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Democracy and Political Obligation - Political Science 101

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Political Science
POL S101
Davina Rousell

September 24, 2013 Democracy and Political Obligation • Who decides has to be justified? Who gets to elect the people who decide? • Power is distributed in such a way that power rests with the people. • People obey in a democratic state. • Does democracy makes political obligation much easier than other forms of government • Do we agree that democracy is the most important formation for political obligation? Historical Background • Originates from the Greek terms, demos, the people, and kratos, power or rule • Classical example is in ancient Athens, which had a direct rule by its citizens, although it did exclude women, slaves and foreigners. Eliminated these people from the decision-making process. It’s possible that the women and slaves did the work that would normally keep the men busy, which allowed them to attend these elections. Every citizen had a right to be a juror. • Office holders were subject to regular rotation and chosen by the rest of the citizens • Direct democracy was practiced • Considered to be a less desirable form of government by the likes of Plato and Aristotle who tended to equate it with mob rule • Neither Hobbes nor Locke regarded democracy as a desirable form of government • Remained a negative term in political theory until relatively recently. - Even the American constitution was arranged so as to avoid being overly democratic (prevent pure democracy). A European Concept? • Much of what is considered to be democratic today is drawn from a model used by the indigenous populations of North America • “Great Law of Peace” allowed the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Iroquois nations to live together for over 200 years. Many aspect were borrowed from this. • Based on popular election, women’s suffrage, and merit-based promotion, The French and American Revolutions • Both proclaimed democracy as a central goal • In America, there was still concern over establishing a system of majority tyranny inherent to “pure democracy”. • Directly elected legislature (the House of Representatives) had limits placed on its power (the creation of the Senate, executive and judiciary -- elected by the president with approval by the Senate--). What is democracy? • Essentially contested concept • Generally considered to be a POSITIVE term • Set of institutions built around competitive elections that enable all adult citizens to choose and remove their government leaders (Stoker, 2006) 1 September 24, 2013 • Illiberal democracies, also called competitive authoritarian regimes or semi-democracies, are also on the rise - Turnover from elections is smaller than might be expected ** Bentham and J Mills • Different type of democracy was practiced in ancient Greece • Utilitarian theory of democracy* • There is no single definition of democracy, it is considered ambiguous and is up to interpretation. There are many definitions • “Government for the people, by the people, for the people” A Core Definition of Democracy • Regime in which political power is widely distributed and power in some way rests with the people • Political equality as a central theme • This leaves lots of room for differing interpretations as to what counts as democracy • Bottom line: power must rest with the PEOPLE • Political equality is so crucial under democracy, so when there are competitive elections there MUST be political equality. Lively’s seven possible democracies 1. That all should govern in the sense that all should be involved in legislating, in deciding on general policy, in applying laws, and in governmental administration 2. That all should be involved in crucial decision-making (ex: in deciding on general laws and matters of general policy) 3. That rulers should be accountable to the ruled (ex: obliged to justify their actions to the ruled and be removable by the ruled) 4. That rulers should be accountable to the representatives of the ruled 5. That rulers should be chosen by the ruled 6. That rulers should be chosen by the representatives of the ruled 7. That rulers should act in the interests of the ruled (almost every dictator will say that they are there because they’re working in the interest of the people) Lively’s Interpretations • Lively argues that interpretations 1-4 can justifiably be described as democratic • 5-7 cannot, since there is no provision for rulers to be removed by the ruled • Point 7 allows for systems without elections to call themselves “democratic”. It allows for the inclusion of regimes (such as those subscribing to communism) that, even though they lack competitive elections, claim to be democratic on the grounds that their rulers act in the interest of the many by promoting social and economic equality. - e.g., the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea (North Korea). The leaders claim that they are there to protect the interests of the people. Lively argues that this is not a democracy definition. 2 September 24, 2013 • The outcomes of a political system are separate from the means by which its rulers are chosen. It may be that democracy (in the sense of a political system requiring regular competitive elections) is the most effective way of ensuring that rulers do act in the interests of the ruled. • Achieving political equality may require a degree of economic equality • Liberal democracies cannot escape criticism either because of the potential for conflict between majoritarian decision-making and the protection of individual rights. Forms of democracy 1. Direct: Direct rule by the people, traditionally considered possible only in small societies 2. Representative: Rule by representatives elected by the people (Canada has this) Some people argue that direct democracy can only be possible in smaller societies (we can’t fit 1 million Edmontonians into one auditorium). Logistical constraints mean direct democracy may not be possible in this modern world. Also, it’s unlikely that MPs can entirely ignore their constituents’ views without suffering negative consequences at a future election. ★Greek city states practiced direct democracy: - More specialized and time-consuming tasks were allocated to a smaller # of office holders - Office holders were subject to regular rotation, chosen by the rest of the citizens - Jury service was also a feature KEY POINTS • The concept of democracy is about popular rule, or the rule of the people • Lively suggests that democracy requires that the people either make decisions directly or choose, and be able to remove, those who make decisions on their behalf. Competing theories of Democracy • By the middle of the 20th century, two competing theories of democracy predominated: - Democratic elitism or “protective” democracy - Participatory democracy Democratic Elitism • Joseph Schumpeter (1993-1950) Argued that democracy and elitism could be reconciled • • Mass participation is not realistic, as most people are quite happy to leave politics to the political elites • Masses are often irrational and also tend to have authoritarian values and are easily swayed by the charismatic leaders - Writing during Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini • Democracy is “that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people’s vote” (Schumpeter, 1961) Democratic competition takes place between elites • 3 September 24, 2013 - Voters choose between leaders not policies per se • Elites act as guardians against the rise of authoritarianism ECONOMIC THEORY OF DEMOCRACY • Reinforces Schumpeter’s analysis and ties in nicely to rational choice models • Also called protective theory - because citizens seek to hold the politicians accountable to the wishes of the voters. Politics and economics are analogous • • Key goal of politicians in this case is to maximize votes • The key objective of consumers is to get the best out of the amount that is spent • Consumers seek to buy at the lowest possible price -- what the voter does is looks for politicians that best serves their interests. • Producer-Consumer relationship is similar to Politician-Voter relationship. • The voters choose among the competing elite in the society • Votes are analogous to profit • Parties will position themselves to match the interests of the voters in order to maximize the votes they receive. • What happens in politics is the same as in economics - trying to maximize votes, whereas consumers/voters are trying to maximize the outcome of who they vote for/material goods. Criticisms of Economic Democracy • Overly Simplistic - Complexities of Voter preferences ignored • Downplays the role of the value-oriented vote or party • Evidence suggests that voters lack the kind of sophistication the theory requires of them, and that party allegiance can be more important than party analysis. • Evidence suggests that some voters use their votes altruistically, on grounds of principle, rather than their own self-interest • This theory also finds it difficult to explain why most people bother to vote at all. It ignores the possibility that voter preferences are shaped by powerful forces in society • **In certain societies, competitive elections (democracies) do not lead to wide-distribution of power, it can actually lead to conflict. You’ll hear about post-election violence - part of the reason why the kind of democracy we have leads to conflict is because of ethnic differences. Two key ethnic groups in Rwanda - Hutu government protecting Hutu needs and wants. Competition between two ethnic groups, at the end of the day there will be violence because they know • What makes democracy special • Problems of the majority rule The Utilitarian Theory of Democracy Developed by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill • 4 September 24, 2013 • At first Bentham was not concerned about democracy, feeling that an enlightened despot was just as likely to pursue the utilitarian aim of the greatest happiness (not just subject to democrats) • His mind was changed after the British government failed to implement any of his reforms • These two men believed that when left alone, members of the government will work to make themselves happy before anyone else and they won’t actually pursue the greatest happiness of all unless their position/power/wealth depended on it! • THIS was why utilitarians argued for democracy: to make sure the government stayed accountable to the public • Utilitarian perspective: Elections are protective devices designed to ensure that decision- makers take the preferences of the people into account 19th Century Move Towards Democracy • Democracy was becoming more popular in both theory and practice • Utilitarian theory represented the first attempt to apply democracy to a class-divided capitalist industrial society. • Utilitarianism gave rise to liberal democracy. • Many property owners in the 19th century feared the universal suffrage would result in pressure for greater economic and political equality and put their privileges at risk. (However, the advent of universal suffrage in 1928 did not produce any significant moves towards a socialist political program) Factors that explain why universal suffrage did not bring political or economic equality: • - The difficulty of establishing political equality in an economically unequal society is clear - Political equality is not achieved through universal suffrage alone KEY POINTS • For much of its history, democracy was seen in a negative light • The turning point came in the eighteenth century. Following the French and American Revolutions, democracy was cast in a more positive light, partly because of the influence on the US constitution of the “Great Law” of the Six Nations confederacy. Democratic ideals and models today represent a fusion of European and indigenous ideas. • The nineteenth century saw a sustained effort to achieve universal suffrage in practice and to justify it in theory. The utilitarian theory of democracy developed by Bentham and Mill was the first attempt to justify the introduction of democracy into a class-divided society • The final quarter of the twentieth century saw a major increase in the numbers of regimes holding competitive elections and proclaiming themselves democratic. Protective Theory Participatory Theory Bentham Greek city-states
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