On the meanings of democracy

Theoria 53 (111):1-5 (2006)
Abstract
'On the Meanings of Democracy' points to the fragility and contested meanings of 'democracy'. Once 'the assurance is given that "democracy" is the only kind of political regime that is acceptable to an adult, emancipated population which is an end in itself, the very idea of democracy fades and becomes blurred and confusing'. Such 'wide-spread lack of clarity' gave rise to Europe's 'totalitarian' regimes. It is claimed that 'it is impossible to be simply a "democrat" without questioning what this really means', and that to ignore the conceptual difficulties is as 'dangerous as rejecting democracy completely'. A 'minimal argument or blueprint for an enquiry into the possible meanings' of the term is proposed. The implications of taking 'democracy', the word, 'to describe the exercising of political power by the people' are explored. The 'people' as a social group distinct from some 'other reputedly superior part, which dominates it', is distinguished from the 'people' taken to mean 'the whole'. In the first sense, 'democracy' is not a regime but an uprising against a regime or government. In the second sense, the 'political sovereignty of the people' signifies their 'self-constitution as a people'. Accounts of democracy that focus not so much on its 'political specificity' as on 'civil society' or the 'social bond' are then explored. The author concludes with a reflection on the relationship between democracy, 'modernity' and the scope, nature and place of politics.
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