Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics

By Seymour Martin Lipset | Go to book overview
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Economic Development and Democracy

DEMOCRACY in a complex society may be defined as a political system which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the governing officials, and a social mechanism which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decisions by choosing among contenders for political office.

This definition, abstracted largely from the work of Joseph Schumpeter and Max Weber,1 implies a number of specific conditions: (1) a "political formula" or body of beliefs specifying which institutions -- political parties, a free press, and so forth -- are legitimate (accepted as proper by all); (2) one set of political leaders in office; and (3) one or more sets of recognized leaders attempting to gain office.

The need for these conditions is clear. First, if a political system is not characterized by a value system allowing the peaceful "play" of power, democracy becomes chaotic. This has been the problem faced by many Latin-American states. Second, if the outcome of the political game is not the periodic awarding of effective authority to one group, unstable and irresponsible government

Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy ( New York: Harper & Bros., 1947), pp. 232-302, esp. 269; Max Weber, Essays in Sociology ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), p. 226; see also the brilliant discussion of the meaning of democracy by John Plamenatz in his chapter in Richard McKean, ed., Democracy in a World of Tensions ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 302-327.


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Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics


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