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POL201Y1 Lecture Notes - Direct Democracy, Robert A. Dahl

Political Science
Course Code
Sophia Moreau

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Thick and Thin definition of
Freedom House Rating
Freedom House is an organization that assigns ratings to countries around the world
based on how democratic they are. Many of such organizations measure democracy in
correlation with freedom
Countries can be more or less democratic, and the most democratic countries are those in
which there are the highest levels of freedom.
On the other hand, if indicator of democracy is election, then democracy is dichotomous
variable: either democratic or nondemocratic (either have election or dont have it)
Depending on what correlates democracy, democracy can be seen as continuous
categories (that you can have more or less on), or see it as dichotomous variable
Growth of democracy is legitimate: created proliferation meaning of democracy (word
means different thing to different people in different parts of the world). There is a real
confusion over what demoracy is, what its defined characteristics are, how we can tell
whether a country is really democratic or not
There is no one authoritative definition but all definitions have normative context
(meaning they are ideological, they have particular purpose )
Is democracy primarily a mechanism – elections – that rotates political leaders in office; or is it
primarily a commitment to the twin ideals of freedom and equality?
Democracy = “power of the people
[ Demos (people) + kratos (power) ]
Classical theory of democracy
Common will (input) Democractic Process (deliberation) common Good
Ancient Greece

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oDirect democracy was first practiced in Athens: In Athens, a few thousand adult
males would gather together to make decisions about mundane matters as taxes,
budgets, wars, trade rules
oDirect democracy is when the people (demos) meet to discuss on matters of public
policy. It is supposed to be a mechanism that embodied the values of classical
theory of democracy, that the people themselves would have responsibility of
making decisions about their social and political life together.
oClassical Theory:An institutional arrangement that realizes the Common Good
though decisions that carry out the Common Will
oCommon good : utilitarian ideal; a point in utility curve at which everyone is better
off. It is an objectively identifiable condition of society
e.g. garbage collection: we get great utility for someone coming to collect
garbage every week. We can spend more by having it picked up twice a
week, and it wouldnt cause more utility to decline than once-a-week pick
up. However spending money to have it picked up every day, the utility
would decrease because now there more uncomfortable result caused by
garbage car coming everyday. (more of something is a good thing up until
at point but not infinitely)
oCommon will: will of the people to achieve common good
**democracy is an institution of channelling the will of the people into a set of
rules/policies that reflect common good
Economic Theory of Democracy / Schumpeterian Theory of Democracy - Thin Theory of
Democracy [election]
Individual will // individual will // democratic process manufacture will
Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) by Joseph Schumpeter
oCritiques classical type of democracy – “there is no common good, no perfect rule
that satisfy everyone. Everyone has different interest and concept, so rather than a
societal utility curve, there would be different individual utility curve”

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oIt is not because human are irrational or uneducated, but because they have
different natural inclination and they stand in different relation to the structures of
power (some are rich and some are poor, etc). Thus there is no objectively
identifiable common good”
oIn extension, Schumpeter saysif there is no common good, there is not any
common will that is going to converge on the common good. There is no Will of
the people but there are all wills of individual people. Those individuals’ wills
might add up to the will of the majority but they are never going to add up to a
will that all people will hold in common. ”
oInstead, to the extent that there appears to be a common will, if it seems as if
there is common will, what it is in fact is a manufactured will. Democratic process
does not express the common will but it might produce what looks like common
will. Thus, if something like a common will seems to appear, it is not an input of
the process (as classical theory holds) but an output of the democratic process – a
manufactured outcome of the process, a manipulation of public interest and
opinions for the purpose of producing the appearance of common will
oArgues his theory is an improvement over the classical theory because it is more
true to reality. He does not say it is normatively better; we dont necessarily have
to like it, nor does he say his theory expresses better or higher ideals that we could
value more. But it is a truer expression of the way modern functioning democratic
system actually work.
oHe basically updates democratic theory from one that envisions and describes the
commitment of a system of direct democracy to one that describes a system of
representative democracy : people elect leaders and these leaders/representatives
make policies
oHe defines representative democratic system as – “the democratic method is the
institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals
acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the peoples
vote”. This contradicts with the classical doctrine in two ways:
Role of the people: is not to a express common will but to elect a
It is the role of leaders elected to the office to make policy decisions
oDemocratic is not the expression of common will; it is an institutional
arrangement namely, an election
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