What Is Democracy?

What Is Democracy?

What Is Democracy?

What Is Democracy?


"This is certainly one of the most important political essays to be published since Rawls's Theory of Justice. But in direct opposition to Rawls, Touraine proposes a properly democratic conception of political society rather than a liberal one." Jerome Binde for Le Nouvel Observateur


For several centuries we have associated democracy with human liberation, thanks to a combination of reason, economic growth, and popular sovereignty, from the prisons of ignorance, dependency, tradition, and divine right. We undertook to give society an economic, political, and cultural impetus by freeing it from all absolutes, religions, and state ideologies, so that it would be subject only to truth and to the criteria of knowledge. We placed our trust in the apparent links between technical efficiency, political freedom, cultural tolerance, and personal happiness.

But we also have long been beset by worries and fears: Although freed from its weaknesses, is not society now a slave to its own strength, its technologies, and above all its tools of political, economic, and military power? How could the workers who were subjected to Taylorist methods see the rationalization of industry as the triumph of reason, when they were being crushed by a social power in the guise of technology? How could bureaucracy be defined purely as a rational and legal authority, when public and private administrations were controlling and manipulating our personal lives and at the same time promoting their own interests rather than their managerial role? Popular revolutions throughout the world have degenerated into dictatorships over the proletariat or the nation, and the red flag more often flies over the tanks that crush popular uprisings than it does over workers in revolt.

Great revolutionary hopes have been transformed into totalitarian nightmares or state bureaucracies. Revolution and democracy have proved to be enemies, and one does not lead to the other. The world, exhausted by calls for mobilization, would readily settle for peace, tolerance, and well-being, with liberty reduced to meaning protection from authoritarianism and arbitrary rule.

On the European continent, where modern democracy was born, the greatest misfortune of the twentieth century has been not poverty but totalitarianism, and we have therefore fallen back on a modest conception of democracy as a set of guarantees that can prevent a leader from coming to power or holding power in defiance of the will of the majority.Our disappointments have been so profound and so prolonged that, for a long time to come, many of us will agree that the limitation of power is the primary definition of democracy. The appeal to human rights, which was first heard in the United States and France at the end of the eighteenth century and was thereafter silenced so quickly in all countries, is heard . . .

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