There are many different kinds of human association, such as households, families, companies, universities, trade unions, religious congregations and friendship groups. We explore political communities in this chapter, which are distinguished from these other associations by two things. First, they are more encompassing, since they establish the terms under which other associations regulate their affairs. Aristotle, for example, described the political community as the ‘highest’ community that ‘embraces all the rest’ (Aristotle, 1996, p. 11). Second, they are self-governing, in the sense that the community itself gives shape to its laws and is not controlled by an external authority. Increasingly, this has come to mean that political communities should be democratic communities, which means that members should — in principle at least — be given an equal say over how their common affairs are conducted. In Chapters 3 and 4 we will look at how a political community might realise the ideal of democracy, whilst Chapters 6–9 will explore some other important values that contemporary political communities have sought to honour. Meanwhile, in this chapter we will focus on the question of what it is that makes a political community a community.
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