Democracy

Democracy

Democracy is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation together determine policy, laws, and state actions.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the definition of democracy: its core qualities, and any controversy over those qualities

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The most common system that is deemed democratic in the modern world is parliamentary democracy in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a legislative assembly.
  • A purer form is direct democracy in which the voting public makes direct decisions or participates directly in the political process.
  • Elements considered essential to democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that citizens are adequately informed and able to vote according to their own best interests as they see them.
  • Majority rule is often listed as a characteristic of democracy. However, it is also possible for a minority to be oppressed by a tyranny of the majority in the absence of governmental or constitutional protections of individual or group rights.

Key Terms

  • egalitarian: Characterized by social equality and equal rights for all people.
  • civil society: All of the institutions, voluntary organizations, and corporate bodies that are less than the state but greater than the family.
  • Parliament: A democratic government’s legislature.

Democracy is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation together determine public policy, the laws, and the actions of their state. It requires that all citizens (meeting certain qualifications) have an equal opportunity to express their opinion. In practice, democracy is the extent to which a given system approximates this ideal. A given political system is referred to as a democracy if it allows a certain approximation to ideal democracy. Although no country has ever granted all its citizens (i.e. including minors) the vote, most countries today hold regular elections based on egalitarian principles, at least in theory.

The most common system that is deemed democratic in the modern world is parliamentary democracy in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a legislative assembly. The members of the assembly then make decisions with a majority vote. A purer form is direct democracy in which the voting public makes direct decisions or participates directly in the political process. Elements of direct democracy exist on a local level and in exceptions on the national level in many countries, although these systems coexist with representative assemblies.

The term democracy comes from the Greek word δ (dēmokratía), “rule of the people,” which was coined from δ (dēmos), “people,” and κ (kratia), “rule,” in the middle of the 5th-4th century BCE to denote the political systems then existing in some Greek city-states, notably Athens following a popular uprising in 508 BCE. Other cultures since Greece have significantly contributed to the evolution of democracy, such as Ancient Rome, Europe, and North and South America. The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment and in the American and French Revolutions. The right to vote has been expanded in many jurisdictions over time from relatively narrow groups (such as wealthy men of a particular ethnic group), with New Zealand the first nation to grant universal suffrage for all its citizens in 1893.

Elements considered essential to democracy include freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that citizens are adequately informed and able to vote according to their own best interests as they see them. The term “democracy” is often used as shorthand for liberal democracy, which may include elements such as political pluralism, equality before the law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and elements of civil society outside the government. Democracy is often confused with the republic form of government. In some definitions of republic, a republic is a form of democracy. Other definitions make republic a separate, unrelated term.

While there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, equality and freedom have both been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no unreasonable restrictions can apply to anyone seeking to become a representative, and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution.

According to some theories of democracy, popular sovereignty is the founding principle of such a system. However, the democratic principle has also been expressed as “the freedom to call something into being which did not exist before, which was not given … and which therefore, strictly speaking, could not be known. ” This type of freedom, which is connected to human natality, or the capacity to begin anew, sees democracy as “not only a political system… [but] an ideal, an aspiration, really, intimately connected to and dependent upon a picture of what it is to be human—of what it is a human should be to be fully human. ”

In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a central attribute, but in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the dominant principle is that of parliamentary sovereignty (whilst maintaining judicial independence). In other cases, democracy is used to mean direct democracy. Though the term “democracy” is typically used in the context of a political state, the principles are applicable to private organizations and other groups as well.

Majority rule is often listed as a characteristic of democracy. However, it is also possible for a minority to be oppressed by a tyranny of the majority in the absence of governmental or constitutional protections of individual or group rights. An essential part of an ideal representative democracy is competitive elections that are fair both substantively and procedurally.

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The French Revolution and the Birth of Democracy: This painting, called Le bivouac des sans-coulottes, depicts a scene from the French Revolution, which ushered in democracy in France.

Participatory Democracy

Participatory democracy emphasized the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems.

Learning Objectives

List the key qualities of participatory democracy and some of its historical manifestations

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Participatory democracy tends to advocate more involved forms of citizen participation than traditional representative democracy.
  • Participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision making, and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities.
  • In 8th and 7th century Ancient Greece, the informal distributed power structure of the villages and minor towns began to be displaced with collectives of Oligarchs seizing power as the villages and towns coalesced into city states.
  • Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of a law’s legitimacy.
  • Demarchy is a hypothetical system where government is heavily decentralized into smaller independent groups and where randomly selected decision makers have been chosen to govern, and each group is responsible for one or several functions in society.
  • Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of a law’s legitimacy.
  • Demarchy is a hypothetical system where government is heavily decentralized into smaller independent groups. Each group is responsible for one or several functions in society.

Key Terms

  • Demarchy: Demarchy (or lottocracy) is a form of government in which the state is governed by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected by sortition (lot) from a broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens.
  • Occupy movement: The Occupy movement is an international protest movement against social and economic inequality; its primary goal is to to make economic structure and power relations in society more fair.
  • deliberative democracy: Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision making. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the lawmaking processes.

Participatory democracy is a process emphasizing the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. The etymological roots of democracy (Greek demos and kratos) imply that the people are in power and, thus, that all democracies are participatory. However, participatory democracy tends to advocate more involved forms of citizen participation than traditional representative democracy. Participatory democracy strives to create opportunities for all members of a population to make meaningful contributions to decision making and seeks to broaden the range of people who have access to such opportunities.

Participatory democracy has been a feature of human society since at least classical times. It is believed to have been a common practice of undeveloped people and hunter-gatherer tribes. In seventh and eighth century ancient Greece, the informal distributed power structure of the villages and minor towns began to be displaced with collectives of oligarchs seizing power as the villages and towns coalesced into city-states. A brief period where a region was governed almost totally by participatory democracy occurred during the Spanish civil war, from 1936-1938, in the parts of Spain controlled by anarchist Republicans. In the 1960s, the promotion and use of participatory democracy was a major theme for elements of the American Left. In 2011, participatory democracy became a notable feature of the Occupy movement, with Occupy camps around the world making decisions based on the outcome of working groups where every protestor gets to have his say, and by general assemblies where the decisions taken by working groups are effectively aggregated together.

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Occupy Wall Street, Washington Square Park 2011: The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly meets in Washington Square Park for the first time on Saturday, October 8.

Political variants of participatory democracy include consensus democracy, deliberative democracy, demarchy, and grassroots democracy. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of a law’s legitimacy. It adopts elements of both consensus decision making and majority rule. When practiced by small groups, it is possible for decision making to be both fully participatory and deliberative. But for large political entities, the democratic reform dilemma makes it difficult for any system of decision making based on political equality to involve both deliberation and inclusive participation. Demarchy is a hypothetical system where government is heavily decentralized into smaller independent groups and where randomly selected decision makers have been chosen to govern, and each group is responsible for one or several functions in society. The system seeks to avoid problems with centralized and electoral governance, while still providing a stable democratic system.

Some scholars argue for refocusing the term on community-based activity within the domain of civil society, based on the belief that a strong non-governmental public sphere is a precondition for the emergence of a strong liberal democracy.

Monarchies and Liberal Democracies

Monarchies, in which sovereignty embodied in a single individual, eventually gave way to liberal democracies.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between an absolute monarchy and a constitutional monarchy

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • When the monarch has no or few legal restraints in state and political matters, it is called an absolute monarchy and is a form of autocracy.
  • Monarchies are associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule, in which monarchs rule for life (although some monarchs do not hold lifetime positions).
  • An absolute monarchy refers to when the monarch has no or few legal restraints in state and political matters.
  • In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch retains a unique legal and ceremonial role.
  • Throughout history, monarchies have been abolished, either through revolutions, legislative reforms, coups d’état, or wars.
  • Liberal democracy traces its origins—and its name—to the European 18th century, also known as the Age of Enlightenment.

Key Terms

  • Enlightenment: A 17th and 18th-century philosophical movement in European history; the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason emphasizing rationalism.
  • constitutional monarchy: A monarchy in which the monarch’s power is limited by a written constitution.
  • absolute monarchy: A state over which a sole monarch has absolute and unlimited power.

A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is actually or nominally embodied in a single individual, the monarch. A monarch that has few or no legal restraints in state and political matters is referred to as an absolute monarchy, a form of autocracy. Monarchies are associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule, in which monarchs rule for life (although some monarchs do not hold lifetime positions). Throughout history, monarchies have been abolished, either through revolutions, legislative reforms, coups d’état or wars. The twentieth century saw a major escalation of this process, with many monarchies violently overthrown by revolution or war, or abolished as part of the process of decolonization. The 21st century has already seen several monarchies abolished, usually by peaceful means in a referendum.

Monarchy was the most common form of government into the 19th century, but it is no longer prevalent, at least at the national level. Where it exists, it now often takes the form of constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch retains a unique legal and ceremonial role, but exercises limited or no political power pursuant to a constitution or tradition which allocates governing authority elsewhere. Currently, 44 sovereign nations in the world have monarchs acting as heads of state—16 of those are Commonwealth realms that recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state.

Liberal democracy traces its origins, and its name, to the European 18th century, also known as the Age of Enlightenment. At the time, the vast majority of European states were monarchies, with political power held either by the monarch or the aristocracy. Near the end of the 18th century, these ideas inspired the American and French Revolutions, the latter giving birth to the ideology of liberalism, and instituting forms of government that attempted to apply the principles of the Enlightenment philosophers into practice. Reforms and revolutions helped move most European countries towards liberal democracy. Liberalism ceased being a fringe opinion and joined the political mainstream.

The Spread of Liberal Democracy

Liberal democracy requires universal suffrage, competitive politics, and the rule of law and is currently the dominant world political ideology.

Learning Objectives

Defend the notion of liberal democracy using examples from its enlightenment origins

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Liberal democracy is a common form of representative democracy.
  • According to the principles of liberal democracy, elections should be free and fair, with the presence of multiple and distinct political parties.
  • The liberal democracies usually have universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote regardless of race, gender, or property ownership.
  • Liberal democracy traces its origins to the European 18th century, also known as the Age of Enlightenment.
  • The Enlightenment intellectuals believed that human affairs should be guided by reason and principles of liberty and equality. They were opposed to the rule of undemocratic and illegitimate monarchies and aristocracies.
  • Liberal democracies are currently the dominant form of political ideology in the modern world.
  • The rule of law refers to the concept that laws should apply to those who govern as well as to the governed.
  • The ideas of the Enlightenment inspired the American Revolution and the French Revolution, which gave birth to the ideology of liberalism.
  • Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, reforms and revolutions helped move most European countries towards liberal democracy.

Key Terms

  • the rule of law: The rule of law is a legal maxim whereby governmental decisions are made by applying known legal principles.
  • Enlightenment: A 17th and 18th-century philosophical movement in European history; the Age of Enlightenment or Age of Reason emphasizing rationalism.
  • liberalism: Any political movement founded on the autonomy and personal freedom of the individual, progress and reform, and government by law with the consent of the governed.

Liberal democracy is a common form of representative democracy. According to the principles of liberal democracy, elections should be free and fair, with the presence of multiple and distinct political parties. Liberal democracies also usually have universal suffrage, granting all adult citizens the right to vote.

Liberal democracy traces its origins—and its name—to the European 18th century, also known as the Age of Enlightenment. At the time, the vast majority of European states were monarchies, with political power held either by the monarch or the aristocracy. The possibility of democracy had not been seriously considered in political theory since classical antiquity, and the widely held belief was that democracies would be inherently unstable and chaotic in their policies due to the changing whims of the people. It was further believed that democracy was contrary to human nature, as human beings were seen to be inherently evil, violent, and in need of a strong leader to restrain their destructive impulses.

The Enlightenment

These conventional views were first challenged by a relatively small group of Enlightenment intellectuals who believed that human affairs should be guided by reason and principles of liberty and equality. They argued that all people are created equal, and therefore political authority cannot be justified on the basis of so-called noble blood, a supposed privileged connection to God, or any other characteristic alleged to make one person superior to others. They further argued that governments exist to serve the people, not vice versa, and that laws should apply to those who govern as well as to the governed, a concept known as the rule of law.

Reform and Revolution

Near the end of the 18th century, these ideas inspired the American Revolution and the French Revolution, the pair of which gave birth to the ideology of liberalism and instituted forms of government that attempted to apply the principles of Enlightenment philosophy in practice. The dominions of the British Empire became laboratories for liberal democracy from the mid-19th century onward. In Canada, responsible government began in the 1840s and in Australia and New Zealand parliamentary government elected by male suffrage and secret ballot was established from the 1850s and female suffrage achieved from the 1890s.

Reforms and revolutions helped move most European countries towards liberal democracy. Liberalism ceased to be a fringe opinion and joined the political mainstream. The political spectrum changed; traditional monarchy became more and more a fringe view and liberal democracy became more and more mainstream. By the end of the 19th century, liberal democracy was no longer only a liberal idea, but an idea supported by many different ideologies. After World War I and especially after World War II, liberal democracy achieved a dominant position among theories of government and is now endorsed by the vast majority of the political spectrum.

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Electoral Democracies: Countries highlighted in blue are designated “electoral democracies” in Freedom House’s 2010 survey Freedom in the World.

Democracy in the U.S.

The United States is a federal constitutional republic in which the federal government shares sovereignty with the state governments.

Learning Objectives

Diagram the basic form of the United States government, focusing on its branches and electoral system

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The executive branch is headed by the President and is independent of the legislature.
  • Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
  • The Judicial branch, which is composed of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, exercises judicial power.
  • Suffrage is nearly universal for citizens 18 years of age and older.
  • On a national level, the President is elected indirectly by the people through an Electoral College.
  • The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.
  • Special interest groups advocate the cause of their specific constituency.

Key Terms

  • legislative power: Legislative power refers to the power of a legislature, or deliberative assembly to pass, amend and repeal laws.
  • electoral college: The Electoral College consists of individual state appointed electors who formally elect the President and Vice President of the United States.
  • suffrage: The right or chance to vote, express an opinion or participate in a decision.

The United States is a federal constitutional republic in which the President of the United States (the head of state and government), Congress, and judiciary share powers reserved to the national government, and the federal government shares sovereignty with the state governments. The executive branch is headed by the President and is independent of the legislature.

Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The judicial branch, composed of the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, exercises judicial power. The judiciary’s function is to interpret the United States Constitution and federal laws and regulations. This includes resolving disputes between the executive and legislative branches. The federal government’s organization is explained in the Constitution.

In the United States, suffrage is nearly universal for citizens 18 years of age and older. All states and the District of Columbia contribute to the electoral vote for president. Unlike the United Kingdom and other similar parliamentary systems that directly choose a particular political party, Americans vote for a specific candidate. Within the federal government, officials are elected at the federal (national), state and local levels. On a national level, the President is elected indirectly by the people through an Electoral College. People vote for electors who pledge, in turn, to cast their electoral votes for a particular candidate. In modern times, the electors virtually always vote with the popular vote of their state. All members of Congress and offices at the state and local levels are directly elected.

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The United State Capitol Building: The United States congress meets in the Capitol.

The modern political party system in the United States is a two-party system dominated by the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. These two parties have won every United States presidential election since 1852, and have controlled the United States Congress since at least 1856. Periodically, several other third parties achieve relatively minor representation at the national and state levels. Among the two major parties, the Democratic Party generally positions itself as left-of-center in American politics and supports a liberal platform, while the Republican Party generally positions itself as right-of-center and supports a conservative platform.

Special interest groups advocate the social, economic, and political causes of their specific constituencies. Business organizations will favor low corporate taxes and restrictions of the right to strike, whereas labor unions will support minimum wage legislation and protection for collective bargaining. Other private interest groups, such as churches and ethnic groups, are more concerned about broader policy issues that can impact their organizations or their beliefs. The amount of money spent by these special interests continues to grow, as campaigns become increasingly expensive. Many Americans have the feeling that these wealthy interests, whether corporations, unions, or specially organized campaign finance organizations called Political Action Committees (PACs), are so powerful that ordinary citizens can do little to counteract their influence.

The Political Participation of Women

Women’s political participation has increased due to landmark events—women’s suffrage and the election of women to public office.

Learning Objectives

Break down the achievements and shortcomings of the battle for women’s rights in the U.S.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Women’s rights are entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies.
  • In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed.
  • Woman suffrage in the United States was achieved gradually, at state and local levels, during the 19th century and early 20th century, culminating in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
  • The Nineteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”.
  • The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed measure that stated that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” The amendment died in 1982 because not enough states had ratified it.
  • While women are generally as likely to vote as men in developed countries, women are underrepresented in political positions. Women make up a very small percentage of elected officials, both at local and national levels.

Key Terms

  • Equal Rights Amendment: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women.
  • Nineteenth Amendment: The amendment to the United States Constitution, passed in 1920, that gave women the right to vote.
  • suffrage: The right or chance to vote, express an opinion or participate in a decision.

Women’s rights are entitlements and freedoms claimed for women and girls of all ages in many societies. In some places these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others they may be ignored or suppressed. The women’s rights movement functions in response to an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls in favor of men and boys.

Women’s suffrage in the United States was achieved gradually, at state and local levels, during the 19th century and early 20th century, culminating in 1920 with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment stated, “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Politicians responded to the newly enlarged electorate by emphasizing issues of special interest to women—prohibition, child health, public schools, and world peace. Women responded to these issues, but in terms of general voting, they shared the same outlook and the same voting behavior as men.

In the United States, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was created in 1966 with the purpose of bringing about equality for all women. NOW was one important group that fought for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This amendment stated that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” But there was disagreement on how the proposed amendment would be understood. Supporters believed it would guarantee women equal treatment. But critics feared it might deny women the right be financially supported by their husbands. The amendment died in 1982 because not enough states had ratified it. ERAs have been introduced in subsequent sessions of Congress, but they have never been ratified.

While women are generally as likely to vote in developed countries, they are underrepresented in political positions. Women make up a very small percentage of elected officials, both at local and national levels. In the U.S., for instance, in the 109th Congress (2005-2007) there were only 14 female Senators (out of 100) and 70 Congressional Representatives (out of 435).

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Voting Women: Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh.

Theories of Democracy

Theories of democracy advocate different degrees of participation by the people with the government.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between parliamentary democracy, minimal democracy, direct democracy, radical democracy and deliberative democracy, and relate them to the concept of “true” democracy and freedom

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Democracy, or “rule by the people,” is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation determine public policy, the laws, and the actions of their state together, requiring that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion.
  • The most common system that is deemed “democratic” in the modern world is parliamentary democracy, in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a legislative assembly.
  • Theoretically, Aristotle contrasted rule by the many (democracy/polity) with rule by the few (oligarchy/aristocracy) and with rule by a single person (tyranny or today autocracy/monarchy).
  • Under minimalism, democracy is a system of government in which citizens give teams of political leaders the right to rule in periodic elections.
  • Direct democracy holds that citizens should participate directly in making laws and policies, and not do so through their representatives.
  • Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion.
  • Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion.
  • Radical democracy is based on the idea that there are hierarchical and oppressive power relations that exist in society

Key Terms

  • democracy: a system of rule by the people, especially as a form of government; either directly or through elected representatives
  • autocracy: A form of government in which unlimited power is held by a single individual.
  • deliberative democracy: Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy in which deliberation is central to decision making. Deliberative democracy differs from traditional democratic theory in that authentic deliberation, not mere voting, is the primary source of legitimacy for the lawmaking processes.
  • direct democracy: Direct democracy (or pure democracy) is a form of government in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives.

What Is A Democracy?

Democracy, or rule by the people, is an egalitarian form of government in which all the citizens of a nation determine public policy, the laws, and the actions of their state together. Democracy requires that all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion. In practice, democracy is the extent to which a given system approximates this ideal, and a given political system is referred to as a democracy if it allows a certain approximation to ideal democracy. Although no country has ever granted all its citizens the right to vote, most countries today hold regular elections based on egalitarian principles, at least in theory.

The most common system that is deemed democratic in the modern world is parliamentary democracy, in which the voting public takes part in elections and chooses politicians to represent them in a legislative assembly. The members of the assembly then make decisions with a majority vote. A purer form is direct democracy in which the voting public makes direct decisions or participates directly in the political process. Elements of direct democracy exist on a local level and, in exceptions, on the national level in many countries, though these systems coexist with representative assemblies.

Theoretically, Aristotle contrasted rule by the many (democracy/polity) with rule by the few (oligarchy/aristocracy) and with rule by a single person (tyranny or autocracy/monarchy). He also thought that there was a good and a bad variant of each system (he considered democracy to be the degenerate counterpart to polity). For Aristotle, the underlying principle of democracy is freedom, since only in a democracy can the citizens have a share in freedom. There are two main aspects of freedom: (1) being ruled and ruling in turn, since everyone is equal according to number, not merit, and; (2) to be able to live as one pleases.

Among political theorists, there are many contending conceptions of democracy:

Minimalist Democracy

Under minimalism, democracy is a system of government in which citizens give teams of political leaders the right to rule in periodic elections. According to this minimalist conception, citizens cannot and should not rule because, for example, on most issues, most of the time, they have no clear views or their views are not well-founded.

Direct Democracy

Direct democracy, on the other hand, holds that citizens should participate directly in making laws and policies, and not do so through their representatives. Proponents of direct democracy offer varied reasons to support this view, declaring that political activity can be valuable in itself, since it socializes and educates citizens, and popular participation can check powerful elites. Most importantly, according to this theory, citizens do not really rule themselves unless they directly decide laws and policies for themselves.

Deliberative Democracy

Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by discussion. Deliberative democrats contend that laws and policies should be based upon reasons that all citizens can accept. The political arena should be one in which leaders and citizens make arguments, listen, and change their minds.

Radical Democracy

Radical democracy is based on the idea that there are hierarchical and oppressive power relations that exist in society. Democracy’s role is to make visible and challenge those relations by allowing for difference, dissent, and antagonisms in the decision making processes.

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Aristotle: Aristotle was one of the first theorists of democracy.

Public Sphere and Civil Society

The public sphere is composed of voluntary associations that promote social capital and social cohesion while enhancing democracy.

Learning Objectives

Formulate an argument which advocates for a strong civil society based on the definitions of civil society in this text

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Civil society is the arena outside of the family, the state, and the market where people associate to advance common interests.
  • Voluntary associations build social capital, trust, and shared values, which are transferred into the political sphere and help to hold society together, facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness of society and interests within it.
  • Critics argue that the public sphere can be undemocratic, noting that civil society actors have now obtained a remarkable amount of political power without anyone directly electing or appointing them.
  • The public sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action.
  • The basic belief in public sphere theory is that political action is steered by the public sphere and that the only legitimate governments are those that listen to the public sphere.
  • The basic belief in public sphere theory is that political action is steered by the public sphere and that the only legitimate governments are those that listen to the public sphere.

Key Terms

  • Sphere of Public Authority: The Sphere of Public Authority is that of the state, the realm of the police, and the ruling class.
  • Public sphere: The public sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. It mediates between the private sphere and the Sphere of Public Authority.
  • Third sector: The voluntary sector or community sector (also non-profit sector or “not-for-profit” sector) is the sphere of social activity undertaken by organizations that are for non-profit and non-governmental. This sector is also called the third sector, in reference to the public sector and the private sector. Civic sector is another term for the sector, emphasizing the sector’s relationship to civil society.

Civil society is the arena outside of the family, the state, and the market where people associate to advance common interests. It is sometimes considered to include the family and the private sphere and then referred to as the third sector of society, distinct from government and business. Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon defines civil society as 1) the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens, or 2) individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government. Sometimes the term is used in the more general sense of “the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society. ”

Civil Society and Democratic Political Society

The literature on relations between civil society and democratic political society have their roots in early liberal writings like those of Alexis de Tocqueville. However, they were developed in significant ways by 20th century theorists like Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, who identified the role of political culture in a democratic order as vital. They argued that the political element of many voluntary organizations facilitates better awareness and a more informed citizenry, who make better voting choices, participate in politics, and hold government more accountable as a result. The statutes of these organizations have often been considered micro-constitutions because they accustom participants to the formalities of democratic decision making.

More recently, Robert D. Putnam has argued that even non-political organizations in civil society are vital for democracy. This is because they build social capital, trust, and shared values, which are transferred into the political sphere and help to hold society together, facilitating an understanding of the interconnectedness of society, and interests within it.

Others, however, have questioned how democratic civil society actually is. Some have noted that the civil society actors have now obtained a remarkable amount of political power without anyone directly electing or appointing them. It has also been argued that civil society is biased towards the global north. Partha Chatterjee has argued that, in most of the world, “civil society is demographically limited. ” For Jai Sen, civil society is a neo-colonial project driven by global elites in their own interests. Finally, other scholars have argued that, since the concept of civil society is closely related to democracy and representation, it should in turn be linked with ideas of nationality and nationalism.

The Public Sphere

The public sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action. It is “a discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment. ” The public sphere can be seen as “a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through the medium of talk” and “a realm of social life in which public opinion can be formed. ”

The public sphere mediates between the private sphere and the Sphere of Public Authority, “The private sphere comprised civil society in the narrower sense, that is to say, the realm of commodity exchange and of social labor. ” Whereas the Sphere of Public Authority dealt with the state, or realm of the police and the ruling class, the public sphere crossed over both these realms and “through the vehicle of public opinion it put the state in touch with the needs of society. ” “This area is conceptually distinct from the state: it [is] a site for the production and circulation of discourses that can in principle be critical of the state. ” The public sphere “is also distinct from the official economy; it is not an arena of market relations but rather one of discursive relations, a theater for debating and deliberating rather than for buying and selling. ” These distinctions between “state apparatuses, economic markets, and democratic associations…are essential to democratic theory. ” The people themselves came to see the public sphere as a regulatory institution against the authority of the state. The study of the public sphere centers on the idea of participatory democracy, and how public opinion becomes political action.

The basic belief in public sphere theory is that political action is steered by the public sphere and that the only legitimate governments are those that listen to the public sphere. “Democratic governance rests on the capacity of and opportunity for citizens to engage in enlightened debate. ” Much of the debate over the public sphere involves what is the basic theoretical structure of the public sphere, how information is deliberated in the public sphere, and what influence the public sphere has over society.

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Elks Lodge in Ashland, Wisconsin: Voluntary associations, such as Elks Clubs, make up the public sphere.