Introduction to Political Theory

(Marvins-Underground-K-12) #1

Chapter 5



It is very difficult to find anyone who disagrees with democracy these days.
Politicians from the extreme left to the extreme right insist that the politics
which they support is democratic in character, so it is no wonder that the term
is so confusing. Although fundamentalists may reject the notion of democracy,
nobody else does, and whether the ruler is a military dictator, a nationalist
demagogue or a liberal, the concept of democracy will be piously invoked in
support of an argument.
So in asking what democracy is, we also have to address the question as to
why it has become almost obligatory for politicians to claim adherence to the

Chapter map

In this chapter we will explore why:

  • Democracy has been more and more
    widely acclaimed from almost all
    sections of the political spectrum, so
    that it has become increasingly
    confusing as a concept.

  • Liberals traditionally opposed
    democracy, even if the universal
    assumptions of their theory led their
    opponents to argue that liberalism was
    democratic in character.

  • Liberals only reluctantly converted to
    democracy in the nineteenth century,
    and then only on the assumption that
    extending the franchise would not
    undermine the rights of property.

  • After the Second World War politics
    was seen as the business of a
    decision-making elite, and participation
    by the masses was discouraged.

    • Democracy involves both direct
      participation and representation, and
      representation needs to be based on a
      sense that the representative can
      empathise with the problems of their

    • There is a tension between democracy
      and the concept of the state, and this
      creates problems for Held’s case for a
      ‘cosmopolitan democracy’.

    • The question of the state helps to
      account for the confusions about the
      polity in ancient Greece, and among
      conservative critics of liberalism.

    • A relational view of democracy enables
      us to tackle the ‘tyranny thesis’, and to
      defend the rational kernel of political

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