Democracy and Democratization

By Geraint Parry; Michael Moran | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

Democracy and democratization in Great Britain

Ian Holliday

Scope for democratization in Britain is both ample and evident. Hereditary membership of the House of Lords and Crown prerogative are just two obvious vestiges of Britain’s feudal constitutional arrangements, neither of which has any claim to democratic virtue. Reform of either—or both—could immediately extend the frontiers of British democracy. The question to be asked of Britain’s present constitutional arrangements is not therefore whether democratization is possible, but whether it is desirable.

Yet even to address this question requires that another be settled first. Democracy may be a leading contemporary value—as many have noted, few states do not now claim to be democratic—but it is not primary. Rather, it is in the second rank of political values, necessarily ceding place in any hierarchy to consideration of the proper nature of the state. For if democracy is understood as government ‘by the people’—the central element in Lincoln’s classic formulation—then the logically prior consideration concerns the nature of government itself. Whilst it may readily be accepted that collective decisions should be taken democratically, what might be called the lexically prior question concerns the nature of the collectivity to which reference is made. In short, the frontiers of democracy extend to the very limits of the state itself, but those limits require previous specification. The extent of the domain in which democracy may properly be said to hold sway is not uncontested.

This is, moreover, no purely abstract matter. Indeed, it stands at the very heart of contemporary British debates about the desirability and feasibility of democratization. For what divides many advocates of reform is their understanding of the correct

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