Democracy and Democratization: Processes and Prospects in a Changing World

By Georg Sørensen | Go to book overview
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ONE
What Is Democracy?
Democracy is a form of government in which the people rule. The concrete way in which this form of government should be organized and the question of which conditions and preconditions it requires have been intensely debated for several centuries. Indeed, the early contributions to this discussion go back to ancient Greece. It is my contention that in order to understand democracy and its present position in the world, one must have an awareness of the most important debates about the meaning of democracy; a notion of the core features of democracy relevant for today's world; and an understanding of how economic, social, and cultural conditions affect the quality of democracy. Thus, each of these elements is addressed in this chapter. The aim is merely to introduce the important issues; references will be given to sources with in-depth treatments.The term democracy comes from the combination of two Greek words: demos (people) and kratos (rule). The definition "rule by the people" may sound innocently straightforward, but it immediately raises a number of complex issues. The most important ones were aptly summarized in a recent report:
Who are to be considered 'the people'?
What kind of participation is envisaged for them?
what conditions are assumed to be conducive to participation? Can the disincentives and incentives, or costs and benefits, of participation be equal?
how broadly or narrowly is the scope of rule to be construed? Or, what is the appropriate field of democratic activity?
if 'rule' is to cover 'the political', what is meant by this? Does it cover (a) law and order? (b) relations between states? (c) the economy? (d) the domestic or private sphere?
must the rules of 'the people' be obeyed? What is the place of obligation and dissent?

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