As democracy of one kind or another is a feature of the modern world, it is easy to overlook the fact that arguments about the positive political significance of ‘the many’ have had a chequered career. Aristotle used the term ‘democracy’ to refer to a form of government that is necessarily unjust because it involves the exercise of political power by ordinary members of the population in their own, exclusive interests. Both he and Plato associated democracy with lawless and unstable rule and many of the unfavourable connotations that they attached to this form of government were accepted by their successors. Despite this persistent hostility, the history of political thought has been punctuated by the appearance of arguments that have sought to show that democratic (or ‘popular’) government is both just and beneficial. In arguing their case, proponents of rule by the many have had to show that exclusive claims made on behalf of the ‘one’ and the ‘few’ are incompatible with the effective pursuit of the ends of politics. It should be noted, however, that while arguments in favour of popular rule have often made a case for giving the many a significant formal role in politics, they have not always promoted exclusive control of the state by ‘the people’.
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- The Rule of the Many
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