If we consider the various conceptions of democracy set out in Chapter 2, we see that one central respect in which they vary is the extent to which they presuppose popular participation in the making of policy decisions. At one extreme are those accounts — whether based on classical Athens, the experience of the New England townships or Rousseau’s theorizing — in which popular participation is central to the very conception of democracy. From this point of view, participation is thought of as democracy. That is why Rousseau was able to say that the British people may think they are free, but they are in fact so only at the point at which they elect their parliament, for in the absence of participation there can be no democracy. At the other extreme is liberal constitutionalism, in which the primary function of democracy is to protect citizens from the power of government, and popular participation through elections is simply seen as a device for control over political leaders to be exercised from time to time. On this latter point of view, there may be participation within democracy, but participation does not define democracy. Contrasting these two accounts, David Miller (1983, p. 133) plausibly characterizes the distinction between protective and participationist accounts of democracy as of ‘paramount importance’. Moreover, since there are intermediate positions between a pure participationist account and a pure protective account, controversies over the nature, extent and feasibility of popular participation are going to be a central feature of any normative theory of democracy.
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