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. Democracy as a Natural OrderDemocracy is any form of government in which the rules of society are decided by the people who will be bound by them.\"* That was the original system of making decisions for society all members took partWhen the state arises 5,000 years ago, it takes t

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Democracy as a Natural Order

“Democracy is any form of government

in which the rules of society are decided

by the people who will be bound by them.”*

That was the original system of making decisions for society – all members took part…

When the state arises 5,000 years ago, it takes the decision-making power away from society

Democracy is a way of trying to restore the original norm – to put the state under society’s control

*Catherine Kellogg, Democratic Theory, in: Janine Brodie and Sandra Rein, Critical Concepts: An Introduction to Politics. 3d edition. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

The experience of Athens, 5th century BCE*:

Assembly democracy: citizens participated directly in initiating, deliberating, and passing of, the legislation. The Assembly, no less than 6,000 strong (out of 22,000 citizens), convened about every 10 days. Supreme power to decide on every issue of state policy

Citizen juries: justice is responsibility of citizens (juries composed of 501-1001 citizens)

Appointment of citizens to political office by lot

Citizen-soldiers: every citizen had a duty to serve in the army

Ostracism: a bad politician could be kicked out of office by the people

*See Patrick Watson and Benjamin Barber, The Struggle for Democracy. Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys Ltd., 1988, p.12

The Classical Theory of Democracy

The triple meaning:

Democracy as source of state authority – power of the people

Democracy as the purpose of government – the common good

Democracy as a method of choosing political leaders – by the people

Abraham Lincoln: “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people” (1863)

Also from Lincoln (1861): “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it”.

But what happens in real life?

As a principle, it sounds attractive, but…

If society is large, complex, divided, can it get organized to control the state – especially a large and powerful state?

Perhaps, only to a limited degree…

Joseph Schumpeter, 1942:

The classical theory is too broad and vague. It is much more practical to narrow the meaning of democracy to the method:

“The democraticmethod is

that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions

in which individuals acquire the power to decide

by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote”.*

*Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper, 1947, p.269

2 major dimensions of the democratic method:*

contestation – free and fair competition between candidates

participation – all adult citizens have the right to vote

The use of this method requires the freedoms of:

expression, to speak publicly and publish one’s views

assembly, to gather for political purposes

association, to form political organizations

*Robert A. Dahl, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971; Samuel Huntington, The Third Wave. Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. University of Oklahoma Press, 1991

Democracy’s Century: A Survey of Global Political Change in the 20th Century. NY: Freedom House, 2001
Democracy’s Century: A Survey of Global Political Change in the 20th Century. NY: Freedom House, 2001
Since 1900, the number of internationally recognized independent states has grown


Electoral democracies

– countries where governments are formed by democratic method–

number 120 of the 192 existing countriesand constitute 62.5% of the world’s population.

Key events which led to this expansion:

The defeat of fascism in World War 2

The fall of Western colonial empires

The fall of Russian communism and the Soviet Union

Liberal democracy around the world, 2005

Today’s Democratic Paradox

Democracy is accepted as the normal – and even normative - form of government more widely in the world than ever before

And yet, the real scope of democratic practices is very limited.

The sea of democracy has never been wider.

But it is very shallow.

Inadequacies and failures of states organized by the democratic method:

Declining ability to manage economies

Growth of inequality

The environmental crisis

The rise of ethnic and religious conflicts

Growing practice of mass violence (wars, terrorism, arms races)

Democratic deficit: global public opinion, 2005:

Liberal Democracy: Main Principles*

1. Individualism: Society is composed of individuals. The individual is sovereign. Individuals come first - groups second

2. Equality: All individuals have equal rights (see below)

3. Reason: People are capable of making rational decisions about anything, and can improve the conditions of their existence

4. Rights: Society must recognize certain individual claims as givens (the list of rights has been expanding: compare US Declaration of Independence, 1776, with UN documents: Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, other UN rights declarations)

5. Society: Its interests are nothing but a sum of individual interests.

6. Protection of property and rights: The state exists to protect individual rights and private property

7. Freedom: individuals’ ability to act without interference by the state or other citizens

*See Kellogg, Democratic Theory, pp.30-31

LD reflects the ambivalence about the role of the state (see the previous lecture):

The state as the provider of public goods


The state as a source of dangers to private interests

LD seeks to make the state strong and capable by making it legitimate through the democratic method (democracy makes state power rightful and just, enables the state to rule)

And – it seeks to limit state authority over society through separation of powers, rule of law, constitutionalism

Key principle of LD: distinction between

--the private sphere (personal life of individuals, the family, civil society autonomous from the state, religion, the market economy) and

--the public sphere (political society, the state, government policies)

Activities of the state should be confined to the public sphere

The public sphere should not be too large

The private sphere should be autonomous from the state and protected from the state’s encroachments

Democracy, understood in the broad, classical sense, may easily lead to the violation of society’s autonomy.

Majority rule always contains the danger of suppression of minorities – in the name of democracy. “Tyranny of the majority” – Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy may undermine and even destroyliberty

Liberty is enhanced by democracy – but it must be protected from democracy

This ambivalence is a source of LD’s strength and durability

The concern for individual rights

The emphasis on the autonomy of society from the state

The emphasis on pluralism

are very important political values

But the compromise at the core of LD also makes it vulnerable to challenges:

Both from the Right and from the Left

From the Right: LD fragments society and the state, it makes for disorder, it weakens the state. It is too much democracy

From the Left: LD secures privileges of the elites – both private elites and state elites. This democracy is too limited

In the history of liberal democracy, liberalism precedes democracy

When liberal principles become accepted in the practice of more and more Western states (18th-19th centuries), the exercise of political rights and freedoms is limited

Classical, laissez-faire liberalism is concerned primarily about limiting state power and protecting the private sphere – the market economy in the first place

In the 20th century, the extension of political rights to all adults was accompanied by the expansion of the activities of the state

The balance between the private and public spheres shifted in favour of the public sphere, as the liberal-democratic state, under the pressure of majorities, widens the scope of its activities, recognizes a wider range of rights, including labour’s right of collective bargaining

Welfare-state liberalism emphasized the role of the state as provider of public goods

Countertrend: In the last quarter of the 20th century, conservative, or neoliberal, forces gained political dominance in the West (led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in UK, President Ronald Reagan in the US)

The Trilateral Commission and the idea of “The Crisis of Democracy” (1975):
  • There is too much democracy in the West
  • Democracy is becoming “ungovernable”
“Recent years in the Trilateral countries have seen theexpansion of the demands on government from individualsand groups. The expansion takes the form of:

( I ) theinvolvement of an increasing proportion of the population inpolitical activity;

(2) the development of new groups and ofnew consciousness on the part of old groups, includingyouth, regional groups, and ethnic minorities;

(3) thediversification of the political means and tactics which groupsuse to secure their ends;

(4) an increasing expectation on thepart of groups that government has the responsibility to meettheir needs; and

(5) an escalation in what they conceive those needs to be.”

(Continued on next page)

“The result is an "overload" on government and the expansion of the role of government in the economy and society. During the 1960s governmental expenditures, as a proportion of GNP, increased significantly in all the principal Trilateral countries, except for Japan. This expansion of governmental activity was attributed not so much to the strength of government as to its weakness and the inability and unwillingness of central political leaders to reject the demands made upon them by numerically and functionally important groups in their society.

(Continued on the next page)

The impetus to respondto the demands which groups made on government is deeply rooted in both the attitudinal and structural features of a democratic society. The democratic idea that government should be responsive to the people creates the expectation that government should meet the needs and correct the evils affecting particular groups in society. Confronted with the structural imperative of competitive elections every few years, political leaders can hardly do anything else.”*

*Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington, Joji Watanuki. The Crisis of Democracy. Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission. New York: New York University Press, 1975, pp.163-164

The “conservative revolution”, launched by Thatcher and Reagan, began to dismantle the welfare state in the name of individual freedom and market autonomy.

As electoral democracy marched forward, expanding territorially around the globe,

the ability and willingness of the democratic states to satisfy social demands declined.

2 basic methods of social coordination in any society:
  • 1.Directed coordination, orauthority (somebody plans for the group, gives commands, others obey)
  • 2.Mutual adjustment, orexchange (everyone does his/her thing, nobody plans, nobody commands, coordination takes place through the web of interactions between gain-seeking individuals or groups)

Capitalism expands the realm of mutual adjustment – the rise of the market system, the power of self-interest

But directed coordination – exercise of authority, the power of command –

does not disappear. Quite the opposite: it becomes more effective

No society can rely only on market-type interactions

Many important social tasks can only be performed through the use of authority

Combining Authority and Exchange

Authority structures under capitalism:

The family

The workplace (obey the boss, be disciplined, work hard)

The state (whether democratic or authoritarian)

Liberal democracy is a way of combining the power of command with the power of self-interest, putting a strong emphasis on self-interest. The state derives its authority to command froma market-type dealbetween the citizen and the politician:

I’ll give you my vote and my taxes, if you work to deliver the public goods I need(for example, “peace, order, good government”)

The Equality of the Unequal

Is liberal democracy the perfect political form for capitalism?

Yes, but at the same time, democracy and capitalism

are in conflict

In the market economy, people are formally equal free agents, each after his/her own interests

But in reality, they have vastly different amounts of social power

The market system, in and by itself, does not reduce those differences. On the contrary, it increases existing inequalities – both within societies and between societies.

Democracy, on the other hand, is rooted in the idea of equality. Vigorous practice of democracy in society does lead to lessening of social inequalities.

Another contradiction: in a democracy, citizens work together to achieve common goals

In a market economy, people compete, trying to gain advantage over each other – “survival of the fittest” (Herbert Spencer)

Can the contradictions between:

socioeconomic inequality and political equality, and

between cooperation and competition –

be kept under control?

Average Pay of US CEOs and Workers*1980-2000 (in 2000 US dollars)

Source: Holly Sklar, Laryssa Mykyta and Susan Wefald, Raise the Floor, 2001 (Ms. Foundation for Women).

Distribution of wealth in the USA

Who owns capital in America

Haves vs. have-nots in America: public opinion study by Pew Research:
Percentage share of national income

Human Development Report 2001, UN Development Program

Inequality on a global scale

The gap in living standards between the richest and poorest nations:

1820: 3 to 1

1913: 11 to 1

1950: 35 to 1

2002: 70 to 1

See Jeremy Seabrook, The No-Nonsense Guide to Class, Caste and Hierarchies. Toronto: New Internationalist Publications, 2002, p.77

The world’s population: 3 classes

Upper class: 11% (real income higher than the average income in Italy)

Middle class: 11% (real income between the average income in Italy and the poverty line, adjusted for purchasing power)

The poor: 78% (real income below the poverty line)

See Branko Milanovic, True World Income Distribution, 1988 and 1993: First Calculations Based on Household Surveys Alone. Economic Journal, Jan.2002

2.8 bln. people live on less than $2 a day

The richest1% of the world’s people receive as much income as the poorest57% (UN Human Development Report 2002, Overview, p.2)

World’s 3 richest people have assets greater than 48 poorestcountries combined

UN Human Development Report 2002 (see link on my website):

“Economically, politically and technologically, the world has never seemed more free – or more unjust” (p.1)

“Advancing human development requires governance that is democratic both in form and in substance” 

Why democracy is key to development:

1/ Participating in decision-making is a fundamental human right

2/ Democracy protects people from political and economic catastrophes – famines, wars (governments are more circumspect, attentive to public needs)

  -Since 1995, 10% of population of North Korea died of famine

-In 1958-61, 30 mln. died of famine in China

-In India, there has not been a single famine since 1947, despite crop failures 

3/”Democratic governance can trigger a virtuous cycle of development – as political freedom empowers people to press for policies that expand social and economic opportunities, and as open debates helpcommunities shape their priorities”


“The links between democracy and human development are not automatic: when a small elite dominates economic and political decisions, the link between democracy and equity can be broken” (p.4)

At issue:



Can an egalitarian political system coexist long

with massive and growing socioeconomic inequality?

Can concentration of economic power in the hands of a few be reconciled with political pluralism?

How can these contradictions be resolved:
  • At democracy’s expense:

--limit democracy by manipulating its workings

  • --limit democracy by strengthening coercive powers of the state
  • --mobilize the nation to unite, despite the inequalities – to defend itself against an external enemy, or to conquer other nations
  • --foster racial and ethnic divisions, mobilize majorities against minorities
  • --opt for full-fledged fascism
In favour of democracy:

--Widen the channels through which citizens can effectively participate in politics

--Use new information technologies, network-type forms of political organizing

--Extend democracy into the workplace(employee ownership)

--Reduce the influence of big money on political systems

--Increase the state’s ability to control economic elites

--Create new forms of regulation of market economies both at the national and the global scale

--Develop effective social policies