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This research paper is a discussion of the types of democracy. The first section focuses on the two fundamental models of democracy, direct and liberal representative, as major concerns of political thought. This section on normative models introduces the fundamental philosophical underpinnings of actual democratic systems as they have developed in different societies. The second section offers a typology of democratic systems as they operate in the world today. Here the scheme of classification is based on whether minimum or maximum possible majorities are sought in making decisions since such a distinction constitutes a major variable along which contemporary democracies differ from each other. Some types based on the empirical study of how systems function are also offered here. Finally, normative models critical of the outcome of the operation of contemporary democracies are taken up.
- Normative and Empirical Models
- Classic Normative Models of Democracy
- Direct Democracy and Its Variants
- Liberal Representative Democracy
- Empirical Typologies and Types
- Classic Normative Models of Democracy
- Classifying Democracies
- Majoritarian Versus Consensus Models
- Consociational and Centrifugal Democracies
- Depoliticized and Centripetal Democracies
- Functional Democracy
- Delegative Democracy
- Parliamentary and Presidential Democracies
- Critical Approaches: Democracy in Theory and in Practice
- Criticism of Democracy in Operation
- Radical Democracy
- Deliberative Democracy
- Cosmopolitan Democracy
- Social Democracy Versus Liberal Democracy
Since the end of the Cold War, democracy has become the unrivaled form of government in the world. Acceptance of a country as a full partner in the global community of nations is considerably facilitated by its being characterized as a political democracy; international military interventions, as in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, state their goal as the building of democracy; less democratic countries are asked to improve the quality of their democracy to gain esteem; and countries that hardly possess the attributes of democratic governance claim to be democratic because such characterization is thought to bestow prestige on them.
Among democracies, there is no single mode of organizing a polity as a political democracy. Institutional arrangements of democratic governance have varied across time and countries. Furthermore, democratic systems have evolved and operated in countries that have, among others, different histories, cultures, traditions, economies, demographic compositions, and socioeconomic characteristics. These factors have all put their imprint on how democratic institutions are organized and operate in specific countries. Attempts at presenting and discussing types and typologies of democracies are several. Some types and typologies, not widely employed by students of democracy thus far, have not been included in this research paper. But before presenting the most well-known analyses, a methodological “warning” is necessary.
The word type may be used in two different senses. First, it may be used to define the necessary set of characteristics that need to be present to identify certain phenomena as distinct from others and give it a name. The word model is also sometimes employed to convey the meaning of type in this sense. Second, it may be a category that emerges from classifying phenomena according to certain criteria. In this second sense, “type” emerges as a subcategory—that is, as the product of an effort at generating a typology. One may, for example, identify all political systems that satisfy the criteria for being a democracy (model) but then group them according to some key features (variables) along which they may differ from each other. This exercise, which aims at developing a typology, generates subcategories that are also called “types.” Types as subcategories of a typology include all attributes of democracy and then some that make them unique, helping us distinguish them from others.
Normative and Empirical Models
Two different approaches may be used in defining types and developing typologies. The first approach confines itself to positing a set of criteria or norms, thereby defining what a democracy is or ought to be. Using this normative theoretical approach, one may identify models of democracy. The second approach focuses on societies that already have systems that satisfy the norms that are depicted in the definition of democracy but then proceed to classify them, thereby developing typologies and then types as subcategories based on how each differs from the others, for example, in terms of its institutional arrangements, its cultural and behavioral environment, and its functioning. Understandably, this second approach requires an empirical examination of democratic societies. This approach, in contrast to normative democratic theory, constitutes the basis of empirical democratic theory.
Classic Normative Models of Democracy
Dictionaries, relying on the Greek origins of the word, demos (people) and kratos (rule), often define democracy as rule by and for the people. More scholarly definitions have elaborated the basic idea. Charles Tilly (2007), for example, has emphasized “the degree that political relations between the state and its citizens feature broad, equal, protected and mutually binding consultation” (pp. 13-14). Such definitions have focused neither on who the people are nor on how or through what mechanisms they rule themselves. The question of who the people are, after historical and long struggles, has been answered by the realization of universal suffrage. How the people should rule themselves, on the other hand, has been given two different answers, leading to the emergence of two normative models of (1) direct or participatory democracy and (2) liberal representative democracy.
Direct Democracy and Its Variants
In terms of historical order, direct democracy comes first. Its basic idea was developed and practiced in some of the city-states of ancient Greece, notably Athens, for about a century and a half and then disappeared. The basic idea of direct or participatory democracy is that all members of the political community take part in discussion, debate, and decision making on matters belonging to the public domain without the intermediation of agents. Decisions may be reached by the collectivity by voting or by reaching consensus through deliberation. As regards who qualify as members of the political community, throughout history, different criteria for exclusion-inclusion have been employed, including those based on age, gender, race, being a free man, property ownership, and paying taxes. In contemporary times, only a moderate age requirement and some other reasonable limitations such as not being insane constitute the only restrictions to being a citizen with full rights to participate in the political debate and decision making.
Athenian Democracy. The city-state of Athens is usually cited as the place where democracy was born. Yet Athenian democracy deviated in significant ways from what we know as democracy today. Only free men of 25 years or older qualified as members of the political community to participate in town meetings or Ekklesiae where discussion about the public affairs of the community affairs took place. Decisions were made by direct vote. Forty Ekklesiae were hold during a year. An administrative council whose members were identified by drawing lots was given the responsibility of implementing the decisions arrived at these meetings.
As a normative model of self rule, Athenian democracy appears attractive. From a more contemporary empirical perspective, it may be criticized for not being sufficiently inclusive since it allowed only free men of 25 years or older to participate in decision making about the political affairs of the community, leaving slaves and women out. An empirical evaluation, to the extent this is possible in view of scant information, reveals that only a small minority of citizens actually attended these meetings. In fact, meeting places were not designed to accommodate large crowds of citizens. Leaders with oratorical and organizational skills were often capable of determining both the agenda and the decisions that were eventually made. Inevitably, the Athenian system was inefficient because it took much time to produce a decision. And finally, since attendance was often limited and the composition of those who attended the meetings varied, policy coherence and continuity were difficult to achieve. Perhaps it should not be surprising that neither Plato nor Aristotle or Thucydides express admiration for the Athenian system whose legend has come to be so venerated among the later exponents of democracy.
What have we inherited from Athenian democracy? Two ideas may have been important: first, the idea of a citizen that has approximately an equal standing and voice against the state; and second, the rotation of civic responsibilities among citizens (Tilly, 2007, pp. 26-27). Many problems encountered in defining and implementing democracy in contemporary times were also anticipated in the Greek experience.
Contemporary Varieties of Direct Democracy. The Athenian democratic experiment disappeared after failing to meet external challenges. The notion of direct democracy has been practiced, however, in later times in two different ways. First, in local government, it has been adopted by small communities in the form of town meetings. Second, in some representative democracies, the mass electorates have been asked to make policy decisions by means of referenda.
Although the practice has been declining, direct democracy, sometimes also called primary democracy, where all members of the political community come together to decide on public matters pertaining to their town, continues to be practiced in parts of New England (town meetings) and in Switzerland (Landgemeinde). Direct, participatory democracy as a comprehensive system of rule appears not to be suited for communities with populations more than a few thousands or for complex tasks that contemporary governments need to address.
Another direct democratic practice with an increasing frequency in recent years is the holding of public referenda, asking the voters to determine policy choices. The more widely used form of referendum democracy is for the government to submit a policy question to a public referendum either on its own or because the laws require it. The less widely practiced form, known as the citizen initiative, allows citizens to collect a required number of signatures in order to place a proposal on the ballot. The initiative is used at all levels of government in Switzerland, in a substantial number of American states, as well as in Italy (Ian Budge, 1996, p. 85).
Direct Democracy in the Future. Technological developments appear to have opened the way for new possibilities for practicing direct democracy. With Internet service reaching a growing number of homes, it may be possible to consult voters about their preferences regarding major policy questions. The practice of such tele-democracy may lead to more widely approved policies. It has also been suggested it may even be possible in the future to realize interactive communications and create a modern version of Athenian democracy, so to speak, a cyber-democracy.
Liberal Representative Democracy
After the disappearance of Athenian democracy, there was an interim of nearly 2,000 years before the idea reappeared but this time in liberal representative form. The new system involved the placement of individuals into public decision-making roles by popular elections, thereby conferring legitimacy on the authority of those who were elected. Liberal democracy, as the name already suggests, is a synthesis of two underlying concepts: liberalism and democracy. Liberalism, although attributed changing meanings in different contexts and time points, was a reaction to the power of absolute monarchs and an interventionist church in all aspects of community and personal life. Arguing for tolerance, reason, and freedom of choice, liberalism aimed to create a uniquely private sphere for the individual in which neither the state nor the church could intervene. Placing the individual in the center of their thinking, the Liberals advocated limiting the powers of the state through constitutions and defended private property and the market economy as a means by which the individual’s interests would be served (David Held, 1996). In liberal representative democratic thought, the market constituted an arena where individuals pursue their personal gain while politics served as the domain in which the interests or the common good of the community would prevail.
The idea of representative government appears to be a natural outcome of the concern of liberal philosophers with the protection of the individual against the state. This would be achieved by giving the citizens the power to choose those who govern them through periodic elections and by holding those elected accountable for their decisions and actions within the context of a constitutional system. The election of representatives to do what the citizens were expected to do on their own in a direct democracy appeared to provide the solution to the question of how large number of citizens could still rule themselves. The questions of who comprised the citizens and the conditions necessary for them to exercise the right to choose those who shall govern them continue to constitute critical questions in societies that are in the process of democratizing and, on occasion, in societies that are already democracies today. While universal suffrage appears to have acquired reasonably universal acceptance, the conditions under which political competition is to take place, such as freedom of association, information, and expression, present both existing democracies and societies that aspire to develop into liberal representative democracies with dilemmas of how to balance authority and the coercive capabilities of the state and the collective interests of the community with the liberties of the individual.
A multiplicity of social, economic, and political processes led to the emergence of liberal representative democracy as ideology. By the 19th century, aided by growing commerce and industrialization, European kings had succeeded in unifying small political entities into nation-states, creating political communities much larger than those that had existed before. The industrial revolution had also produced social classes, most notably the bourgeoisie and the workers that rejected the absolute power of the monarchs and searched for ways to limit the scope of their political decisions and influence their content. Factors such as urbanization, factory production, and new forms of communication and transportation provided opportunities for self-organization not possible in earlier times. The philosophy of liberal representative democracy developed, in this historical context, as the framework through which power could be shared between monarchs, aristocrats, and the mass publics and could gradually be transferred to the latter. The size of nation-states, in terms of population and the geographical space, necessitated an arrangement whereby public decisions would be made by relatively few people that represented the many who had elected them.
The adoption and consolidation of liberal representative democratic philosophy and arranging political systems along democratic lines did not become a fully established reality even in Western Europe until after the World War II. Apart from Spain and Portugal, which were ruled by the remnants of fascist dictatorships of the interwar period, and Greece and Turkey, which were plagued by occasional military rule, other members of the Atlantic Community, calling themselves the “Free World,” possessed regimes based on liberal democracy. The adoption of liberal representative democratic systems in the world received an initial boost from the replacement of the authoritarian Spanish, Portuguese, and later some Latin American systems by democracies. But the most significant change came with the demise of the Warsaw Pact first and then the Soviet Union. The Baltic States and many of the East European countries managed quickly to convert themselves into regimes based on liberal representative democracy. This opened the way for democratization in other parts of the world and created pressures on democracies to improve their performance.
Empirical Typologies and Types
We may discuss in normative terms what attributes a liberal representative democracy ought to have, what the proper basis of authority is, and what purposes it may serve. But in determining whether or not a particular system is a liberal representative democracy and if so, what type of a democracy it is, an empirical and descriptive approach is needed. Many scholars have, in fact, tried to develop an empirically testable set of criteria—that is, a procedural or operational definition—to distinguish political democracies from nondemocracies and then offer an empirically derived typology of democracies. A survey of democracy literature shows that a significant number of procedural elements have been proposed that identify a system as a democracy. These have included the following:
- the right to vote, equality in voting, women’s right to vote, elimination of property and wealth qualifications for voting, and inclusion of all adults;
- the right to be elected;
- the right of political leaders and political parties to compete for support and votes—a competitive party system;
- periodic free and fair elections, secret ballot, and absence of massive fraud;
- freedom of association;
- freedom of expression;
- freedom of information, the existence of alternative sources of information, and opportunities to learn about different policies;
- institutions for making public policies depending on votes and other expressions of preference, responsibility of all power holders to the electorate, and opportunities for effective participation;
- constitutions explicitly describing and limiting the authority of the power holder, institutional checks to prevent elected leaders from governing arbitrarily and without restraint, and the presence of accessible procedures for protecting the liberties of citizens;
- control of the agenda by the elected officials;
- the ability of elected officials to exercise their constitutional powers without being significantly constrained by unelected officials, such as bureaucrats and members of the military; and
- a self-governing polity possessing the ability to act independently of the constraints of an overarching political system, and minimum consensus or support among the general public for values such as respect for the rights of others and tolerance.
As is evident, other elements may be added to this list, some may be combined under more general headings, and some may be broken down further. Some have also argued that if only some of these procedural elements are present, a system could be classified as a lesser or diminutive type of democracy, while others have insisted that a system is either a democracy or a nondemocracy. Diminutive types are covered in hybrid regimes in another entry in this encyclopedia.
Among systems that are classified as political democracies, there are significant differences in terms of how political institutions are organized and how they operate. Since many of the world’s democracies were initially located in Western Europe and North America or in countries that had been settled by West Europeans, initial attempts at classification focused on the differences between how democratic systems operated in English-speaking countries and countries in Continental Europe. Such geographically based designations were, however, gradually changed since democracies not only operated in other geographies but also seemed to be spreading to different parts of the world.
Majoritarian Versus Consensus Models
The departure from geography-based classifications led to the identification of two basic types: majoritarian and consensus models of democracy. To the related questions of who shall govern and whose interests the government will respond to when voter preferences diverge, two answers were offered: (1) the majority of the people or (2) as many people as possible rather than a simple majority (Arend Lijphart, 1999). If a majority, however small, was considered sufficient for governing and making rules and policies, then such a democracy was a majoritarian democracy. Since the British parliamentary democracy constituted the foremost example of this type, the model was frequently referred to as the Westminster model of democracy, though this was but one example of a majoritarian system.
In some societies, the achievement of a majority was seen as a minimum condition for governing while building as big a majority as possible was accepted as a political goal. A democracy in which an attempt was made to build the largest possible majority was referred to as the consensus model. Institutional arrangements, political practices, and patterns of interaction among political actors differed in the two models. For example, whereas executive power was concentrated in one party and the cabinet in the Westminster model, leading to the domination of the system by the executive, power was shared in broad coalition cabinets producing a government-legislature balance in the consensus model. Majoritarian democracies were usually characterized by a two-party government, consensus models by a multiparty government. The former generally used the first-past-the-post voting system, as opposed to the prevalence of proportional representation in the latter.
Efforts to develop this initial classification eventually led to the development of a more refined typology deriving from the cross-tabulation of two axes: the structure of society and elite behavior. The structure of a society could be homogeneous or plural, while the behavior of the elite could be coalescent or adversarial (Lijphart, 1977). The combination of the two axes produced four types of democracy:
- plural-coalescent: consociational democracy,
- plural-adversarial: centrifugal democracy,
- homogeneous-coalescent: depoliticized democracy, and
- homogeneous-adversarial: centripetal democracy.
Consociational and Centrifugal Democracies
In the case of societies with socially heterogeneous populations, whether the political elite pursues coalescent or adversarial behavior appears to make a determining difference. Coalescent behavior produces a consociational democracy, whereas adversarial behavior leads to a centrifugal democracy. In consociational democracies, political leaders strive to achieve the largest majority possible, incorporating the support of as many groups and citizens as they can persuade. The preference of the political elite to enlist the participation of larger numbers than needed is a way of controlling the centrifugal tendencies that are usually present, even if not always inherent, in plural societies. To achieve a substantial majority at the societal level, leaders of different segments of the population work together to mobilize majorities in their respective communities. They also respect mutual vetoes. In this way, political power is dispersed and shared. To cement the system further, public funds are allocated to different groups comprising the plural society on a proportional basis and each group is granted extensive autonomy to organize its own affairs.
If the political elite in a society with a heterogeneous population pursues adversarial behavior, if they insist on considering the achievement of a bare majority sufficient to produce decisions that are binding for all (i.e., if they pursue a policy of strong majoritarianism), those finding themselves frequently or permanently in the minority may find the outcome unacceptable. In such a contingency, the tendency would be for each group to form a coalition in which it would always aim to be in the winning camp, directing it to undo any coalition where it is not included or alternatively opt out of a system that consistently fails to serve its interests, hence the centrifugal democracy. For example, one way to cope with inability to form stable and working coalitions in the face of centrifugal tendencies particularly (but not only) in a presidential system is for an elected leader to opt for delegative democracy. Generally, consociational democracies are rather stable, while centrifugal democracies are exposed to intensive tensions, instability, and the possibility of malfunctioning and breakdowns.
Depoliticized and Centripetal Democracies
To the extent societies and their politics are always changing, systems of specific countries may move from one type to another. For example, during World War II, many democracies in Western Europe turned into depoliticized democracies. All political parties were united around the fundamental goal of winning the war, while politics was perceived less in government versus opposition terms and more in terms of maintaining the unity of all political actors to achieve the common objective of victory. There may also be occasions when temporary conditions encourage the forming of a coalition between government and the opposition, such as the one between the Christian Democratic Union and the German Social Democratic Party under Kurt Georg Kiesinger in Germany (1966-1969), which led to the practice of depoliticized politics for a limited period of time.
Depoliticized democracy and centripetal democracy are distinguished by the fact that in the latter, politics is conceptualized much more as a competitive game between government and the opposition, whereas depoliticized democracy is characterized by the minimization of conflict and a sustained effort toward achieving a broadly based consensus. The British system is given as the example of a centripetal democracy. In the U.S. system, the majority party in the Senate and in the House will generally try to ensure that its members vote with the party on particular pieces of legislation. In centripetal democracies, the competition to achieve a minimum majority (strong majoritarianism) does not threaten the unity of the system or the integration of rival parties into it. The alternation of majorities between elections reinforces the desire of competing parties to win the elections, inviting them to adopt positions that will appeal to large groups of voters and drawing them toward the center— hence the designation as centripetal democracy. The homogeneity of social structure stands in the way of political fragmentation and the consequent emergence of permanent minorities that may sometimes even desire to break off from the system. Strongly adversarial conceptualization of oppositions is further eroded by two other factors. First, in many economically advanced societies, ideological, religious, and to a more limited extent racial tensions have receded to the background in recent decades, leading voters to fail to perceive major differences between competing parties. Therefore, a change in the governing party is not seen to be particularly critical. Second, all major interests in society find opportunities to be represented in decision making through a variety of mechanisms. These points will be further elaborated in the models of polyarchy and functional democracies.
The critical problem that needs to be overcome in sustaining a democratic system and ensuring its stability appears to be that no group be cornered into a position of a permanent political minority— that is, be placed permanently in an inferior status under the mercy of a permanent majority. Such an outcome may be achieved either by shifting majorities or by ensuring that the majority is as large as possible. The latter option is associated with the consociational democracy that is usually found in plural societies. There are many societies that are neither plural nor consciously subscribe to the consensus model. What is the mechanism in such societies for ensuring that the same majority does not prevail over the same minority on a permanent basis? The simple answer is that voters change their preferences. In a democratic society where people can form associations, express their thoughts, and reach alternative sources of information freely and where free and fair elections are held regularly, voters have the opportunity to replace the majority in power by another majority. But, this explanation does not rule out the possibility that some groups would be left permanently out of the decision-making process.
The way out of this predicament, Robert Dahl argued (1971), is the recognition of how contemporary democracies operate in fact. Although political competition appears to be dominated by political parties, there is also a proliferation of organized interest groups. The political competition in a democratic society does not simply produce a majority and a minority. Rather, a plurality of actors compete and cooperate with each other, usually forming issue-based majorities, to produce policy decisions. Different coalitions form behind different policy choices in an environment in which power is dispersed among various actors in society. What obtains is not majority rule as such but a rule of different coalitions of minorities. These minorities negotiate, bargain, compromise, and form alliances and coalitions to produce outcomes that they desire. Dahl called his explanation of how democracy works polyarchy.
Its proponents argue that polyarchy is an empirically derived description of how democracies function. It has been criticized on the ground that it relies to a large extent on the study of American experience. It assumes that organized interests prevail in a society, that these represent a significant segment of society, and that through competition they are capable of controlling each other such that none is able to prevail permanently over others. These assumptions require empirical scrutiny particularly outside of the United States and specifically in European and non-Western environments. Some sample questions would include whether all groups in society are equally capable of organizing themselves into effective organizations, whether they have equal resources to influence the political process, and whether some groups get much of what they want much of the time while others get hardly anything at all.
Polyarchy involves a permanent process of building coalitions among different groups to form majorities. Each majority comprises a different configuration of groups. This would lead actors to confine themselves to the achievement of bare majorities rather than pursuing the consensus model and trying to build as large a majority as possible.
The polyarchy model assumes that multifarious interests will organize and compete with each other in affecting public policies in their favor, with none getting all of what it wants. There does exist a rather different way of linking interest groups to the democratic political process: that of corporatism. Although corporatist or functional democracy may take many forms, its basic idea is to incorporate major organized interests (usually each represented by a single organizational entity) into the policy-making and implementation processes. Corporatist arrangements, it is sometimes argued, are more effective in ensuring that the interests of all major groups are represented in politics. Yet a number of questions remain. First, how can we be sure that all major interest groups are included in this arrangement? This question becomes all the more important since any corporatist system would tend to work in favor of those groups that have existed for a very long time and at the expense of those that are newly emerging. Second, we may ask, are the interest groups that are linked with the government run democratically themselves? Again, it is important to know the answer not only because there may exist different interpretations of what is in the interest of a particular group or what its interests are, but also because group leaders often develop an interest in sustaining themselves in office at the expense of the groups that they are supposed to represent and whose interests they are supposed to protect. Third, what concessions do the leaders of organized interests have to make to maintain their favored status vis-a-vis the government? Implicit in the question is the possibility that the leaders of interest groups may simply ease into becoming agents of government policy, transmitting, explaining, defending, and even helping implement it. Fourth, what effect do the corporatist arrangements have on other democratic institutions? For example, do these arrangements undermine respect for institutions such as political parties that have traditionally served as a channel for managing conflicting interests? These questions point to some of the potential shortcomings of functional democracy.
In examining how democracies functioned in Latin America, Guillermo O’Donnell observed that while these systems met the criteria for being designated “democratic,” they failed to display many of the characteristics of liberal representative democracies because they operated on the premise that the winner of the national election acquired the right to govern as he or she sees fit. The systems under study are presidential systems, where apparently the president feels that for a constitutionally defined period of time between elections, he or she is at liberty to rule mainly according to his or her preferences, only constrained by the distribution of power in society. O’Donnell termed these systems delegative democracies.
In systems where delegative democracy prevails, accountability runs vertically, whereas in institutionalized representative democracies, there is, in addition, horizontal accountability. Vertical accountability denotes electoral accountability. Horizontal accountability, on the other hand, refers to the presence and effectiveness of a network of autonomous institutions that exercise oversight on government officials to ensure that they discharge their responsibilities properly or be subject to sanctions. Presidents in delegative democracies treat institutions of horizontal responsibility as unwanted impediments to the performance of their duties as the custodian of national interest. They accept, however, the existence of rival parties and a reasonably free press as normal.
Delegative democracy is a less liberal form of democracy than a fully representative liberal democracy. It is strongly majoritarian with elections that give powers to a president who claims to serve as the “interpreter of the high interests of the nation.” Although they are not institutionalized, delegative democracies may be enduring.
Parliamentary and Presidential Democracies
When one focuses on the institutional arrangements within the liberal representative democracies, the most common distinction is between parliamentary democracies and presidential ones.
The presidential arrangement was the product of the American Revolution. Not having a fully functioning parliamentary system before them that they could choose to emulate, the leaders of the American Revolution converted the institution of the Absolute Monarch to a president who was elected for a defined period of time and with limited powers. Parliamentary democracy, on the other hand, evolved in Britain and Continental Europe as a result of the rise of new social classes during the industrial revolution that claimed a share in ruling society. The conversion of consultative mechanisms among the king, the nobility, and sometimes the church into parliaments whose members were elected through a competitive process was achieved often through a combination of violent change and peaceful transfer of power.
Presidential democracy as initially developed in the United States was part of a constitutional system based on the separation of powers as well as building checks and balances between the three branches of government. The president was elected by an electoral college whose members were elected explicitly to elect a president. The members of the legislature, the U.S. Congress, on the other hand, were elected directly through general elections. The president, elected independently, did not need to maintain the confidence of the legislature to stay in power and served a 4-year term. Initially by convention, much later by constitutional requirement, his tenure was limited to two terms. The American presidential system became more democratic over time. The adoption of a Bill of Rights, the abolishment of slavery after a destructive civil war, and the extension of franchise to Blacks and later to women constituted some of the landmark developments in this evolution.
The presidential system was adopted by almost all Latin American countries, but in none did it function as democratically as in the United States. In many instances, the presidential system constituted a method of promoting full or semi-dictatorships. Many Latin American presidential democracies today (not all are necessarily democratic) continue to exhibit the characteristics of delegative democracies.
Parliamentary democracy, a must for royal systems in which the office of the chief executive and the head of state is hereditary, is mainly a product of the 20th century. While some parliamentary systems were in operation intermittently in some European countries and somewhat more regularly in Britain, they were neither fully democratic nor consolidated. Most European parliamentary democracies did not extend suffrage to women until after World War I. Introduction of universal suffrage destabilized many of them, leading some, such as the Weimar Germany, Spain, Italy, and Austrian systems, to collapse while producing deep political polarization in such countries as Belgium, France, and Finland.
Parliamentary democracy is characterized by a fusion of powers in that the government is generally formed among parties in the parliament. The prime minister is almost always required to be an elected member of parliament, while other ministers are also usually deputies even if that is not always a legal requirement. The government is required to enjoy the confidence of a parliamentary majority to stay in office. The parliament, on the other hand, scrutinizes the government by questions, inquiries, committee hearings, interpellations, and motions of censure or no confidence. But, not unlike the presidential variant, parliamentary democracies exhibit significant variety among themselves.
Presidential and parliamentary democracies differ from each other in important ways. As already said in part, legislatures may not dismiss a president (except in cases of corruption, mental incompetence, etc.), while parliaments, although subject to some limitations, may dismiss a government by a vote of no confidence. In parliamentary democracies, governments may choose the timing of the elections, while election dates are more likely to be fixed in presidential democracies. Almost universally, presidential democracies have term limits for the president because he or she wields so much power. One is more likely to find multiparty systems in parliamentary than in presidential democracies. Although it has been suggested that presidential democracies enjoy strong, personalized leadership, the rise of party leaders to unequal supremacy in parliamentary democracies has also produced a similar type of leadership. Furthermore, many parliamentary democracies have evolved in the direction of prime ministerial government where the former many appoint and dismiss ministers pretty much as if he or she were a president.
There is a hybrid institutional arrangement that also deserves brief mention: the semipresidential democratic system, an arrangement that is most closely associated with France. In these systems, the elections of the president and the members of parliament usually take place in coterminous but distinct elections. The timing of the elections is fixed. In the French case, to ensure that the mandate of the president is backed by a majority, a runoff election is required among leading contenders. There is a division of responsibilities between the president and the prime minister, not very precise, regarding domains in which they are to be active. As in the case of presidential democracies, in semipresidential systems, the majority in the legislature and the partisan affiliation of the president may be at variance, necessitating cohabitation.
Critical Approaches: Democracy in Theory and in Practice
The diffusion of liberal democratic ideologies and the prevalence of democratic systems in the world have produced two contradictory outcomes. On the one hand, the crumbling of nondemocratic systems has given satisfaction to those that have been ruled by democratic regimes as well as a sense of confidence that democracies have outlasted what appeared to be powerful authoritarian regimes. On the other hand, democracies have come under greater scrutiny as scholars have begun to take a closer look at the imperfections of democracy as an ideology and as an operating political system.
Criticism of Democracy in Operation
Some problematical outcomes of democratic systems in operation have been observed and criticized by different observers. One relatively frequently made observations is that the liberal representative model has evolved into party democracy in which representatives are obliged to serve the parties under whose auspices they have been elected; therefore, they are neither able to express their own judgment nor represent without constraints the views of their own constituency. Parties, on the other hand, publicize their policy priorities in the electoral campaign and then proceed to implement them once in office. Parties, however, are in fact generally directed by their leaders. In this way, democracy in operation has become plebiscitary leadership democracy, an exercise in which the voters have periodic chances to express or deny confidence in the political leadership that runs the government (Held, 1996). Furthermore, the parties in power may represent only a minority of the voters and may use their being in office as a resource for extending their rule.
Approaching democracy in operation from another angle, it has been suggested that contemporary democracy is elitist democracy or that it is characterized by democratic elitism because key political decisions are made by small minorities. This is seen as a necessity deriving from the complexities of decisions, the time frame within which decisions have to be made, and the voluminous topics on which decisions have to be rendered. In this process, the role of the voter is no more than choosing among rival teams of elites. Even more problematical, the voters are often not well-informed and not sufficiently committed to the fundamental values of democracy such that too much involvement on their part may become a source of instability, a threat to the functioning of the democratic system (Peter Bachrach, 1969).
Radical democracy is an imprecise term that offers criticism of the contemporary applications of democracy from a variety of perspectives. Many persons whose names are associated with radical democracy are not interested in the replacement of the liberal and pluralistic democracy with another type, rather, they argue that it may be deepened and expanded to cover many areas of public life. One example is a deliberate effort to incorporate into the public all potential voters by enfranchising them so as to curb the ability of majorities to use their position to maintain their dominance of society. Another example is the struggle to undo the relations of subordination deriving from differences in gender, race, and sexual preference in addition to those deriving from the political economy. In all these instances, it is argued that the expansion of liberty and equality to all aspects of public life within the framework of political liberalism will enhance democracy and protect the rights of the individual against the tyranny of the majority. To conclude, the various proponents of radical democracy argue that contemporary applications of liberal democracy fail in being sufficiently inclusive to bring in all segments of the population into the political process. They further argue that current liberal democracies do not sufficiently extend liberal democratic applications to all areas of public life.
The prevalence of liberal representative democracy as the normative basis for the functioning democracies in the world today has led some analysts to focus on some of the problematical aspects and outcomes and proposals to remedy them. The best known school of thinking that has come under different names such as communicative or discursive, but most frequently as the deliberative theory of democracy, offers a normative framework for addressing some of the problematical aspects of liberal democratic theory.
Proponents of deliberative democracy point out that the two ideas of liberalism and democracy that are brought together in liberal democracy in fact harbor conflicts. While liberalism dwells on pluralism, individualism, and freedom, critical democratic principles include unity, community, and equality. First, there is a conflict between the liberal emphasis on pluralism and the basic need for the basic social and political unity of democratic society. Second, while individualism is ontological to liberalism, democracy assumes communitarianism. Finally, freedom, so fundamental to liberal thinking, and the principle of equality, so fundamental to democratic thought, may be seen as being pitted against each other.
These conflicts, in fact, are not conciliated in liberal democracy because while there may be argument and bargaining, the decision is formed by voting, which is an aggregative act, not one of reasoning in which all members of the community are persuaded by argumentation and discussion. Therefore, a decision that emerges as a result of voting does not reflect a consensus among all citizens. Deliberative democracy argues that free and open debate among equal citizens should continue until the emergence of a community consensus. In this process of what may be called practical reasoning, participants offer ideas and proposals for how to best solve problems and meet the needs and so on of the community. Each presents arguments to persuade the others to accept his or her proposals, eventually leading to a consensus. In this model, democratic process is primarily a discussion of problems, disagreements, expressed needs, and interests where, through dialogue, each tests and challenges the proposals and arguments of others.
For a deliberative democracy to operate, citizens must share or demonstrate a commitment to solve their collective problems through public reasoning and accept the framework for public deliberation as legitimate. Jiirgen Habermas has argued that the successful operation of the deliberative democratic procedure is based on the following postulates:
- Deliberation is in argumentative form. There is a regulated exchange of information among parties who introduce and critically test proposals.
- All those who are affected by the decision have an opportunity to take part in the debate. In principle, no one may be excluded from the deliberations that are public.
- The deliberations are free of external and internal coercion that undermine the equality of participants.
- The deliberations aim to achieve rationally based agreement. They may be discontinued and resumed any time.
- It is expected that the predeliberation attitudes and preferences of parties will be changed through arguments.
It is evident that deliberative democracy does not offer a practical alternative to the operation of contemporary democracies. Its application in societies with large populations where the governments are expected to address many problems simultaneously is not a realistic possibility since the time needed to implement the process would be unacceptably long and near-full consensus might be impossible to attain in many situations. Nevertheless, the proponents of deliberative democracy point to some problematical aspects—that is, contradictions and weaknesses in contemporary applications of liberal democracy. Reaching decisions by majority vote may exclude many of those most closely affected by a decision; majorities and minorities may display a reasonable permanent character, frustrating those that are pushed to the position of a minority.
In contrast to the radical and deliberative criticisms of contemporary liberal democracy that emphasize current shortcomings, the proponents of cosmopolitan democracy point to the direction they think democracies should take in view of the changes in the world. Noting that democratic systems get transformed and become redefined as societies evolve, as new needs appear, and as some functions and institutions no longer respond to needs and become redundant, Daniel Archibugi and David Held (1995) have pointed out that democratic systems operate under the highly questionable assumption that a government exercises sovereignty over a national political community that inhabits a delineated territory. Yet national, regional, and global connectedness belies the validity of this assumption. Therefore, there is a need to adjust democratic systems and applications to global change. The solution may be the development of a multipronged global model of democracy where innovations such as regional parliaments would produce decisions that would be recognized as sources of law; the holding of referenda across nation-states on issues such as energy policy, transportation systems, and so on; and the entrenchment of a body of individual rights with a political, economic, and social content. It may be noted, in this regard, that some basis has already evolved for the implementation of these ideas since there are already various products of regional integration in the world as well as a growing acceptance of universal standards for the observation of human rights. These may well mark the beginning of a process that will take us to a democracy that transcends the borders of the nation-states, keeping in mind, however, that there is no single inevitable way societies respond to pressures for change.
Social Democracy Versus Liberal Democracy
The discussion of the types of democracy has focused so far on institutional arrangements. Since political democracy is usually thought of as a political regime, this is natural. The content of social and economic policies that democracies have pursued, however, has also constituted grounds for distinguishing between two policy-based types: liberal and social democracies. As a political ideology, liberal democracy and social democracy are based on the two rival premises of equality of opportunity and equality of condition, respectively. Liberal democracy argues that the market constitutes the most reliable instrument for offering equality of opportunity to all citizens, leading it to advocate policies that rely on the market as the mechanism that brings solutions to social and economic problems. Consequently, it favors policies that promote the undisturbed operation of the market, such as not introducing wage and price controls, maintaining low taxes, and pursuing free trade. It expects the individual to pay fully for his or her needs, such as housing and health care. Social democracy, on the other hand, assuming a society in which members consider themselves as being socially equal, proposes the adoption and implementation of policies that aim to enhance the equality of conditions, such as a large public presence in the economy, minimum wages, unemployment insurance, social security, universal health service, and free public education, as well as other similar functions. Many political parties that pursue social-democratic goals and policies also bear the name “Social Democratic” (in capital letters).
It has been observed that originally liberal democracy evolved in societies where the middle classes were united and coherent, while the urban working class was weakly organized and divided. In contrast, social democracy emerged in areas where the middle classes were fragmented and lacked coherence, while urban working classes were capable of organizing and forcing a social compact. As some of the policy goals initially sought by social democracy (e.g., social security, minimum wages, unemployment insurance) became standard policy in contemporary democratic societies, the policy content of both liberal and social democracy has become redefined, and their differences have become less clear. Nevertheless, these two types continue to constitute one of the fundamental bases of political choice on which electoral competition is conducted in most societies ruled by democracy.
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