democracy exist on a local level and, in exceptions, on the national level in many countries, though these systems coexist with representative assemblies.

    Theoretically, Aristotle contrasted rule by the many (democracy/polity) with rule by the few (oligarchy/aristocracy) and with rule by a single person (tyranny or autocracy/monarchy). He also thought that there was a good and a bad variant of each system (he considered democracy to be the degenerate counterpart to polity). For Aristotle, the underlying principle of democracy is freedom, since only in a democracy can the citizens have a share in freedom. There are two main aspects of freedom: (1) being ruled and ruling in turn, since everyone is equal according to number, not merit, and; (2) to be able to live as one pleases.

    Among political theorists, there are many contending conceptions of democracy:

    Minimalist Democracy

    Under minimalism, democracy is a system of government in which citizens give teams of political leaders the right to rule in periodic elections. According to this minimalist conception, citizens cannot and should not rule because, for example, on most issues, most of the time, they have no clear views or their views are not well-founded.

    Direct Democracy

    Direct democracy, on the other hand, holds that citizens should participate directly in making laws and policies, and not do so through their representatives. Proponents of direct democracy offer varied reasons to support this view, declaring that political activity can be valuable in itself, since it socializes and educates citizens, and popular participation can check powerful elites. Most importantly, according to this theory, citizens do not really rule themselves unless they directly decide laws and policies for themselves.

    Deliberative Democracy

    Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion. Deliberative democrats contend that laws and policies should be based upon reasons that all citizens can accept. The political arena should be one in which leaders and citizens make arguments, listen, and change their minds.

    Radical Democracy

    Radical democracy is based on the idea that there are hierarchical and oppressive power relations that exist in society. Democracy’s role is to make visible and challenge those relations by allowing for difference, dissent, and antagonisms in the decision making processes.

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    Aristotle: Aristotle was one of the first theorists of democracy.