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About this book

This wide-ranging text identifies and assesses the main conceptions of democracy from participationist to elitist. It proceeds to consider in detail a range of key issues in democratic theory in relation to which these conceptions can be distinguished.

Table of Contents

1. The Theoretical Challenges of Democracy

Abstract
In the last twenty years, there has occurred a ‘global resurgence of democracy’ (Diamond and Plattner, 1996). The breach of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe removed one of the major ideological and political challenges to democratic government not only in Europe but throughout the world. The failure of Latin American military dictatorships to resolve economic problems, as well as their appalling human rights records, dealt severe blows to their attempts to establish a non-democratic form of political legitimacy and paved the way to the restoration of civilian democratic government in the 1980s. The ending of apartheid in South Africa and the coming of mass democracy showed the association between democratic government and the ideal of political equality in which members of the same society were not divided into first- and second-class citizens. Political challenges to the ‘soft authoritarianism’ of east Asian societies in Korea and Taiwan, as well as the persisting strength of the democratic movement in Hong Kong, surprised those who thought that Asian culture was built upon a principle of respect for those in authority. Democratization in places as diverse as South Africa, Argentina, Poland and South Korea occurred with a speed and vigour that surprised informed and knowledgeable observers. Formerly closed, authoritarian political systems became open to new influences and political ideas. These events and trends prompted many observers at the time to claim that ‘we are all democrats now’, having reached ‘the end of history’ (Fukuyama, 1989) or, to put the point less poetically but more accurately, the end of political controversy about systems of government. Democracy — it would seem — has ceased to be a matter of contention and has become a matter of convention.
Albert Weale

2. Forms of Democratic Government

Abstract
Democracy, I have suggested, is a form of government in which public policy depends in a systematic, if sometimes indirect, way upon public opinion. However, even accepting this definition, there are various ways in which democracy can be thought of. Indeed, looking at the literature on democracy, it is clear that it reflects this diversity with classifications, categories and typologies in abundance. We read of pluralist democracy, radical democracy, liberal democracy, socialist democracy, deliberative democracy, elitist democracy, equilibrium democracy, cosmopolitan democracy, and so on (for a good discussion in this mode, see Held, 1996). It may seem that the task of a democratic theory is to identify which of these differing conceptions of democracy has the greatest claim to justification or is most defensible in intellectual terms. Why do we find the theory of democracy discussed in this way, and how should we deal with the problems that this proliferation of categories raises?
Albert Weale

3. The Justification of Democracy

Abstract
To justify democracy as a form of government is to show either how its practices conform to a principle of right in political morality or how the consequences of those practices lead to a state of affairs that can be judged good in principled terms or by reference to important political values. In this chapter I consider what kind of justification may be offered for a belief in democracy as a form of government superior to other forms of government. For the purposes of this chapter, then, I shall be treating the competing conceptions of democracy identified in the previous chapter as members of the same class, contrasting the notion of democratic government, whatever specific form it takes, with that of non-democratic government. At this stage, therefore, the stress is upon what elements these varying conceptions have in common rather than the features that distinguish them.
Albert Weale

4. Deliberation, Consensus and Political Equality

Abstract
In the previous chapter I sought to justify democracy as a form of government in terms of the requirement to attend to common interests that would otherwise be neglected. The argument moved from the need to institute protection from arbitrary government through a thought-experiment about the most plausible alternative to democracy to considerations of political equality under conditions of human fallibility. This last point has particular implications. The principle that any conception of government needs to recognize the fallible character of human judgement is especially related to that class of goods that I have identified as distinctively political, involving the provision of institutions to settle disagreements in situations where a common policy is essential. If there are disputes about the supply of public and primary goods, and if each member of society has an interest in the peaceful and civilized resolution of those disputes, then no one person or group of persons will have sufficient knowledge to secure the right answer to any particular problem. Some form of public reasoning about feasible alternatives, involving citizens in general, will have to be instituted. From this point of view, the problems of politics are problems of deliberation. That is to say, where there are differences of opinion about what collectively is to be done, then some set of institutions will be necessary to deliberate about the different points of view that are advanced. Just as individuals confronted with the need to make a practical choice in the face of conflicting reasons will need to deliberate on the relative strength and force of those reasons, so the members of a political community will need to deliberate about their common course of action in the face of competing opinions.
Albert Weale

5. Participation as Democracy, Participation in Democracy

Abstract
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.
Albert Weale

6. From Conceptions of Representation to Systems of Representation

Abstract
If we accept that there has to be some division of labour in politics and public participation in politics needs to be set in the context of representative government, then we need a theory of what political representation involves. That is to say, we need an account of what representatives should do, what sort of people they should be and how they should discharge their duties. Representatives undertake those tasks that citizens lack time or opportunity to undertake, but upon what understanding of representation should the design of a system of representative government be based? On the answer to this question hangs the issue of how we evaluate the competing models of indirect democracy that we have identified.
Albert Weale

7. Aggregation, Unanimity and Majority Rule

Abstract
Political action is collective action. This is especially so in a democracy in which the pursuit of common purposes is important. Collective action by definition involves choices binding on all citizens. However, under the circumstances of politics I identified in Chapter 1 (partial cooperation and conflict in situations of confined generosity and bounded rationality), these choices will exhibit difference and diversity. Fallibility of judgement is one aspect of these circumstances. Even with goodwill and social awareness, citizens are likely to disagree in their political opinions and judgements. Differences of interest as well as of perception and values will lead the citizens to divergent views about how to direct and use the organized political power of the community in order to promote and protect common interests. If political representatives reflect this diversity, then there will be as much disagreement in the legislature as there is in the population. Inevitably, then, both at the level of citizens and of their representatives there is the problem of how disparate views are to be aggregated into the single choice that democratic governments must make.
Albert Weale

8. Democracy, Rights and Constitutionalism

Abstract
Modern democracies are properly thought of as constitutional democracies. One of the many consequences of this is that they appear to contain an ambiguity in their institutional structure and principled rationale. On the one hand, as democracies, they are said to provide the means by which the people govern, or at least elect the representatives who are to govern. On the other hand, as embodying constitutional values, they involve institutional arrangements, such as the separation of powers or a system of checks and balances, limiting the powers of government. Thus, constitutional democracies are typically governed according to two sets of principles: constitutionalism, which prescribes that governments should conduct their business according to rules that limit their freedom of action, and the democratic principle, which prescribes that governments should implement the will of the people, as determined by voting.
Albert Weale

9. The Boundaries of Inclusion

Abstract
So far we have defined democracies as political systems in which important decisions of public policy depend, even if only indirectly and at one remove, on public opinion. However, this definition implicitly leaves one major question unanswered. How should we define the relevant public? Clearly, it is possible to define the public narrowly or broadly, with quite different implications for our understanding of the character of the political system. This is the problem of inclusion. Robert Dahl (1989, p. 119), who more than any democratic theorist has drawn attention to this problem, points out both that the issue of inclusion is central to our understanding of democracy and that relatively little attention has been paid to it. Thus, ancient Athens is typically called a democracy, but women, slaves and metics (resident aliens) were excluded from the rights of citizenship. The exclusion of such a large proportion of the population might lead someone, with good reason, to withhold the name of democracy from the system. Similarly, up to the time that Switzerland gave the vote to women in 1971, we might want to say that it was not a democracy, despite its extensive participationist practices and system of proportional representation.
Albert Weale

10. International Relations and Democratic Ideals

Abstract
Democracy, as an ideal, involves the members of a political community participating in the government of that community. This is sometimes described in terms of ‘self-government’. In ancient Athens, it took the form of citizens ruling and being ruled in turn. In the modern world, it takes the form of the people choosing those representatives who are to govern and whose tenure in office depends upon electoral accountability. These two conceptions of democracy — the ancient and the modern — differ from one another in many respects, but in both cases it is assumed that we can identify a body of persons, continuing over time and in a particular place, who constitute a people. Article 1 of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 asserted: ‘All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.’
Albert Weale

11. Epilogue: The Democratic Reform of Democracy

Abstract
The institutions of democracy have now become objects of policy choice. Japan and New Zealand changed their electoral systems in the 1990s. Countries in Europe have increasingly turned to referendums as ways of resolving problems, not least about the future pace and direction of European integration. In the US the close result of the presidential election in 2000 and the poor quality of electoral administration that it revealed has led to a search for improvements in practice. Political parties in many democracies have adopted procedures to make their candidate selection processes more open and representative in a statistical sense. High rates of international migration are raising questions about the conditions of membership in democratic societies and the requirements that ought to be imposed on individuals if they are to be permitted the rights of citizenship.
Albert Weale
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