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About this book

This text provides a critical but systematic overview of democratic theory and practice in the contemporary world. The authors show that recent developments are more complex than admitted by proponents of the idea of a democratic world with, what they call, de-democratization of various forms running in parallel with democratization.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Despite persistent claims since the late 1980s, the “End of History” has not arrived. Nor has democracy emerged as the world’s political norm. Instead, we are becoming aware that democracy and the values associated with it — freedom, equality, and prosperity — continue to be challenged. Worse, not only have old threats to democracy not been successfully resolved, new ones seem to emerge as we enter a more interdependent and globalized reality. Insecurity caused by the ecological crisis, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and increased economic volatility resulting from deregulated financial markets, are posing new challenges to the well-being of humanity. If anything, we are increasingly conscious that we need more understanding of the potentially devastating roadblocks to democracy.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 1. Democracy as an Idea and as a Process

Abstract
Democracy is illusive — both as an idea and as a practice. Before undertaking an analysis of the multi-sided challenges to democracy, we need to outline the different ideas associated with democracy, as well as the different practices derived from these democratic ideas. This chapter first provides an overview of the democratic idea in the form of a genealogy, followed by a brief discussion of the different concrete manifestations of democracy and the potential problems and pitfalls of each. The term democracy, with all its connotations and ambiguities, has been central to political analysis virtually since the birth of the systematic study of politics. This chapter sketches a brief history of democracy, since its invention in ancient Greece to its resurgence in the 1600s (Arblaster, 1987: 13–37), and its contemporary manifestations.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 2. Formal and Substantive Democracy

Abstract
The discussion in the previous chapter leaves us keenly aware of the fragility of democracy. Not only has our understanding of democracy changed over time, we came to expect gradually more and more from it. However, in its practical application, at the same time that the democratic ideal expanded and was able to gain more influence, antidemocratic forces sought to block every step of this expansion and avoid any further attacks on their privileged positions in society and their exclusive access to power — be it state power, or simply the power over others in society. According to Fareed Zakaria (2003), democracy advanced whenever dominant power holders were weakened and, more often than not, this weakening resulted from a lack of unity among the powerful. In other words, the principles of liberty and equality — the core values of democracy — expanded whenever contenting forces were able to drive a wedge into the alliance of the powerful. Not surprisingly, every step towards more democracy triggered a reaction against it and democracy has remained an embattled practice ever since it first emerged.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 3. Myths and Misconceptions about Democracy

Abstract
The term liberal democracy is very often used in current discourse to characterize the type of political regime prevalent in most western nations. Giddens provides a basic definition of this construct:
Liberal democracy, I shall accept with Weber and Bobbio, is essentially a system of representation. It is a form of government characterized by regular elections, universal suffrage, freedom of conscience, and the universal right to stand for office or to form political associations. Defined in such a way, democracy is normally understood in relation to pluralism and the expression of diverse interests. (Giddens, 1994: 112)
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 4. Popular Sovereignty, Citizenship and the Limits of Liberal Democracy

Abstract
We have now reached a point where we are able to analyse the different dimensions of democracy as an ideal type and to appraise how close — or far — various political practices are in reference to this ideal. As stated earlier, democracy is challenged from different sides, and new challenges have arisen, whereas old ones remain. The tension between liberalism and democracy is certainly one of the oldest and most analysed, and yet most controversial, of the “old” challenges. The “new” world order and globalization have added a new twist to economic liberalism and led to a renewed interest in discussing the conflictive nature of this relationship.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 5. Democracy and Insecurity

Abstract
There can be no political order if some basic human needs are not satisfied first. Put very simply, people need to be able to eat, have shelter and feel safe so that they can enjoy the benefits of democracy. Without human security democracy will be at risk and lack of human security provides a formidable challenge to democracy. This chapter thus delves into the complex relationship between the realms of politics and insecurity. Human security, understood as the reduction of people’s vulnerability and uncertainty, is a multidimensional phenomenon (Nef, 1999: 23–26). It encompasses environmental, economic, social, political and cultural traits central to the realization of human dignity. However, the political dimension holds the key to the safeguarding of physical-environmental, economic, social and cultural “rights.” Politics, understood here in its most conventional sense — the “allocation of valuables” through “authoritative choices” (Easton, 1957) — constitutes the organizing principle of a community’s life. Without it, the realization of other forms of security could be impossible. The term authoritative is of crucial importance, as it means legitimate power, resting upon consensus. The alternative to authority is the display of force and violence to attain compliance.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 6. Poverty, Inequity and Democracy

Abstract
As we have stated in the previous chapter, democracy cannot be enjoyed if the security of the population is threatened. One particular aspect of insecurity which has a direct bearing for democracy, and its absence, is poverty. The term poverty here is not limited to the notion of relative or absolute deprivation: it also connotes the idea of inequity and skewed distribution of assets and liabilities. In fact, since sociocultural, economic and political inequities are closely interconnected, lack of democracy and political insecurity in general are closely and structurally related. The limitation of capabilities to satisfy expectations tends to raise the level and intensity of conflict among various sectors of society, enhancing the prevalence of authoritarian and abusive modes of conflict management, as discussed at the beginning of this book. Economic security, broadly defined as “non-poverty” is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the functioning of consensual popular rule. The key issue here is not solely equality and inequality of outcomes, important as they are, but access to the process whereby resources and possibilities are allotted. This chapter will thus take a closer look at poverty and inequity and how they impact democracy, challenging its meaningfulness and importance.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 7. Global Regimes, Governability and Democratization3

Abstract
The late-twentieth-century phenomenon often referred to as globalization involved a drastic reshaping of the overall structure of world politics, from rigid bipolarity to diffuse unipolarism. The East—West divide was replaced by a hub-and-spokes configuration whose centre was the United States and the other Group of 7 nations and whose periphery was a heterogeneous conglomerate of underdeveloped Third World and former Second World nations. The conventional view of three worlds of development, with an East—West and a North—South axis, had been replaced by a single but highly stratified conglomerate. This uneven neo-imperial system, which President George H. W. Bush christened the “New World Order,” (1991) meant a fundamental rearrangement of international regimes. It increased the ongoing erosion of national sovereignty, reducing the scope of the UN system and multilaterality in general, while enhancing the hegemonic role of the global financial institutions that define the rules of world politics, economics and culture skewed in favour of Western interests.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Chapter 8. Democracy, Authoritarianism and De-democratization

Abstract
Democracy, as we have argued in the preceding chapters, is not a good that can be easily achieved, inherited or even purchased. To the contrary, democracy is a constantly evolving social artefact: an idea posing new challenges and raising the bar of our expectations. At the same time that the democratic concept is evolving, real-life democratic practices are constantly being challenged within, outside, above and below the institutions of the state. This challenge occurs both at the macro and micro levels: in the international system, in communities, the workplace, and in face-to-face primary groups. How close we come to the ideal varies greatly and there certainly is no “golden path” to guarantee a workable and resilient democracy.
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter

Conclusion: The Crisis of Democracy Re-visited

Abstract
This exploration into what MacPherson (1966) termed “the real world of democracy” undertaken in the previous chapters suggests two possible generalizations. One is that democracy, especially substantive as opposed to merely showcase democracy, poses a challenge to the conservative nature of most socioeconomic regimes. This is the radical and revolutionary character of democracy. If democracy is not a fetish used to justify the status quo, the very equalitarian traits of “popular rule” would have a levelling effect on systems of socioeconomic inequity. In this sense, democracy as a social practice may contribute to the creation of a deliberative level playing field, chipping away at authoritarianism and arbitrary rule, leading to social and economic justice. Of course, the socioeconomic impact of democracy is dialectically conditioned by the multiplicity of circumstances we outlined in Chapter 1:
(a)
One is the existence of an adequate economic surplus to be distributed on the margin, vis-à-vis the aggregate level of social expectations.
 
(b)
Another is the historical and structural brokered pattern of mass—elite relations, permitting (or impeding) a sustained degree of accommodation and compromise between “haves” and “have-nots.” Cultural factors such as an acquired proclivity for consensus and legitimation also play a role.
 
(c)
Last, but not least, is the issue of sovereignty versus subordination. Distribution of surplus is possible to the extent that the ruling elites have some control over those resources that can be distributed. This sovereignty, in turn, re-enforces legitimacy, facilitating the consensual compliance of rules.
 
Jorge Nef, Bernd Reiter
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