International Endowment for Democracy ���or��￁

Democracy: More or Less

By Frank Cunningham
From Democracy and Socialism, Cambridge University Press, 1987. Chapter 3: pp 25-54.

In Democracy, Ideology, and Objectivity, Arne Naess and others list the 311 definitions of 'democracy' they found in surveying literature from Plato's time to the 1950s.1 Reading these definitions and considering subsequent ones, it is clear that, like all politically important definitions, they conflate reports of usage and prescriptions. One reason for this is that most definitions regard democracy in a 'substantive' way, that is, as a quality which social or political phenomena either entirely have or lack. Political theorists who both value democracy and think of it substantively will want definitions congruous with the social and political arrangements they favour. As a result the definitions will be value laden.2

A contrasting approach is that democracy is always a matter of degree. Instead of asking whether something is or is not democratic, one should ask how democratic it is. On this view political theorists ought to seek definitions of the phrase 'more democratic.' Accordingly, this chapter sketches an informal definition of 'A is more democratic than B,' draws out some consequences of the definition, and contrasts it with approaches that fragment the concept of democracy into kinds.

  1. 'A Is More Democratic Than B'

    'A' and 'B' stand for social units, that is, collections of people in which the actions of at least one person��directly or indirectly, deliberately or unintentionally��affect at least one other person. A household, the inhabitants of a city, a university, a state, a neighbourhood, the workers in a plant, or the secretaries and clerks in an office are all social units. Indeed, the entire world is a social unit, as are such collectives as the passengers on a bus between two stops. Though the term 'more democratic' is not value laden, a value judgment is implicated in employing a degrees-of-democracy approach.

    A sufficiently general definition should make it possible to compare different types of social units (some work place and some university, for example), to compare different units of the same type (two different universities), or to compare the same social unit at different times (a university before and after a change in its governing structure or a country before and after a socialist revolution). Comparing the degrees of democracy of the same unit at different times is the least problematic: one is clearly comparing comparables. This might be thought a good reason to regard democracy substantively, since then any two units can be as easily compared as any other two by ascertaining what democracy-constituting qualities each has or lacks. The present work does not consider this an important advantage.

    What makes pursuit of democratic theory worthwhile is its potential for helping to increase democracy in one's own social units. The substantive approach lends itself to the fruitless activity of hurling brickbats at others. While it is sometimes desirable to make cross-unit comparisons, these should be guided by concern to increase democracy in one's own backyard. Thus a Canadian might fruitfully compare state enterprises, cooperatives, workers' self-managed firms, tripartite corporatism, and paternalistic capitalism in, respectively, the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Sweden, and Japan with an eye to prescribing changes in the organization of work in Canada. Or one might ask what political parties can learn about internal democracy from the women's or students' movements.

    Somebody comparing degrees of democracy requires standards of comparison, and thus a definition of 'more democratic' is indispensable. This involves some thorny problems, but as a first approximation the following characterization illustrates what is involved in regarding democracy as a comparative concept. To say that the social unit 'A' is more democratic than 'B' is to say that:

    1. proportionately more people in A have control over their common social environment than do people in B; and/or
    2. people in A have control over proportionately more aspects of their social environment than do people in B; and/or
    3. the aspects of their social environment over which people in A have control are more important from the point of view of democracy than those over which people in B have control.

    While they may differ about its desirability, members of a university community would surely agree that, other things being equal, a situation in which faculty, students, and support staff contribute to university decisions is more democratic than one in which only administrators have this ability. A state with effective popular input to both domestic and foreign policies must be recognized (or would be if any existed) as more democratic than one where this input is restricted to domestic matters. Even though clerks and secretaries in two offices may participate in making the same number of decisions, the office in which those decisions extend to the governing structure of the business would be thought (barring the bizarre circumstances some philosophers are good at dreaming up) to be more democratic than one where instead of this ability there is only the power to determine the location of coffee machines.

  2. Specifications and Defences

    The proffered definition, rough though it is, should suffice to indicate how democracy might be considered a matter of degree. Fully to explicate the definition would be a considerable task involving contested issues of decision theory and philosophical psychology. In this respect the notion of degrees of democracy is like any key concept of political theory, including the more traditional, substantive ones. Without suggesting that they are more than first steps toward sharpening and defending the idea of 'more democratic,' this section makes some observations for these purposes.


    As the term is used here, a person has 'control' over something when what that person wishes to happen to it does happen in virtue, at least in part, of actions he or she has taken with this end in view. Many democratic theorists think that when talking of control in connection with democracy, one must specify the channels through which control may be exercised (for instance, elected parliaments, referenda, political party structures, and so on) or the degree of directness of people's involvement (for example, to insist that people actively participate in all facets of governance rather than allowing elected officials to make some decisions). Standard 'substantive' approaches make some such specifications definitive of 'democracy.' By contrast, the 'degrees-of-democracy approach' prescribes sorting channels of control and degrees of involvement by estimating what is likely to make progress in democracy in local circumstances, without identifying any such channels or sorts of involvement as essentially democratic.

    The reason for not identifying institutional or other means by which control might be achieved as essential for it to be democratic is that these means are highly context bound and indefinite in number. No attempt to specify in advance of actual efforts to expand popular control those means which are truly democratic could account for all the contingencies, and the attempt could discourage innovation. A similar point may be made about degrees of involvement. At one extreme, people may be said partly to control an outcome when their 'activity' is no more than to refrain from inhibiting someone else from doing it. At another extreme, people may be directly involved in all stages of whatever process is needed to secure the outcome.3

    One more possible misgiving about this characterization of control is that the content of the preferences of those said to have control is not specified. Some democratic theorists fear that a decision issuing from some preferences might be out of accord with what one conceives of as democratic because it does not have a 'socially acceptable' outcome4 or because the preferences are not 'enlightened.'5 In the first case people realize a state of affairs that one wishes to call undemocratic (office workers vote for coffee machines as a trade-off cleverly designed by the employer to bar them from future voice in office government). In the second situation they are mistaken about what will satisfy them (they vote for guns and later wish they had voted for butter).

    The view adopted here is that individuals exercise control insofar as they succeed in making things conform to their preferences at the time they wish them thus to conform, whatever their preferences then are. The phrase 'democratic control' will be used to refer to exercise of control in one time and place that facilitates securing more control for yet more people in other times and places or at the very least does not inhibit these things. In general, this is how the characterization of values or institutions as being simply democratic or undemocratic is interpreted in this work. For example, the statement that electoral politics in a modern society constitutes a 'democratic institution' means that normally a modern society with provisions to elect representatives is more democratic than one without them. That this is in keeping with the ways most people talk of democracy is indicated by the fact that many who agree with this judgment also recognize that the possibility of electing government officials every few years does not guarantee very much in the way of popular democratic control.

    Participation. Someone would have 'sole control' over an environment if all aspects of that environment susceptible to human control were brought about by that person's actions and were in accord with his or her preferences. Such a person would be a complete dictator, but it is unlikely that any social unit could be a complete dictatorship. In all except the shortest-lived social units, one person's control will be constrained by attempts of others to exercise control. 'Dictatorial' mechanisms are ones designed by would-be dictators to monopolize in their own hands means of control over a social environment they share with others.

    Democrats are more ambitious. They seek means of control over a shared environment which many people employ, each in an attempt to make the environment conform to his or her wishes.6 The activity of employing such means may be called 'participation,' of which there are many varieties. Voting in elections or referenda might be a form of participation, but so might talking through an issue until consensus is reached, joining a strike or demonstration, or empowering someone to make decisions. Depending on the circumstances, some of these activities will be more likely man others to enable (or at least not impede) an increasingly large number of people to exert control over increasing aspects of their shared environment. Hence, as in the case of 'control,' we can describe participation as being more or less democratic.

    Participation in which each participant has equal access to relevant means of control will usually be more democratic than participation in which there is unequal access, and majority-rule voting is almost certain to be a more democratic form of participation than empowering one person to make decisions for everyone else. Chapter Four shows why 'anonymous majority' rule, which involves these things, is conducive to democratic control; however, a degrees-of-democracy approach cannot condone the laying down of exceptionless rules about such matters. There may be circumstances where unequal access in the form of weighted voting, for instance, constitutes more democratic participation than otherwise. Similarly, as Carl Cohen and other theorists point out, it is a mistake simply to identify democracy with majority rule, as elected minority governments would then be no more democratic than an autocracy and insisting on consensus on democratic grounds would be ruled out.7

    More generally, it is a mistake to define 'democracy' by exclusive reference to participation, as in Cohen's own definition: 'Democracy is that system of community government in which, by and large, the members of a community participate, or may participate, directly or indirectly, in the making of decisions which affect them all.'8 To square this definition with the degrees-of-democracy approach employed here, it must be specified (contrary to Cohen) that not all members of a social unit need be able to participate in decisions for there to be some degree of democracy, though a unit in which participation is available to everyone will most likely be more democratic than one where it is not. It must also be specified (in accord with Cohen) that 'community government' include informal as well as formal means for making social decisions and that participation requires engaging in activity that has a realistic chance of success in making something conform to participants' preferences. When voting is a sham, it makes no sense to talk of it as a form of participation in means of control, much less as 'democratic participation.'

    Thus qualified, it can be agreed that for there to be any measure of democracy at all, means of control over a social environment which (at least some) people may 'participate' in employing must be available. Some democratic theorists raise another problem here. They note that means for making social decisions may inhibit the satisfaction of first preferences. The outcome of a majority vote, for example, may be to implement a policy that is the first preference of nobody, because all those who voted for it compromised their first choices to avoid being in a minority position. This matter is studied as an abstract problem of social decision theory (in addressing paradoxes of constrained choice) and by political theorists such as Robert Dahl and Anthony Downs who note the way that political parties are obliged to compromise their most favoured policies to win votes.9 Chapter Four will take up the question of whether these considerations invalidate the notion of 'democratic decision.'

    Perfect Democracy. In characterizing 'control' and 'participation,' it does not seem damaging to recognize that a mechanism for participating in a social choice (majority rule, weighted voting, negotiated agreement, and so on) can sometimes interfere with reaching a result in accord with the first preferences of some or all participants. In a 'perfect democracy' means of control would always enable everyone to participate in bringing about a social environment at least 'acceptable' to each. An acceptable outcome may not conform to everyone's or even anyone's first preference, but, as the term is used here, people must be able to live with the outcome, that is, they must prefer it to any alternative outcome that would jeopardize retaining future participation at least of the level they already enjoy. An outcome is 'unacceptable' when changing it to accord with a person's first preferences is more important to that person than maintaining the cooperative institutions and cultural attitudes under which increasing numbers of people will be able to enjoy control over their lives.

    In a social unit comprised of people who are both very selfish and very shortsighted, few outcomes would be acceptable. In this society, progress in democracy would be most difficult to achieve. In a social unit whose members are either so timid or have so few aspirations that a society affording them very little control is nonetheless acceptable, perfect democracy would be too easily achieved. In the first society, prescriptions for making progress in democracy would be impractical; in the second, extrademocratic norms would be the important ones by which to prescribe social policy. In neither society would there be much use for the labour of democratic theorists. I shall assume, however, that the pictures of human nature in these imagined societies are unrealistic, despite the popularity in some circles of theories advancing them as normal.

    In a society acceptable to all but where not everyone's first preferences are satisfied, a number of different combinations of preference satisfactions will be possible (half the population have their first preferences satisfied and half their third; everyone's second preference is satisfied; and so on). A well-known problem of ethical theory is to find principles for adjudicating among different combinations of this sort, for instance to decide whether it is better to maximize average satisfaction or to minimize the distance between the most and the least satisfied. Anyone concerned with political theory and practice will want to address this problem, but the task specifically pertinent to democracy is restricted to ascertaining what distribution of satisfactions would best promote progress toward enduring and world-wide perfect democracy. (Chapter Six argues for equality in this connection.)


    Maybe the concept of perfect democracy employed here has, in Aristotle's phrase, 'as much clearness as the subject matter admits of,' but there are alternative conceptions, and it is unlikely that this one could not be improved upon.10 Democratic theorists persuaded by the 'degrees' approach are invited, indeed urged, to strengthen some such concept, since it plays important prescriptive and descriptive roles. Thus, the notion of perfect democracy will be used to address what any reader will have seen as a problematic feature of the definition of 'more democratic.' Suppose that one social unit is more democratic than another regarding the number of aspects over which people have control, but less democratic regarding the number of people who have it. Or suppose there is disagreement over what counts as 'important.' How can one determine which social unit is more democratic? The notion of perfect democracy makes this a surmountable definitional problem, though it undoubtedly shifts the burden to difficult tasks of social research.

    In a postulated perfect democracy everybody always participates in employing means of control sufficient to make their shared society at least acceptable to each of them. It is unlikely that any such society could ever exist, but this does not prevent ranking alternatives by estimating progress toward perfect democracy. For example, it is probably more important for office workers to have control over the governing structure of the office than over placement of coffee machines, since the former opens up many more possibilities for increasing control over other aspects of their lives at the office and perhaps outside of it as well. It should be emphasized that positing this criterion does not eliminate the problem of making democratic comparisons,11 but it situates it. Making actual determinations will be the hard, rough edged, often tentative work typical of any political research and practice that aspires to more than sophisticated name calling.

    Similar considerations apply to the problem of social units that overlap so that increasing democracy in one unit decreases it in another. Robert Dahl confronts this 'dilemma' of democracy when he asks whether there is an ideal size of democratic government, for instance, the world or the nation state.12 Given the interdependencies of the world's communities the problem Dahl raises needs to be addressed. Any nation and the world are overlapping social units, and an increase in control of people in one of them will in some cases decrease control in the other. Using the criterion of progress in democracy in ascertaining what balance would maximize progress toward world-wide perfect democracy would be difficult, but not impossible.

    Nor, it might be noted, would it be biased in favour of the macro entity, since arguably either relative microdemocracy, being easier to sustain, is more secure than macrodemocracy, or a high level of democracy in the micro unit is necessary to make supplemental democracy in the macro one possible. This view is held by the nonaligned nations in the United Nations, who argue that national self-determination is compatible with a strengthened role for the U.N. Examples of other trade-offs involving overlapping social units come quickly to mind, and a test of this work's approach is to see whether it situates debates about them more usefully than a substantive approach to democracy.13


    A consequence of combining a degrees-of-democracy approach h one that places no limits on the scope of democracy is that democracy permeates humanity. The point is approached by John Dewey: 'Regarded as an idea, democracy is not an alternative to other principles of associated life. It is the idea of community life itself.'14 Expressed as a matter of degree (as Dewey also does), there is no society of humans, no social unit, that contains no degree of democracy whatsoever.

    This raises another problem. When we think of ancient despotic empires, modern authoritarian dictatorships, the Boss Tweed city government, or the typical patriarchal family, among too many other examples, it runs against our intuitions to view them as containing any democracy, and we are tempted to seek a threshold below which something is simply void of democracy. The alternate solution is to recognize the presence of some measure of democracy even in autocracy. Perhaps this was in the young Marx's mind when he described democracy as 'the truth of monarchy.'15 It is also a theme implicit in Gramscian analyses, which regard the state as 'hegemony protected by the armour of coercion.'16 For Gramsci, no society is dominated by a ruling clique maintained in power only because it is feared by the entire population. Rather, even in the most despotic societies there is a measure of active support by a minority, and there is passive acceptance by larger sectors who believe there are compensating advantages to themselves and no realistic alternative.

    In acknowledging patently antidemocratic situations to be partially democratic, we are addressing the 'paradox of dictatorial democracy.' However, this paradox depends for its force on viewing democracy substantively and not as a complex process. On the contrasting degrees-of-democracy view it is unlikely that any social unit will be absolutely democratic, though each will approximate an ideal perfect democracy to some degree. By the same token, each will also approximate absolute undemocracy to some degree. Examples of absolute undemocracies are an ant hill or Hades, and while there may be autocrats who have fantasies about presiding these ways over human societies��countries, schools, families, and so on��and may even do their best to achieve this, full success in such ignoble ventures is probably also impossible.

    Recognizing that any social unit simultaneously approximates full democracy and full undemocracy helps explain how people can legitimately accept as democratic things like parliamentary electoral systems lacking accountability between elections or single party political systems. To a certain extent they are democratic. It also suggests that those who passively accept autocracy are not necessarily to be branded as irredeemable antidemocrats. And it reminds the prodemocrat that it is always possible to continue expanding democracy. Recognition that democracy is in one way 'the human condition' is no cause for complacency when one also recognizes that so is a measure of undemocracy, and, worthy as democracy is, there is not very much of it in today's world.

  3. Kinds of Democracy (Ideal)

    We can now examine the widespread view that there are 'kinds' of democracy. Reasons for being wary of this view were given in Chapter One: it removes an important standard of comparison and encourages making favoured systems democratic by definition. To this might be added that taking this approach is tantamount to rejecting socialist retrieval of liberal democracy; if there are good reasons to favour retrieval these will also be reasons against fragmenting democracy into kinds.17

    Some socialists have been vocal critics of the 'fragmentist' perspective on democracy. Nicos Poulantzas, for example, considers Lenin's counterposing of representative and direct democracy a major step toward Stalinism,18 and Alain Touraine maintains that those 'who oppose real democracy to formal democracy, proletarian liberties to bourgeois liberties, only show that they are either foreign or hostile to democracy.'19 Still, fragmentist positions are held by many theorists whose commitment to democracy is hard to question. In fact Touraine, himself, in a different work, might well hold the record in listing eight kinds of democracy.20 It is unlikely that such apparent contradictions are mere oversights. Rather, it is difficult not to classify 'democracies' when one surveys the vast array of measures, institutions, mechanisms, and attitudes all said to be democratic.21

    An advantage of a degrees-of-democracy approach is in taking account of this diversity without purchasing the disadvantages of fragmentism. When viewing democracy as a matter of degree, things said to constitute kinds of democracy will be recognized as important features of the social and political world to be evaluated by seeing how far they advance or impede progress in democracy. Before contrasting this orientation with standard left-wing fragmentist attempts, the view that 'democracy' must be sorted into radically different ways of conceptualizing collective decision-making will be examined. This will also serve further to sharpen the notion of perfect democracy.


    Some political theorists distinguish between democracy as a forum for negotiation among self-interested individuals and as a way of generating cooperation and consensus. This distinction parallels that between the concepts of a social contract held by Hobbes and Rousseau, and many contemporary theorists relate their views to one or the other of these conceptions. Alan Ryan puts the point in terms of conflicting conceptions of human nature: 'If two conceptual schemes depict man as on the one hand a private being, a consumer who comes into the market for goods, whose behaviour is to be understood in contractual and bargaining terms, and on the other hand as an agent, a being whose need is to make the world conform to plans he shares or as a member of a community, then it is no wonder that we are still in difficulties about simple questions, such as whether we live in a democracy.'22 Similar to this distinction are Macpherson's between the 'possessive individual23 and Barber's between democracy as a 'multilateral bargaining association' and as a force to create 'democratic community.'24

    A related distinction is that between democracy thought of as an arena for conflict management and as a means for maintaining social order. Brian Barry sorts democratic theorists into these two categories, which he calls the 'economic' and the 'sociological' approaches,25 and the distinction was central to debates among the Pluralist theorists.26 If the peace-keeping sort of democracy is one which promotes consensus, and if consensus requires community spirit, then this distinction comes close to the others, and some theorists seem to identify it with one of them.27 But as Barry discusses the distinction, it rather describes points on a scale such that democracy 'sociologically' conceived has some features of negotiation and some of community building. From a degrees-ofdemocracy perspective the notion that there is a scale will be more attractive than the notion of kinds. It allows the antifragmentist to consider 'kinds' of democracy mechanisms for collective self-determination, some facilitating negotiation, some the building of community spirit.


    It might be argued against this approach that it tries to combine Hobbesian and Rousseauean political prescriptions, thus illegitimately mixing radically different concepts of human nature. This charge must be taken seriously by the degrees-of-democracy advocate.28 One could meet it by entering the time-honoured debate over whether people are basically selfish, altruistic, both, or neither. For our purposes, people are assumed to be not so selfish as to make democratic progress impossible. However, instead of defending this assumption, the approach taken here expands its grounds for justifying political prescriptions. It will be recalled that these prescriptions require estimating what would constitute progress toward a world of perfect democracy. To the question about what kind of world this would be, there are two classic answers which I shall label 'the harmonious negotiation forum' and 'the global community.'

    In the negotiation forum conflict exists, but it is always possible to resolve disputes to the satisfaction of each party. What happens will not be in accord with everyone's first preferences, but the outcome will always be at least 'acceptable' to everyone. People will agree to disagree on some matters, but will strive nonetheless to maintain peaceful means for cooperating in the pursuit of whatever goals they share (even if this is just to keep distance from each other). In the global community there is no conflict to be resolved. Consensus will have been reached, where each will have been won over to a common point of view and the outcome of social decisions will be in accord with everyone's first preferences. Unlike Hobbes himself, the optimistic Hobbes Ian thinks human ingenuity and foresight can find approximations to harmonious negotiation mechanisms; the Rousseauean communitarian believes that a human disposition to make the interests of others one's own can be developed.

    One might ask of each world whether it is desirable as a goal. Objections come readily to mind: the negotiation forum inhibits efforts to reach consensus; the global community rules out anyone being a rebel. What is more, the coherence of each as a pure model is questionable. As Jurgen Habermas has argued, negotiation, like speech, supposes some measure of consensus.29 In particular, every individual in the forum would have to place more value on trying to reach a negotiated agreement than on any other goal, and it is hard to imagine a forum that would allow harmonious resolution of dispute over whether this measure of consensus should persist. It is also hard to imagine a society of complete and persisting consensus where everyone had an overriding preference that others' first preferences not be thwarted. The resulting situation would be that of the four friends in the satirical review 'Beyond the Fringe,' who spend time at a restaurant asking of each other30

    Maybe one of these models can be fixed to meet such objections, but there is an alternative: to describe an ideal perfectly democratic society that conjoins both consensus and negotiation. In this society:

    there are ways of acceptably negotiating disagreement, or else there is universal consensus, provided that negotiation does not sociologically or institutionally block the possibility of reaching consensus in the future and consensus is not reached in a way that sociologically or institutionally inhibits future negotiation should there come to be a failure to reach or maintain consensus.

    Objections to the global community and the negotiation forum as unmixed models are muted when adopting the mixed one. No doubt some advocates of the global community will resist the criterion on the grounds that allowing mechanisms for negotiations might discourage effort to reach consensus, and an advocate of the negotiation forum might think that always allowing for future consensus inhibits negotiation by encouraging hasty compromise.

    Considerations of real-life approximations suggest that these elements of the model may be complementary rather than at odds. The negotiator (for example, in collective bargaining) who always leaves open the possibility of reaching consensus can be shown to be better as a negotiator than one who does not, because areas of potential agreement are found that might otherwise be overlooked and because discovering some areas of consensus puts him or her in a stronger position to press for concessions in other areas. Similarly, members of a consensus-based community, such as a living commune, who allow the possibility of negotiation avoid all-or-nothing situations where the community might break up when it need not. The existence of means for negotiation thus facilitates efforts to reach consensus by allowing open expression of differences without fear on anyone's part of putting the community in jeopardy.

    Somebody using this criterion to decide which of two or more comparable social/political arrangements is the most democratic would estimate which struck the best balance among: reaching consensus, effective negotiation, keeping open possibilities for consensus, and protecting future negotiation. Determining what constitutes the 'best balance' requires both quantitative estimates (for instance, about the number of tradeoffs that would have to be made among the variables) and historical considerations about preferences for some ordering of variables by members of the social unit involved or their ability to implement a prescription.

    The idea of a mixed-mode perfect democracy is formal to the extent that it does not specify the content of preferences, and it does not specify exactly what form structures for negotiation must take. A limitation on its formality is that in the perfect democracy there would at least have to be consensus on the desirability of maintaining ways harmoniously to resolve conflict. This specification is arguably less ad hoc in the mixed-mode, which allows both consensus and conflict, than in a nonmixed one, but it nonetheless constitutes a limit on the model's formality. Also mixed-mode perfect democracy likely shares with all attempts to describe an ideal society a failure in completeness.31 Though I have not tried to do it, I am sure that situations can be imagined where appeal to perfect democracy would fail to produce a unique prescription.

    How serious these problems are depends on how many real-life situations match the imagined ones and how important it is for people to have a complete decision procedure.32 An hypothesis of this chapter is that some such mixed-model criterion will be more realistically employable than an unmixed one. This hypothesis can be tested, and perhaps in its testing readers skilled at ideal model construction and sympathetic to the degrees-of-democracy approach can think of ways to improve on mixed-mode democracy. Now, however, it is time to examine some fragmentist approaches which concern themselves with the nonideal world.

  4. Kinds of Democracy (Real)

    While any democratic theorist must no doubt presuppose a stance on ideal democracy, most defenders of the fragmentist approach explicitly discuss actual political practices. The two main candidates are those pairing kinds of democracy with economic classes and those making a radical distinction between representative and direct democracy. Though often collapsed, these distinctions are treated separately in this section.


    The most common socialist view distinguishes between capitalist or bourgeois democracy, on the one hand, and socialist or proletarian democracy, on the other. In their book, Democracy, Cohen and Rogers maintain: 'Capitalist democracy is neither just capitalism, nor just democracy, nor just some combination of the two that does not change its component parts. Indeed even to think of such separate "parts" is to miss the vital integrity of the system.'33 Later in the same work they write: 'A democratic society is an ongoing order characterized in the first instance by a certain principle of justification, or principle of democratic legitimacy (PDL). The PDL requires that individuals he free and equal in determining the conditions of their association.'34 Then they list conditions for the PDL, concluding that 'for its realization, democracy requires the abolition of capitalism.'35

    Taken literally the passage defining the PDL entails that capitalist democracy is not democracy at all, something denied in the first quoted passage. If one interprets 'realization' to mean 'full realization,' democracy becomes a matter of degree, but this interpretation opens the door to distinguishing the relatively democratic and the relatively undemocratic 'parts' of capitalism. The alternative is to say that capitalist democracy is one kind of democracy and democracy in accord with the PDL another. Reasons given by socialist theorists for thus fragmenting democracy do not justify this drastic move.

    Cohen and Rogers themselves give two sorts of reasons. One is that capitalism is able successfully to constrain the 'resources' necessary for noncapitalists to make use of formal freedoms and equalities.36 The argument is well-known and well-taken. Rich and poor alike, as Anatole France put it, are prohibited from sleeping under bridges. The millionaire and the welfare recipient may both run for public office. People can get the information required for effective political involvement from any newspaper or TV station in their city. And so on. The second reason Cohen and Rogers give is that capitalism constrains 'demand,' by creating needs in people (for short-term, mainly material satisfaction) that it can satisfy and by making it arduous to pursue satisfaction of other needs.37

    Neither of these observations is incompatible with an antifragmentist position. Arguing more radically than Cohen and Rogers, someone might claim regarding the first observation that a capitalist society allowing formal rights is worse than one that denies them. At least the gloves are off. People know where they stand and are not deluded into thinking they have any control over their lives. A less radical interpretation sees formal rights as having the potential for challenging capitalist constraints on substantive freedoms and equality. Both interpretations are consistent with a degrees-of-democracy approach. The radical view sees the existence of formal rights as an impediment to progress in democracy rather than as somehow constituting one kind of it. The tempered interpretation sees institutional protection of rights as a potential democratic advance.

    The argument about demand constraint also can be taken more or less strongly. In its strongest version capitalism is a functionally closed system creating people all of whose preferences will be realized within the system. A contrasting interpretation, that of Marx and probably of Cohen and Rogers, holds that capitalism creates contradictory preferences, sonic of which do not support it. Marx and Engels argued that capitalism frees people from constraining traditions and both necessitates and engenders collectivist and eventually revolutionary values by socializing work and compelling workers to form defensive organizations like trade unions.38 There is clearly no problem reconciling this view with a degrees-of-democracy approach. Capitalism is seen to be more or less democracy inhibiting, depending on whether and how it digs its own grave. A nonfragmentist approach is also compatible with capitalism's being perfectly self-sustaining, but this is a more problematic case.


    A social system would be completely 'closed' if it produced all and only those preferences that it also satisfies. It is unlikely that any system could ever be thus closed. For one thing the resulting social unit could not overlap with any other units in such a way as to thwart preferences in them. Moreover, the closed system would either have to be void of preferences for calling its own closedness into question or somehow allow them while remaining closed. In the first case there would be nobody to raise the objections considered here, and in the second case there would be nobody to complain about such 'repressive tolerance,' as this could not be viewed as repressive.

    Sometimes the thoroughly 'bureaucratized' society is thought a closed system and, as Max Weber argued, there do seem to be mechanisms in modern societies that condition people to be willing participants in the bureaucratic hierarchies that permeate their lives.39 Addressing this problem, John Keane maintains that bureaucratic control undermines itself by requiring active political participation on the part of depoliticized citizens.40 Keane's point suggests yet another reason to doubt that a social system could ever be completely closed. It is unlikely that any system permitting people to act in accord with their wills could also contain will manipulating mechanisms that never thwarted at least some of the aspirations people may come to have.

    The fragmentist might, at this point, weaken the requirements for closedness and appeal to a 'quasiclosed' system which produces and satisfies all the preferences of a large majority. Here there would be dissenters, but they could never carry the day against a robotized majority. One reason to doubt the views of many North American socialists that they live in a quasiclosed system is that this does not explain the existence of these socialists themselves. Unless all of them are direct descendants of survivors (somehow ghettoized through the generations) of the Haymarket Police Riot or the Winnipeg General Strike, some must have come from largely uncritical, antisocialist backgrounds which they successfully challenged.

    Assuming this socialist is not to be viewed a freak of nature, a luckily superior being, it must surely be allowed that the populace from which he or she comes is not, after all, divided in the mass/elite way a quasiclosed system would require. Moreover, there is an alternative way to regard North American political culture, namely in terms of there being significant contradictory preferences and system-challenging values in the populace which are not developed in part because many of the most vocal on the left fail to recognize them and even dampen active popular discontent by advancing unrealistic or undesirable images of socialism, by proposing impractical means for social change, and by putting people off with elitist and sectarian political practices.

    Suppose, however, that a quasiclosed system could exist. Why should it be marked off as a separate 'kind' of democracy, instead of being recognized as more democratic than a society in which the will of the majority is always thwarted but less democratic than one where minorities have the ability to try to change the values of the majority and can sometimes succeed? A good reason to reject the 'kinds' option is that it breeds a 'democracy be damned' attitude which will be pernicious if one has hastily jumped to the wrong conclusion that his or her system is closed. Also, this attitude could only justify paternalistically substituting a 'democracy' people do not like for one they do.


    Perhaps what concerns the fragmentist is not the self-perpetuating nature of a system incorporating a measure of democracy but the content of the preferences people in it have. This is the point of view discussed above of democrats who want to specify the nature of preferences people must have. Thus Jane Mansbridge distinguishes between 'unitary' and 'adversary' democracy, where the former is principally marked by the fact that in it people act from enlightened interests.41 One of Macpherson's characterizations of democracy by reference to people's ability (equally) to realize their human potentials is of this variety,42 as is Markovic's distinction between two senses of 'power' (to dominate and to create).43

    It also figures in many definitions of favoured 'kinds' of democracy, where not just procedures but goals of a procedure are specified, for example Benjamin Barber's definition of 'strong democracy' as: 'politics in the participatory mode where conflict is resolved in the absence of an independent ground through a participatory process of ongoing, proximate self-legislation and the creation of a political community capable of transforming dependent, private individuals into free citizens and partial and private interests into public goods.'44 According to this definition a society responsive to the wishes of 'capitalist persons' who prefer to seek private goods would certainly not count as being democratic in the good sense, even if they composed the entire citizenry.

    Of course a democrat should not sanction control of a society in accord with preferences leading to antidemocratic consequences even if the preferences are shared by a majority. However, the notion that one can sanction thwarting a population's will in the name of democracy also should rest uneasily with the democrat. There is a problem here, and one that will be addressed more than once in this work, but it is less acute for somebody using a degrees-of-democracy approach than for one using a kinds-of-democracy approach.

    For the former, a trade-off may exist where it would further progress in democracy to thwart the present will of a majority. In fact, this is often done when minority rights of certain kinds are legally protected. In this circumstance it is not concluded that the thwarting is entirely democratic or entirely undemocratic; rather it is seen as on balance the most democracy-promoting or the least democracy-inhibiting thing to be done in less than ideal conditions. It is logically possible that nearly an entire population has antidemocratic values so strong that the criterion of progress in democracy would always prescribe thwarting this population. In Chapter Ten it will be argued that such systematic will-thwarting is not in fact justified except under the most contrived of imaginary situations, but even if such an occasion should arise, it should not be viewed as a matter of exercising a good 'kind' of democracy against a bad 'kind.'


    When Marxist views on democracy are discussed, Lenin's critique of Kautsky is usually cited. It is true that Lenin denounces Kautsky for writing of 'pure (i.e., nonclass? or above-class?) democracy,' instead of always putting the question, 'democracy for which class?,' and Lenin himself consistently modifies the word 'democracy' with either 'bourgeois' or 'proletarian.'45 But on closer reading Lenin's position is less class fragmentist than his language suggests. His arguments can be divided into two parts. Usually Lenin is not arguing that democracy is divided into kinds on class lines, but that institutions of the state called 'democratic' are instruments of a ruling class. When the bourgeoisie rules, it makes institutions called 'democratic' serve its class interests; when the proletariat rules, analogous institutions serve its interests.46 The other part of Lenin's argument is that representative-democratic 47

    Lenin was not the first or the last to claim that representative government and the voting procedures and formal rights that accompany it are favoured by capitalists.48 But it does not follow from the fact that members of some economic class prefer a political form that the form is exclusively biased toward their class interests. Capitalism inaugurated many facets of modern technology, but only the most radical Luddites conclude that therefore this technology is irretrievably procapitalist. Indeed, the question of whether the proletariat can or should itself make use of parliamentary bodies was a hotly debated topic in Lenin's time. Thus Rosa Luxemburg:

    In place of the representative bodies created by general, popular elections, Lenin and Trotsky have laid down the soviets as the only true representation of the labouring masses. But with the repression of political life in the land as a whole, life in the soviets must also become more and more crippled. Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element.49

    Lenin's fragmentation of democracy is only indirectly a form of class fragmentation. It is closer to one that counterposes representative to 'direct' or 'participatory democracy' (that is, shared control of a social environment unmediated by governmental representatives). Sometimes, as in Carole Pateman's book on participation, it is argued that representative and direct democracy each has its place, even if the latter is superior.50 This accords with the antifragmentist perspective, though there will be room for debate over the circumstances in which one or the other mechanism is superior. A stronger view sees no role for representative democracy except a destructive one.51

    Though loath to lay down very many general rules about what mechanisms are to be preferred, the degrees-of-democracy theorist can also agree with many of the strong criticisms of representative democracy. Are we not all too familiar with the bind of having as sole candidates people that almost nobody wants or likes, backed by small minorities with vested and selfish interests, often condescending elitists (even when they are in fact parliamentary cretins) given to habitual promise breaking and underhanded back room politics? It is not surprising that political apathy and cynicism are widespread in modern parliamentary democracies. Pateman and others are surely also right to react against those mainstream political theorists who cannot think of an alternative to delegating decision-making to someone else and who consider notions of direct public input, local self-government, or striving for consensus as somehow foreign to democracy as they conceive it.

    Recognizing these things, the antifragmentist will nonetheless probably reject strong criticisms of representative structures that would abolish them altogether. Defenders of exclusively direct democracy sometimes construe the issue as if it were a matter of combatting elitism and narrow pragmatism. Thus Isaac Balbus counters those who claim people are incompetent directly to govern themselves by calling attention to the educative features of participation. He has one standard response to the claim that direct democracy is not possible in large, cosmopolitan communities, namely that people do not need to live in such communities and would be happier if they did not.52 A commonly encountered alternative participationist response is that modern technology makes instant referenda possible on almost any question.

    These arguments do not get to the heart of the matter. The difficulty with exclusive participationism is not that people are incompetent to govern themselves or that they are stuck in large communities, but that they do not always want to be involved in day-to-day or month-to-month government and wish to delegate some decision-making to others, and that many prefer living in large communities. (Insofar as the use of instant referenda goes, it should also be noted that someone has to pose the questions asked in referenda, and hence there are limits to how far this can go completely to replace representation.) The exclusive participationist might conclude that people's preferences have been warped and made undemocratic by representative-democratic structures. Fragmentists are obliged to justify such uncharitable judgments about their peers. This view also presupposes that representative and participatory mechanisms are in opposition rather than being complementary.

    One reason the mutual support of representation and direct participation is possible is that each admits of degree. One might expect, for example, that the involvement of neighbourhood councils in the formation of municipal housing policies is more democratic than citizen review of policy once formulated; yet both are extrarepresentative forms of participation.53 Similarly, representative structures are more democratic when they provide for recall and accountability between elections. Representatives may be entrusted to make decisions by a constituency that feels itself inadequate to make them directly, but this delegation will be more or less democratic depending upon whether the constituency has control over the range of such decisions and upon whether one obligation of a representative is to provide for sufficient education to make delegation increasingly unnecessary.54

    These considerations suggest that combinations of different degrees of direct and representative practices should be regarded as complementary rather than exclusive, global alternatives. A public that had gained firsthand political knowledge through local participation, for instance, would be in a better position to understand the activities of a representative and to call him or her to task, than somebody who only knew politics from T.V. Conversely, by delegating some tasks to representatives, people's time will be freed to participate directly where and when it is appropriate do so.

  5. Conditions for Democracy

    In the remainder of this chapter, two approaches to democracy that share some fragmentist and some nonfragmentist characteristics will be examined: one distinguishing between democracy and its conditions and one limiting the scope of democracy. On the first approach, democracy is thought of substantively, while its conditions admit of degree. This approach attracts those who want to know not how democratic something is, but what democracy, considered by itself, is. Its main problem is to motivate a list of preconditions. Unless criteria are carefully spelled out and justified suspicion is warranted that the list is the result of thinking backwards from something one wants to be necessarily democratic. The following examples of lists of putative conditions for democracy illustrate the problem.

    Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers:
    1. The capacity to form reasoned judgments.
    2. Equal freedom and reasoned deliberation.
    3. Manifest processes for decision-making.
    4. Possession of autonomy and respect for others' autonomy.
    5. Formal guarantee of individual freedoms.
    6. Organized expression of political debate.
    7. Absence of material deprivation.
    8. Public control of investment.
    9. Work place democracy.
    10. Removal of all materially based disabilities.
    11. Mutual respect by states of each others' autonomy.55

    Michael Margolis' list of conditions for 'viable democracy.'
    1. Adequate access to information.
    2. The smallest unit of government possible makes policy decisions.
    3. Criticism of government encouraged.
    4. Members of the public are on corporation boards.
    5. Institutionalization of social and environmental cost/benefit accounting.56

    Radoslav Selucky's list of (necessary but not sufficient) requirements:
    1. Separation of economic and political power.
    2. Dispersion of economic power.
    3. Decentralized economic decision-making.
    4. Horizontal political and social relations.
    5. Voluntary cooperation mediated by the market.
    6. A pluralism of economic subjects.
    7. Free and educated consumer choice.
    8. Social mobility.
    9. Free competition.
    10. Ability to pursue self-interest.57

    J. Roland Pennock's list:
    1. Historical identification of a people with the interests of their shared community.
    2. Open mindedness.
    3. Power not concentrated in a few hands.
    4. Absence of great economic inequality.
    5. Respect for persons.
    6. Belief in individual rights.
    7. Mutual trust, tolerance, willingness to compromise.
    8. Literacy and education.
    9. Commitment to democratic procedures and values.
    10. Public spirit.
    11. Nationalism.
    12. Certain kinds and balances between consensus and cleavage.
    13. Certain institutions of political culture, such as political parties.58

    A reading of almost any other work on democratic theory will produce additional lists. Sometimes they are set down as (empirically) necessary and sufficient conditions for democracy, as in the case of Cohen and Rogers, sometimes as necessary conditions as in Selucky's case, and sometimes, as Pennock holds, just as lists of items none of which is necessary, though all of which are 'favourable to the formation and survival of democratic regimes.'59 Even in this case there is a tendency to talk of the conditions as necessary or sufficient,60 and this is to be expected. What is the point of setting down a list of general conditions 'favourable' to democracy if its items are not to be thought jointly necessary and sufficient?

    This marks an additional problem with the substantive-cum-conditions approach to 'democracy.' In the degrees-of-democracy orientation, the question of what conditions will facilitate, impede, guarantee, probabilize, and so on, progress in democracy is open. One needs to look at the sort of social units involved and their specific internal and surrounding social environments to make such judgments. For instance, there have been major debates in the peace movement over whether it extends public power over weapons policies to have citizens on corporate boards of firms manufacturing weapons; but on Margolis' view the debate is settled in advance. A similar point can be made about whether workers' self-management and a noncapitalist market are required for democracy, as they necessarily are for Selucky in the explication of his condition 3. Or again, in discussing the multinational state, Pennock lays it down that 'state-wide nationalism overrides that of the constituent nations'61��a comment that is certain to grate on anyone acquainted with the complex and condition-bound debates of those in hi- and multinational states.

    This is not to say that less global conditions cannot or should not be explored. There is surely some space between universal theorizing and the absence of generalization altogether in these matters. Indeed, in arguing (as in Chapter Six) that socialism is a precondition for making major advances in democracy, many of the observations of Cohen and Rogers construed in relation to contemporary, industrialized capitalism are endorsed. However, as their list stands it is possible to deduce the undemocracy of capitalism from a general theory about the conditions of democracy.62 In this way an approach that insists on laying down general conditions becomes the sort of view criticized in Chapter One that makes claims about democracy true by definition. Theorists who disagree with the political conclusions of the author of one list will find it easier to adopt another list than to examine the social and political realities of the case.

  6. Scope

    To say that democracy is pervasive is to say that there are no situations of social interaction about which the question 'how democratic is it?' cannot be appropriately asked. A competing view agrees that democracy is a matter of degree, but delimits its domain. Three examples will illustrate what this means: limitation of democracy to activities and forms of the state; limitation to the realm of the 'political'; and limitation to social units with a certain level of social and intellectual sophistication.

    States. The most common view of the field of democracy limits it to the state. Citizens of a state may or may not be able systematically to influence it. If a certain proportion of citizens, typically a majority, have influence, the state is called (more or less) democratic. This was the view of mainstream political theorists from Aristotle's time and has been the dominant view of liberal-democratic theory.63 It is also the view of one stream of Marxist theory (while specifying that states include not just governmental institutions but also instruments of coercion). Thus Lenin: 'Democracy is a form of the state, one of its varieties.'64

    For some Marxist socialists, any presocialist state is an instrument of an oppressive, minority class whose activities are the overriding determinant of people's social interactions,65 while for other socialist theorists (notably anarchists) the state itself is the overriding influence.66 Debates both among socialists and between them and nonsocialists are surely important ones, but they should not be confused with debates over the proper domain of democracy. Any social unit is part of the domain of democracy, and the democrat's job is to ask what means in given conditions (embedded in states or otherwise) facilitate collective self-determination within a social unit and what structures (again of the state or otherwise) inhibit it.

    Politics. Limitations of the scope of democracy often take the form of defining the realm of the 'political.' An extreme example is a definition of Barber's: 'One can understand the realm of politics as being circumscribed by conditions that impose a necessity for public action, and thus for reasonable public choice, in the presence of conflict and in the absence of private or independent grounds for judgment.'67 This is surely too restrictive. It is just in circumstances where conflicting parties are convinced the truth is on their side that it is most important that democratic procedures be followed. Hard-line fundamentalists of either the religious or the secular variety can agree with Barber and claim that democracy is not appropriate to a vast range of issues about which they are sure the truth is known.68

    A less extreme characterization of the political refers to purposes. An example is Michael Walzer's definition of a 'political community' as 'a group of people committed to dividing, exchanging, and sharing social goods, first of all among themselves.'69 Here democracy is thought appropriate to those circumstances when people might reasonably choose it to accomplish certain ends. This approach will limit the scope of democracy when the ends are specified or when people must actually, deliberately choose democracy. On the face of it, however, it does not seem democracy should be limited in either way. Unless one drew up a list of every possible end people could have and specified this list (disjunctively) as the end in question, it is hard to imagine any one end that would exhaust the scope of democracy. Walzer's specification, for instance, is in terms of a division of goods, but people might reasonably choose democratic processes to achieve other goals, for instance, not just to divide goods but to select a constitution, only some aspects of which would be goods-dividing; or people might decide not on the distribution of goods, but on their contents (for example, that a public TV network will be predominantly educational).

    The question about whether democracy is the sort of thing that must be deliberately chosen leads to problems about contract theory. The contract theorists are no doubt right that democratic procedures or any others appropriately called 'political' are ones people might deliberately choose and hence 'contract for,' depending on how loosely this activity is regarded.70 But, some of Locke's comments to the contrary,71 it would be most odd to say that somebody subject to political processes which he or she did not deliberately choose was thereby outside the realm of the political.

    Reason and Community. Identifications of the realm of the political and hence of democracy is sometimes attempted by selecting a subset of putative 'conditions' for democracy. Carl Cohen's way of marking off those conditions determining the scope of democracy is to seek ones that are 'commonly or universally met with n human society,' thus showing that democracy may be an omnipresent option.72 Like many democratic theorists he identifies two such conditions: reason and community.73 These terms can be defined broadly enough to be compatible with the conception of the scope of democracy employed in this work. Any social unit is a community if this requires human interaction, and 'control' requires reason if this is thought of as no more than the ability to formulate preferences and to make them known to others. Theorists who wish to limit the scope of democracy by reference to these things, however, always have more in mind. The problem is in deciding how much more.

    Michael Davis wants an interpretation sufficiently sophisticated to sustain deliberate constitution-making.74 John Harris, in arguing that children above a certain age should have democratic rights, characterizes 'persons' as reasonably competent language-users, who have wants for themselves and their future which they can plan plausibly, not necessarily most successfully, to achieve and who are reasonably responsible for their actions.75 As in the case of ends advanced as definitive of democratic scope, the burden is on one using some concept of reason or of community to show that it does not rule out situations where democratic debate and evaluation is appropriate.

    For example, Davis's conception might well entail a dubious stand on whether questions of democracy appropriately pertain to traditionally organized tribal societies,76 and Harris's view is at variance not only with those who do not think democracy is applicable to children at all (his main targets of criticism), but also with those who wish to extend democratic rights to the retarded and to very young children. However, why not extend the scope to any socially interacting ensemble including young children, the severely mentally handicapped, or indeed many animals as long as they are able to form preferences and to make them known? One might argue that in some of these cases less democracy is better than more, but this is not a foregone conclusion; one might argue instead that at least some of what happens in a social unit should be partly determined by the wishes of these people and/or animals. Be this as it may, if debate is appropriate, then the scope of democracy should not be set in a way that would rule it out.

    The concept of democracy as pervasive is not by any means new to democratic-socialist theory. Here are two close approximations:

    Under politics in the wide sense of the word I understand all those human activities of decision-making and realization whereby important, public, social processes are regulated and directed. ��Markovic77

    Democracy is now seen, by those who want it and by those who have it ... and want more of it, as a kind of society��a whole complex of relations between individuals��rather than simply a system of government. ��Macpherson78
    Sharing this view of the unlimited scope of democracy, Chapter Four now addresses itself to the question of why people should want more of it.

  1. Arne Naess, Jens A. Christophersen, and Kjell Kvalo, Democracy, Ideology and Objectivity (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1956); and see Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976) 82-87.

  2. A treatment of the value-laden nature of definitions of 'democracy' is in an article by Michael Davis, 'Liberalism and/or Democracy?,' Social Theory and Practice 9(1): 51-72 (Spring 1983).

  3. One might think of an 'action' as typically what J.L. Mackie calls an INUS condition, an insufficient but necessary member of a set of conditions unnecessary but sufficient to produce a result, The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974) 62. This is what it means to say that the result occurs 'partly in virtue of' an action taken to bring it about. Such an action will never be sufficient, if for no other reason than that the state of the nonhuman world will have to be conducive to the result. Some results may be such that they could only come about by the action of whoever has control, but most of the ends people aim at could be brought about otherwise.

    When someone with a monopoly of power over a social unit benevolently acts to make things conform to the preferences of people in it, these people do not exercise control even though their preferences are satisfied. By contrast, the active members of a club or union might, as the only ones who attend meetings, make all its decisions with results in accord with the absent members' preferences, and if part of the motivation for their making these decisions is that the absent members have (in some way knowingly) given them reason to believe they might quit or start showing up to meetings and contesting the 'inner circle's' privileged role, then the absent members could be said to exercise some control. Indeed, it is largely thanks to this mode of control that representative government lacking formal accountability can still contain a measure of democracy.

    If the absent members falsely believed that they had an effect on the decisions of the inner circle, they would lack control. It might be the case that the absent members' implied threats would lead the inner circle to act in the desired way, except for the fact that they are already doing so out of benevolence or that the inner circle acts to preclude being subject to the deliberate influence of absent members who have not yet formed an intent to exert influence. These are grey areas where debate over whether control is exercised is appropriate.

  4. See David Harris's, 'Returning the Social to Democracy,' in Democratic Theory and Practice, ed. Graeme Duncan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) 218- 234, at p.220. br />
  5. As in Jane J. Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1980), see p. 25.

  6. One problem not addressed is ascertaining just who has how much control in a situation where not only an environment is shared but so is control over it. Also set aside is examination of the differences between a) those means of shared control that more than one person may employ but that are effective if only one person takes advantage of them (like voting), and b) means that more than one person must employ (like mass demonstrations). As will be seen in the arguments of Chapter 4, the approach taken in this work is to try displacing theoretical problems of these sorts to ones of practice. Hence, to the extent that equal participation is achieved the problem of ascertaining who has control is less acute than otherwise, and prescriptions between types of means are made depending on circumstances.

  7. Carl Cohen, Democracy (New York: The Free Press, 1973) 68-71.

  8. Ibid. 7, italics omitted.

  9. See the discussion of political compromise by Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Bros, 1957), chap. 4. A concise discussion of the Prisoner's Dilemma is in Andrew Levine, Liberal Democracy: A Critique of Its Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981) 77-84.

  10. By an alternate definition suggested to me by Derek Allen, things are judged more or less democratic depending on how many people participate in using means of potential control (rather than succeeding in the exercise of control). Or, an 'acceptable' outcome could be considered imperfectly democratic. I suspect that by making suitable alterations in what follows, either of these alternatives could be made to do well enough. One reason for adopting a definition of 'more democratic' couched in terms of actual control is to capture an intuition I think I share with many that the telos of democracy is control, not the just having a chance for control. Also, as will be seen in Chapter 4, focus on control facilitates meeting Arrow-type concerns about the coherence of the notion 'democratic decision.' A reason to include reference to acceptability in a criterion of perfect democracy is that this fits well with the notion of 'mixed mode' ideal democracy described in section iii of the chapter. I was persuaded by David Schweickart that the democratic theorist must decide whether a perfectly democratic society is one where there is complete consensus or whether (as the notion of mixed mode democracy allows) it may contain conflict.

  11. At this point it is worth averting confusion over how comparisons appealing to the criterion of progress toward perfect democracy might be made. Radical employment of this criterion would estimate how far any institution, action, habit of thought, and so on carries forward progress in democracy and call this limit of its potential, somehow characterized, its 'degree of democracy,' which could then be compared to the similarly assessed degree of democracy possessed by anything else. In place of such a complex and probably philosophically muddled enterprise, this work prescribes instead that progress in democracy be appealed to in situations where different outcomes would result from applying one or the other of the three measures of democracy or where other complicating features make it unclear which of a number of live options constitutes more people having control over more and important aspects of their social environment than the alternatives. In these circumstances the idea of perfect democracy serves as a paradigmatic model to help one in thinking about the specific features of things compared rather than being regarded as a property of the most democratic of these things to be discovered 'in' it. Things taken by themselves may be thought of as approximating perfect democracy by comparing them to what they had been and to what they are likely (other things being equal) to become, thus estimating democratic progress or regress.

  12. Robert Dahl, Dilemmas of Pluralist Democracy: Autonomy vs. Control (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982) 96ff. My own view is that securing national self-determination in the circumstances of today's world is not in conflict either with democracy internal to a nation or external to it. Hence campaigning for national self-determination is a good place to start for those concerned to expand democracy when such large units are at stake. See my 'Quebec Self-Determination and Canadian Interests,' in Philosophers Look at Canadian Confederation/La confederation canadienne: qu'en pensent les philosophes? , ed. Stanley G. French (Montreal: The Canadian Philosophical Association, 1979) 97-102.

  13. This problem should be distinguished from one I do not think this work need address. Political theorists who place social groups at the centre of their explanations, such as Pluralist use of 'interest group' or Consociationalist use of 'subcultural segment,' have difficulties nonarbitrarily identifying these groups. For a criticism of the Consociationalists on this point seeJOrg Steiner and Robert H. Dorff, A Theory of Political Decision Modes: Intraparty Decision-Making in Switzerland (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980) 6-8; and for the Pluralists see my, 'Pluralism and Class Struggle,' Science & Society, 39(4): 385-416(Winter 1975-76), at pp. 394- 399.

    The present endeavour does not confront this problem. Social units are nothing but collections of people whose actions affect one another to greater or lesser extents, and while any individual will be a member of a very large number of such groups, the complexity of their numbers and interrelations will not be problematic conceptually. Sought here are grounds for prescribing more democracy in units that have been identified rather, than defining 'basic social group,' or the like, as part of the construction of a general explanatory theory of society.

    It does not qualify this comment too much to note that social units may be more or less 'cohesive,' i.e., they may persist through longer or shorter times and have more or less far-reaching and numerous effects on the lives of their members. In general one might say that the more cohesive a social unit the more important that it be democratic; thus it is more important for London to be made more democratic than the bus passenger unit. However, this itself should be qualified, because it will be in the interests of democracy sometimes to promote more cohesiveness, sometimes less. An example of the first case is people's alienation from one another in work places and communities, an example of the second is the cliquishness that isolates bureaucratic agencies from popular responsiveness.

  14. John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1957), first published in 1927, 148.

  15. Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1974- ) 3:3-129, written in 1843, at p. 29.

  16. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, written 1929-1935, 263 and sec. 11.2, 'State and Civil Society.' Relevant to this point is Anne Showstack Sassoon's discussion, Gramsci's Politics (London: Croom Helm, 1980) 55- 6, 109-119.

  17. In their argument for a 'postliberal democracy,' Democracy and Capitalism: Property, Community, and the Contradictions of Modern Social Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1986), Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis define 'democracy' substantively, while wishing to draw conclusions that are in the main compatible with those of the socialist retrievalist. This results in fence-sitting formulations, for example: '[while] departing from the liberal tradition, we are not suggesting that liberal-democratic society step outside its historical trajectory to inaugurate a new order,' 179, or 'postliberal democracy departs so significantly from both capitalism and liberal democracy that one can hardly consider it a new form of accommodation. It is more accurately described as a process leading to a new social order,' 203. Bowles and Gintis do not need to retain a substantive conception of democracy, and their analyses would be improved without one. Their view of democracy as a spiral, 187-8, requires a degrees approach, and we shall see that the key terms of their substantive definition of 'democracy' - as the combination of popular sovereignty and individual liberty, 4 - are quite complex ones designating phenomena amenable to degree.

  18. Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, trans. Patrick Camiller (London: Verso, 1978) 252-3.

  19. Alain Touraine, l'Apres socialisme (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1980) 195.

  20. The eight are: liberal-progressive, authoritarian, distributive, ritualistic, democracy of well-being, stagnant, popular-liberal, and national, listed in Touraine's Sociologie de l'action (Paris: Editions de Seuil, 1965) 328-9.

  21. Some theorists address this diversity itself, with results that are potentially useful for the project of the present work. One example is the approach to political theory of Robert R. Alford and Roger Friedland, Powers of Theory: Capitalism, the State, and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), who classify a large number of democracy-related concepts according to whether one is employing a 'pluralist,' a 'managerial' or a 'class' approach to political issues; see the summary chart at 449. Or, there is Russell L. Hanson's, The Democratic Imagination in America: Conversations with Our Past (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). He argues that the concept of democracy is 'essentially contested,' and traces debates over how it should be interpreted from post-Revolution Republicanism through liberal democracy in the U.S.

    The approach of this work is compatible with efforts like these. Hanson expresses the apparently contrary opinion that an 'objectivist' view, which appeals to 'a transhistorical ideal' denies 'the integrity of historical conceptions of democracy by subordinating them to the truth of a "timeless" conception, which. . . turns out to be a projection of contemporary prejudices about democracy,' (3-4, and see 392). This objection would have force against someone who tried to combine a substantive with a degrees approach to democracy where some form of government was designated 'perfectly democratic,' and progress measured by seeing how close to it other forms are. This is not the approach of the present work, which is even further from the one Hanson castigates than is his own. Using one interpretation of Habermas's theory of an ideal speech situation, he argues that progress in rhetoric about 'democracy' (that is, in debates over its meaning) can be ascertained by seeing how far from undistorted, ideal speech such rhetoric is (chap. 1). In allowing that relations of power can facilitate or impede progress in debates about democracy (49), he thus introduces a specific (and certainly time-bound) standard of democratic progress, namely to favour those relations that promote ideal discourse.

  22. Alan Ryan, 'Two Concepts of Politics and Democracy: James and John Stuart Mill,' in Machiavelli and the Nature of Political Thought, ed. Martin Fleisher (New York: Atheneum, 1972) 76-1 13, at p. 112.

  23. The thesis is explicated in C.B. Macpherson's Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), see essay III.

  24. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984) 231. Macpherson specifies that those entering the negotiating market are egoistically motivated (they could, like Locke's negotiators, be partially morally motivated), and Barber specifies that those who seek to be self-developing agents value community itself as well as sharing community projects (they could strive to develop their potentials minus a potential to be community minded). The association of the three distinctions is thus an historical one.

  25. This is the organizing principle of Brian Barry's book, Sociologists, Economists and Democracy (London: Collier-Macmillan, 1970).

  26. William Connolly calls these the 'arena' and the 'umpire' theories of the state in his 'The Challenge to Pluralist Theory,' in The Bias of Pluralism, ed. William Connolly (New York: Aitherston Press, 1969) 3-34. For discussions by Pluralists see: V.0. Key, Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups (New York: Thomas Crowell, 1958) e.g., 24; and Robert Dahl, Pluralist Democracy in the United States (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967), see 7.

  27. For example, Dorval Brunelle: 'one may characterize liberal democracy as being that [bad form of democracy] where social relations are not called into question but where, on the contrary, the system is sufficiently flexible to integrate permanent conflicts on an individual level of women, blacks, ecologists, militants. . . without in normal times affecting the equilibrium of the social order. In such circumstances, democracy is no less or more than the legal "price" to pay to guarantee a minimum social peace,' in Socialisme, �tatisme et d�mocratie (Montreal: Editions Saint-Martin, 1983) 48.

  28. It is a curious fact that democratic theorists who fragment the concept of democracy and who appeal to classic sources for illustration are not in accord over which source illustrates which conception of democracy. Alan Ryan identifies negotiationism with James Mill and self-developmentalism with John Stuart Mill, 'Mill and Rousseau: Utility and Rights,' in Duncan ed., Democratic Theory, 39-57. While in their contributions to this collection, David Miller identifies something very like the first position with John Stuart Mill and the second with Rousseau, 'The Competitive Model of Democracy,' 133-155, and Richard Krouse identifies them respectively with Madison and de Tocqueville, '"Classical" Images of Democracy in America: Madison and Tocqueville,' 58-78.

  29. See Jurgen Habermas's essay, 'Wahrheitstheorien,' in Wirklichkejt und Reflexion: Festschrift fur Walter Schulz, Helmut Fahrenbach, ed. (Pfullingen: Neske, 1973) 211- 265. The view is summarized by Thomas McCarthy, in his introduction to Habermas's Legitimation Crisis, trans. Thomas McCarthy (Boston: Beacon, 1973): 'The very act of participating in a discourse, of attempting discursively to come to an agreement about the truth of a problematic statement or the correctness of a problematic norm carries with it the supposition that a genuine agreement is possible. If we did not suppose that a justified consensus were possible and could in some way be distinguished from a false consensus, then the very meaning of discourse, indeed of speech, would be called into question,' xvi. Habermas' views are further explicated by McCarthy in his The Critical Theory of Jurgen Habermas (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1978), sec. 4.3.

  30. Decision theorists treating the problem include Stefan Valavanis, 'The Resolution of Conflict When Utilities Interact,' The Journal of Conflict Resolution 2(2): 156- 169(1958), see 164-6; and Norman Frohlich, 'Self-Interest or Altruism, What Difference?,' The Journal of Conflict Resolution 18(1): 55-73(March 1974).

  31. A classic attempt, associated with the decision theorist Vilfredo Pareto, is to specify that whatever preferences people have in the ideal society, nobody in it would prefer an alternative society to it. However, as critics of this 'Pareto optimality' condition have shown, it fails to distinguish between social arrangements among which people are indifferent, even though these may be very different societies. See Philip Pettit's accessible treatment in, Judging Justice: An Introduction to Contemporary Political Philosophy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980) 143-4.

  32. Amartya Sen has argued that rational normative decision-making does not require completeness in his Collective Choice and Social Welfare (San Francisco: Holden Day, 1970), chap. 7, and in his 1984 Dewey Lectures, 'Well-being, Agency and Freedom,' The Journal of Philosophy 84(4): l69-221(April 1985), at pp.178-18 1; Sen provides several additional references in this publication.

  33. Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, On Democracy: Toward a Transformation of American Society (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1983) 49.

  34. Ibid. 149.

  35. Ibid. 169.

  36. Ibid. 60-71.

  37. Ibid. 51-60.

  38. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Collected Works 6:477-517, written in 1847-8.

  39. See From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, eds. Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), especially the section, 'Bureaucracy,' from Weber's Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, first published in 1922, 196-244; and Weber's, 'Socialism,' a 'Speech for the General Information of Austrian Officers,' in Max Weber: The Interpretation of Social Reality, ed. JET. Eldridge (London: Nelson, 1972), delivered in 1922, 191-219.

  40. John Keane, Public Life and Late Capitalism: Toward a Socialist Theory of Democracy (London: Cambridge, 1984) 26-7, chap. 3.

  41. Jane J. Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1980) 25.

  42. Macpherson, Democratic Theory 4. For Macpherson one can be mistaken about what 'essentially human' capacities are; see 51ff.

  43. Mihailo Markovic, Democratic Socialism: Theory and Practice (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982) 104. Markovitc allows that sometimes people can voluntarily give someone power to dominate for the purpose of creation. His example - members of the Berlin Philharmonic giving power to von Karajan - casts doubt on whether there are circumstances where this happens. Recently, the Berlin Philharmonic went on strike against von Karajan precisely in protest against his dictatorial ways.

  44. Benjamin Barber, Strong Democracy 132 (italics omitted).

  45. V.1. Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, in VI. Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1963-80) 28:226-325, written in 1918, at pp. 227-325, especially 248-9.

  46. For example: 'the exploiters inevitably transform the state (and we are speaking of democracy, i.e., one of the forms of the state) into an instrument of the rule of their class, the exploiters, over the exploited. . . . A state of the exploited must fundamentally differ from such a state; it must be a democracy for the exploited....' Ibid. 250.

  47. In defending the claim that socialism is 'a million times more democratic than the most democratic bourgeois republic,' Lenin writes: 'Is there a single country in the world, even among the most democratic bourgeois countries, in which the average rank-and-file worker. . . enjoys anything approaching such liberty of holding meetings in the best buildings, such liberty of using the largest printing-plants and biggest stocks of paper to express his ideas and to defend his interests, such liberty of promoting men and women of his own class to administer and to "knock into shape" the state, as in Soviet Russia?' ibid. 248.

  48. In his analysis of the French Second Republic, Marx argued that a parliamentary form of government was a condition for the joint rule of competing capitalist factions. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Boneparte in Collected Works 11:99- 197, written in 1851-2. Several contemporary authors have developed arguments that capitalism and representative, parliamentary democracy 'fit' one another. A sample discussion is in Adam Przeworski's, Capitalism and Social Democracy (London: Cambridge University Press, 1985) chaps. 4, 5, see 140. This book collects several of Przeworski's earlier published articles. The two pertinent to this discussion are 'Material Bases of Consent: Economics and Politics in a Hegemonic System,' Political Power and Social Theory 1: 2 1-66(1980) and 'Proletariat into a Class: The Process of Class Formation from Karl Kautsky's The Class Struggle to Recent Controversies,' Politics and Society 7(4): 343-401(1977); Jurgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis 36-7; Claus Offe and Helmut Wiesenthal, 'Two Logics of Collective Action: Theoretical Notes on Social and Class Organizational Forms,' Political Power and Social Theory 1: 67- 115(1980), see 94.

  49. Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, ed. Paul Levi and trans. Bertram D. Wolfe (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1961), posthumously published in 1922, 71. Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis describe the hostility to representative government as a 'romantic notion,' which 'precludes the possibility of a reasoned defense of representative institutions.' Democracy and Capitalism: Property, Community, and the Contradictions of Modern Social Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1986) 148.

  50. Carole Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), but see her stronger statement that participationism 'is a return to the tradition of Rousseau. . . and a rejection of the political theory and practice that developed as an integral part of the development of the capitalist economy and its liberal, constitutional state.' In Stanley Benn, et al., Political Participation (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1978) 59-60.

  51. Isaac Balbus, for example, maintains that representatives cannot interpret the will of the people, but 'inevitably develop interests of their own...,' in his Marxism and Domination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) 358. Balbus never explains how this is inevitable, but this is not atypical of his book. Words like 'necessarily' and 'inevitably' are liberally employed.

  52. Ibid. 359ff.

  53. A useful source of illustrations is in Public Participation in Planning, eds. Bruce O. Watkins and Roy Meador (London: John Wiley, 1977).

  54. Philip Green, Retrieving Democracy: In Search of Civic Equality (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allenheld, 1985), discusses measures to strengthen representative democracy, chap. 9.

  55. Cohen and Rogers, On Democracy 49-167. The first four items on their list are background conditions which in turn have 'more specific institutional requirements of the democratic order,' listed as 5 through 11.

  56. Michael Margolis, Viable Democracy (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1979) 158-179.

  57. Radoslav Selucky, in his Marxism, Socialism, Freedom (London: Macmillan, 1979) 183.

  58. J. Roland Pennock, Democratic Political Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979) chap. 6

  59. Ibid. 206-7.

  60. Ibid. 247.

  61. Ibid. 247-54.

  62. Cohen and Rogers, Democracy 169.

  63. See for example Pennock, 7, and Margolis, 22. Examples of exceptions are: Carl Cohen, Democracy 5-6; Lawrence Crocker, 'Marx, liberty, and democracy,' in Marxism and the Good Society, eds. John P. Burke, Lawrence Crocker, and Lyman H. Legters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981) 32-58, at p. 51; and Roy A. Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy, ed. and trans. Ellen de Kadt (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977) 34.

  64. V.1. Lenin, What is to be Done? in Collected Works 5:347-529, written in 190 1-2, at- p. 472.

  65. For example John Hoffman, Marxism, Revolution, and Democracy (Amsterdam: Gruner, 1983) 77, 89.

  66. An example is Bob Jessop on 'the officialdom-people contradiction' as the arena of democratic politics. See his 'The Political Indeterminacy of Democracy,' in Marxism and Democracy, ed. Alan Hunt (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980) 55-80, at pp. 57ff; see, too, Dorval Brunelle, Socialisme 35.

  67. Barber, Strong Democracy 120 (italics omitted).

  68. Later Barber summarizes this absence of independent grounds condition (which he calls his main innovation) with the phrase, 'where consensus stops, politics starts,' ibid. 129. Were this conjoined with a consensus theory of truth, the point would be less subject to this criticism, but, depending on what 'independent grounds' means, it makes the condition redundant, since 'conflict' is already listed as another condition.

  69. In Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice: A Defence of Pluralism and Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1983) 31.

  70. Cohen, Democracy 44, makes this point in arguing that 'consent' is one of the 'presuppositions' of democracy.

  71. See John Locke's The Second Treatise of Government, in Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), first published in 1690, paragraph 115.

  72. Cohen, Democracy 41.

  73. Ibid. Pt. 2; also see Michael Davis, 'Avoiding the Voter's Paradox Democratically,' Theory and Decision 5(3): 295-31 1(October 1974), at p. 301.

  74. Davis is primarily concerned to set down conditions to obviate Arrow's paradoxes, 'Voter's Paradox.'

  75. John Harris, 'The political status of children,' in Contemporary Political Philosophy, ed. Keith Graham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) 35-55, at p. 49.

  76. Moses Finley argues that democracy and politics were born with Athenian society, Democracy: Ancient and Modern (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1973) 14. Mansbridge, Beyond Adversarial Democracy 10-14, takes a contrary view and in fact sees tribal society as a paradigmatic representative of one kind of democracy.

  77. Markovic, Democratic Socialism 25.

  78. Macpherson, Democratic Theory 51.

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