The Theory of Democracy Revisited

The Theory of Democracy Revisited

The Theory of Democracy Revisited

The Theory of Democracy Revisited


This is part one of a two-volume set.:"...[Sartori] reviews the major democratic theories of our time and canvasses astutely the salient issues among them. Sartori synthesizes a theory of his own which he proffers as a new mainstream view to his readers. His trenchant and swift-moving argument moves deftly among competing schools of thought. The book's greatest strength lies in Sartori's demonstration that prescriptive and descriptive theories (the ideal and the real) must be blended, to be valid, in an integral whole:-in theory of the democratically possible. The clarity and dramatic power of this erudite work render it very accessible to undergraduate students." - William T. Bluhm, The University of Rochester


Our ideas are our spectacles.


Some twenty-five years ago, I published a book on democracy that, in its American translation, carried the title Democratic Theory. The book did well and is still in print in a number of countries. Why, then, write another book on the same subject? Has the theorizing on democracy changed all that much? In particular, have "new" theories of democracy emerged in the meantime? An impressive number of authors have advanced such claims in the 1960s and 1970s,31 and even though the claims seldom withstand scrutiny, they do warrant a revisit. In order to assess how the present-day theory of democracy relates to the one in the 1950s, this work largely incorporates the earlier one. Even the incorporated part is almost entirely reformulated, however. Why is that? One changes, I suppose, in response to changes--such as the ones that I am about to mention.

To begin with, a pervasive change has occurred in the vocabulary of politics. To an unprecedented extent, authors have come to conceive their concepts at whim. This development has been legitimized by the brave new thought that words have arbitrary meanings. If so, we are all entitled to a new freedom, to stipulate freely what words mean. This brave new thought obviously had no impact whatsoever on the hard sciences, but eventually obtained devastating effects in the soft areas of knowledge, particularly in the vocabulary of political theory. Here new theories can be made just out of verbal manipulations. And it is in fact the case that freedom, authority, repression, violence, coercion, tolerance, and many other key terms no longer address--for a sizable public--the problems that the theory of politics has long addressed. Are we still able to communicate intelligibly? Can we still transmit and accumulate knowledge? I would certainly hope so--but not if nothing is done about it.

Another, not unrelated change bears on the influence of Marxism. Until the 1950s the bulk of the literature was on "democracy,' not on "capitalist democracy." Today Marxists and non-Marxists alike speak of capitalist democracy as a matter of course. The shift is nonetheless a momentous one.

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