Introduction to Political Theory

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We will examine and interpret contemporary democratic models from a normative perspective. Our aim is to understand democracy not only in terms of its institutions and practices, but also in terms of its ideal values and principles.

Our analysis will begin with an exploration of the concept of democracy from Greek antiquity, focusing on the issues and challenges that have shaped democratic philosophy. We will then examine two modern perspectives on democracy: Schumpeter's elitist vision and Dahl's pluralist vision. Schumpeter's elitist view emphasises the competitive aspect of democracy and sees the role of the citizen more as a voter than as an active participant in government. Dahl's pluralist vision, on the other hand, envisages a democracy in which citizens, through groups and associations, have a more active and direct role in the formulation of policy.

As we proceed, we will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of these two models, stressing the limitations inherent in the pluralist model, such as the exclusion of small groups, the need for resources to organise groups and the arbitrary prejudices that exist. Finally, our aim will be to seek to understand how we can envisage a model of democracy that can both recover what was strong and attractive in the pluralist model, while accepting the need for intentional efforts to blur the inequalities inherited from the past. This article, based on both theoretical and empirical approaches, is an in-depth exploration of democracy as ideal and reality.

What is normative political theory?[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Using the pluralist model of democracy as an analytical tool[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The pluralist model of democracy is an important concept in political theory. Pluralism refers to the diversity of opinions and interests present in a democratic society and posits that democracy is best achieved when these diverse groups have the opportunity to make their voices heard in the political process. In simpler terms, democratic pluralism suggests that there is no single general or common interest, but rather a multitude of particular interests represented by different groups of citizens. Politics is then seen as a battleground for these different groups, who seek to influence political decisions in their favour.

From the point of view of empirical political science, the pluralist model is useful for analysing how political decisions are made in real democracies. It allows us to explore the dynamics of pressure groups, political parties, trade unions, businesses and other interest groups. It can also help explain why some policies are adopted while others are not, depending on the relative strength and influence of different interest groups. From the perspective of normative political theory, which focuses on how things should be rather than how they are, the pluralist model can be both a source of optimism and criticism. On the one hand, it can be seen as an affirmation of diversity and freedom of expression, where every group has the opportunity to influence policy. On the other hand, it can be criticised for its tendency to favour groups that already have power and resources, to the detriment of those who are marginalised or less well organised.

The pluralist model is a fundamental basis in political science, both in its empirical and normative aspects. Empirically, the pluralist model provides a framework for understanding how democracy works in practice. It recognises that society is made up of diverse interest groups that seek to influence public policy. By observing these interactions, we can analyse how these various forces help to shape the political landscape. In addition, the pluralist model allows us to ask key questions about the distribution of power and influence in a society. For example, which groups are the most influential? Which groups are marginalised or excluded from the political process? How do these dynamics affect political outcomes? In normative terms, the pluralist model helps us to think about what a democracy should be. It values diversity of opinion and competition between different interest groups as a means of achieving democracy. However, it also highlights the potential flaws of this model, such as the possibility that some groups are disproportionately powerful and others marginalised. Finally, the pluralist model can also help us make recommendations on how to improve the way democracy works. For example, if we find that certain groups are regularly excluded from the political process, we could propose reforms to increase their inclusion and influence.

Changing perspectives on the pluralist model[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The pluralist model gained ground in Western political science during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Several researchers developed and formalised this concept during this period. The work of Robert Dahl is particularly noteworthy. In his book Who Governs?" (1961), Dahl examines how power works in an American city and concludes that power is distributed among several interest groups rather than concentrated in the hands of an elite.[1] David Truman, in The Governmental Process (1951), also developed the idea that politics is largely determined by the interaction of various interest groups.[2] According to him, these groups are formed in response to shared social pressures and are essential for the stabilization of society. In The Semi-Sovereign People (1960), E.E. Schattschneider argued that the pluralist model has its limits, particularly when it comes to ensuring fair representation of all interests in society.[3] In particular, he pointed out that certain interest groups have a disproportionate advantage in the political process. These theories have been fundamental to understanding how democracy works and are still widely used today, although they have been supplemented and criticised by later approaches, particularly those that emphasise the role of the elite, inequalities of power, and the importance of political institutions.

Understanding the pluralist model can serve as a basis for exploring other models of democracy, including the elitist model. The elitist model, also known as the competitive democracy model or Schumpeterian democracy (named after the political theorist Joseph Schumpeter), offers a different perspective on how democracy works. According to Schumpeter in his book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), democracy is defined by competition for political leadership between an elite. Rather than emphasising direct citizen participation, as direct democracy does, or competition between diverse interest groups, as the pluralist model does, Schumpeter sees democracy primarily as a mechanism by which citizens elect their leaders. For Schumpeter, the citizen's main role is to participate in elections to choose between different elite candidates. He argued that this model is more realistic and functional than the direct democracy model, particularly in today's complex and densely populated societies. Schumpeter's elitist model has been criticised for its minimalist approach to democracy. Some argue that it gives too much power to the elite and does not do enough to encourage citizen participation or to ensure the representation of society's diverse interests. However, it offers a useful perspective for analysing the reality of how many modern democracies work. Ultimately, the pluralist and elitist models offer different but complementary perspectives on democracy. They both stress the importance of competition in the democratic process, but they differ in terms of who participates in this competition (diverse interest groups in the pluralist model, the political elite in the elitist model) and how it takes place.

Modern democracy, particularly the elitist model, is generally regarded as the most legitimate form of government in many parts of the world today. However, this has not always been the case and there are many challenges and criticisms associated with this model. Firstly, the elitist model is based on the idea that the political elite are best placed to govern. This stems from the belief that the elite have the knowledge, expertise and resources to make informed decisions on behalf of the people. However, this has been criticised for the fact that it can lead to a concentration of power in the hands of a small number of individuals, potentially immune from the will of the people. Furthermore, although elitist democracy involves elections, some argue that it does not sufficiently encourage citizen participation beyond voting. Citizens can feel disconnected from the political process and feel that their voices are not really heard, which can lead to apathy and cynicism. Secondly, the elitist model can also be criticised for not taking sufficient account of inequalities of power and resources in society. Some groups may have more means of influencing public policy than others, which can lead to results that are not fair to all. Finally, modern democracy faces many challenges that are not specific to the elitist model, but are still relevant. These challenges include misinformation, political polarisation, corruption and the threat of populism.

Democracy as practised in the ancient Greek city-states of Athens and Sparta was very different from democracy as we know it today. In Athenian democracy, for example, all citizens - then defined as free men born of Athenian parents - had the right to participate directly in the political assembly and to vote on all matters. This was a form of direct democracy, where the citizens themselves made the laws and took the political decisions. In the Spartan model, although the system was not as democratic as that of Athens, there was still a degree of citizen participation, particularly in the citizens' assembly, where laws were proposed by the ephors (rulers) and voted on by the citizens. However, these ancient models had significant limitations. They excluded a large part of the population - women, slaves and foreigners - from political participation. What's more, they were largely made possible by the small size of the city-states, which allowed all the citizens to gather in one place to make decisions.

When we turn to the modern period, especially after the Second World War, democracy as practised in Antiquity seemed little applicable. Modern nations are much larger and more diverse, with much larger populations. Athenian-style direct democracy would be logistically difficult, if not impossible, to implement on a large scale. In addition, the trauma of war has given rise to a desire for stability, security and the restoration of order, which has sometimes been better served by non-democratic forms of government, such as constitutional monarchies or even totalitarian regimes. It is for these reasons that the model of democracy that prevailed after the Second World War is generally a form of representative democracy, where citizens elect representatives to take decisions on their behalf, rather than direct democracy. This is seen as a compromise between the need for citizen participation and the practical constraints of large-scale governance.

Major issues and concerns in normative political theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

So why do we really even have a real challenge these days, namely what democracy can be in the modern world?

Normative political theory is one of the oldest branches of political science and is closely related to moral philosophy. It is concerned with questions such as "What is a good society?" or "What should the aims of government be?" These are questions about what should be, rather than what is - hence the term "normative". Normative political theory can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, who pondered the nature of justice, virtue and the best kind of government. These ideas have continued to be developed throughout history by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill and many others. Normative political theory continues to be an important part of political science today, although it is sometimes given less prominence than other more empirical aspects of the discipline. It plays a key role in our understanding of democratic ideals, human rights, equality, freedom and social justice. However, it is also true that contemporary political science has broadly evolved to include a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods that seek to understand political behaviour, institutions, public policy and other aspects of how governments function. These empirical and analytical approaches are often considered more 'scientific' because of their objectivity and reproducibility, but this does not diminish the value of normative political theory. In fact, normative political theory and empirical political science are often complementary. Normative theories can provide frameworks for interpreting and evaluating empirical data, while empirical research can help test and refine normative theories. Together, they contribute to a more complete and nuanced understanding of politics.

Normative political theory, and thus political science as a whole, has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. Socrates, for example, was known for his method of critical questioning, often referred to as 'maieutics' or the 'Socratic method', in which he asked questions to get his interlocutors to think more deeply and critically about their beliefs and presuppositions. Although Socrates himself wrote no works, his dialogues with his disciples, as recounted by Plato, often touched on questions of justice, ethics and the best way to live, themes that are at the heart of normative political theory. Plato, one of Socrates' pupils, later formalised these ideas in his writings, notably in 'The Republic', where he examines the question of justice and proposes a vision of the ideal society. Aristotle, another ancient Greek philosopher, also made important contributions to normative political theory, examining the nature and purpose of the state and classifying different forms of government. These ideas have been developed and debated throughout the history of philosophy and political science, and continue to shape our understanding of politics today. Although political science has evolved to include many other methods and approaches, normative political theory remains a fundamental part of the discipline.

Normative political theory is concerned with how the world should be, focusing on questions of justice, rights, duties, good government and good institutions. It goes beyond describing the world as it is and seeks to establish how it should be on the basis of ethical and moral principles. For example, the issue of compulsory voting raises many problems in the field of normative political theory. Advocates of compulsory voting may argue that all citizens have a duty to participate in the democratic process, as this is how we ensure the representativeness and legitimacy of government. They may also argue that compulsory voting promotes equality by ensuring that all citizens, regardless of social class, education or income level, have a say in the political process. On the other hand, critics of compulsory voting might argue that forcing citizens to vote infringes their individual freedom, a principle also valued in many democratic systems. They might also argue that voting should be a right, but not necessarily a duty, and that the responsibility for encouraging citizens to vote should lie with politicians, who should propose convincing and engaging policies. In this debate, normative political theory provides a framework for assessing the arguments on both sides, based on principles such as freedom, equality, duty and justice. This is an example of how normative political theory can help inform discussions on contemporary political issues.

Normative political theory seeks to establish ideals for society and individual behaviour based on moral and ethical principles. It asks fundamental questions about what freedom, equality and justice mean, and how these concepts should be embodied in our institutions and actions. For example, normative political theory can help define what 'freedom' really means. Is it simply the absence of constraints ('negative' freedom), or does it also imply the real ability to act according to one's own goals ('positive' freedom)? And how can these different conceptions of freedom be translated into practice, in terms of laws, policies and institutions? Similarly, normative political theory can help to define and balance the ideals of equality and solidarity. For example, what equality should be aimed for - equality of opportunity, equality of outcome, or something in between? And how can these goals be reconciled with individual freedom and economic efficiency? In addition, normative political theory can help guide our policy preferences and actions. For example, it can help us think about our responsibilities as citizens, the nature of social justice, or how we should deal with issues of the environment, migration, gender and race. In all these cases, normative political theory provides tools for thinking critically about these issues, for debating different perspectives, and for guiding our efforts to create a better world.

Intersections between normative political theory and empirical political science[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Although normative political theory and empirical political science differ in their approaches and objectives, they are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are often complementary and inform each other. Normative political theory is concerned with questions of what ought to be and can therefore be guided by moral, ethical and philosophical principles. However, in order to formulate relevant and effective normative propositions, it is necessary to understand the world as it is. This is where empirical political science comes in. Empirical political science uses scientific research methods to understand how the political world works. This can involve studying everything from the behaviour of voters and the workings of political institutions, to the impact of public policy and the dynamics of international relations. It seeks not only to describe these phenomena, but also to explain why they are the way they are. This empirical knowledge can in turn inform normative political theory. For example, if we want to argue that democracies should adopt certain practices in order to be fairer or more effective, it is useful to know how these practices work in the real world. Or if we want to promote certain public policies, it is useful to understand how these policies have worked in the past and what their likely consequences might be. In sum, although normative political theory and empirical political science have different approaches, they are both essential to a full understanding of politics and can work together to help us understand not only how the world is, but also how it should be.

Although the questions posed by normative political theory are often 'what we should do' rather than 'what is', it also uses explanations and evidence to support its conclusions, as do the more empirical branches of political science. Normative political theorists use logic, moral and political philosophy, history, and sometimes even empirical data to construct their arguments. For example, a theorist might use historical data to demonstrate the harmful consequences of certain policies or institutions, and then argue on the basis of this evidence that we should change our approach. Or a theorist might look at a set of moral or political principles (such as equality, liberty or justice) and then use logic and reasoning to determine what kinds of behaviour or institutions would be most consistent with those principles. In all cases, normative political theory does not simply make assertions about what we should do; it seeks to support these assertions with rational arguments and evidence. It is therefore, in its own way, a form of research that seeks to explain not the world as it is, but the world as it ought to be.

Methodological approach to normative political theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is important to note that moral and political philosophy is not relativistic by nature. Although different people and cultures may have different ideas about what is morally or politically correct, this does not mean that all opinions are equally valid in a philosophical discussion. Moral and political philosophy, like all academic disciplines, is guided by rigorous methods of reasoning, proof and debate. Philosophers do not simply state their opinions; they construct logical arguments to support them, draw on evidence (whether empirical, logical, historical or other), and subject their ideas to critical scrutiny by their peers. Moreover, moral and political philosophy is not simply a matter of subjective opinions. It is based on universal principles such as logic and ethics, and aims to discover truths about issues such as justice, freedom, equality and well-being. Even though people may disagree on these issues, this does not mean that there are no correct or better answers to be discovered. So although moral and political philosophy may sometimes seem relativistic because of the diversity of views it examines, it is in fact a rigorous discipline that aims to establish norms and truths about how we should act and organise our lives in society.

Normative political theory, like any other academic discipline, relies on rigorous methodological tools to structure and guide its study:

  • Logic: This is the basic structure for establishing coherent and valid arguments. It facilitates the passage from an assertion or a set of assertions to a conclusion.
  • Conceptual analysis: This method involves clarifying and analysing the fundamental concepts used in political theory, such as justice, equality, freedom, etc. This provides a solid basis for debate and reflection.
  • Internal criticism: This involves examining the arguments of a theory from the inside, checking their internal consistency, identifying any contradictions and exploring the implications of the theory.
  • Normative evidence: Normative theories must be supported by evidence, whether in the form of logical reasoning, references to generally accepted moral or ethical principles, or empirical evidence about the consequences of different actions or policies.
  • Moral and ethical judgement: Normative political theorists use their moral and ethical judgement to assess different situations, policies, institutions, etc. This often involves weighing up values and assumptions. This often involves weighing up competing values and interests, and attempting to resolve moral and political dilemmas.

The key to using these tools effectively is to do so in a rigorous, disciplined and critical way. It is not simply a matter of expressing personal opinions, but of engaging in deep reasoning, searching for evidence, testing hypotheses and subjecting ideas to critical peer review. In this way, normative political theory can contribute to a deeper and more nuanced understanding of politics and morality.

Teaching political theory at the University of Geneva[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Normative political theory and the history of ideas are both important areas of political science, but they have different approaches and aims. The history of ideas involves the study of how ideas and philosophies have changed over time. It examines the evolution of political ideas, how they have influenced society and politics, and how they have been influenced by their historical context. The history of ideas can therefore be seen as a more descriptive or empirical approach to political science. Normative political theory, on the other hand, is a discipline concerned with questions of what ought to be. It asks what values, principles and objectives should guide politics and society. It is therefore a more prescriptive or normative approach to political science. It is important to note that these two approaches can complement and inform each other. The study of the history of ideas can inform normative debates by showing how certain ideas have worked in the past, while normative political theory can inform the history of ideas by providing a framework for evaluating and interpreting past ideas. The Department of Political Science at the University of Geneva is currently the only political science department in Switzerland that teaches normative political theory from the bachelor's to the doctorate level, whereas in Switzerland most students study the history of ideas.

Positive political theory focuses on the description, explanation and prediction of political behaviour and political processes. It is based on observable facts and seeks to use empirical methods, including quantitative and mathematical methods, to formulate theories that can predict future behaviour. An example of this would be the study of voting behaviour or the analysis of electoral systems. On the other hand, normative political theory focuses on questions of what should be, rather than what is. It uses tools such as logic, conceptual analysis and ethics to explore the values, principles and norms that should guide political behaviour and institutions. This might involve, for example, a discussion of social justice, equality, democracy, freedom, human rights, and so on. Both types of theory are important and complement each other. Positive political theory can help us understand how the world works and predict what might happen in the future. Normative political theory, on the other hand, can help us understand how the world should work and formulate goals for improving society and political institutions.

Normative political theory differs from other forms of the history of ideas in its focus on contemporary problems and its concern with the values and principles that should guide our political thinking and action. By focusing on current problems, normative political theory seeks to clarify the moral and political issues at stake, to identify and evaluate the arguments of different parties, and to make recommendations about how these problems should be solved. The aim is not only to understand the problems, but also to contribute to their resolution by proposing principles and values that can guide actions and policies. Sometimes this can help to resolve conflicts by clarifying the issues and dissolving misunderstandings. This is not to say that normative political theory can resolve all political conflicts - after all, many conflicts are based on deep disagreements about fundamental values or material interests. However, it can help to make these disagreements clearer and more explicit, and perhaps to identify compromises or solutions that respect as far as possible the values and interests of all concerned.

Clarifying different points of view is a central part of normative political theory. This involves examining and explaining the advantages and disadvantages of different policy positions and providing a balanced and nuanced analysis of the issues. This analysis can then be used to inform policy decisions and to help resolve conflicts. The idea is to shed light on the values, principles and objectives that are at stake in different policy issues, and to explain the consequences of different policies or actions. For example, if we consider a debate about taxation, a normative political theory analysis might clarify the principles of justice, equality and economic efficiency that might be at stake, and explain the implications of different tax policies in terms of these principles. Normative political theory does not necessarily claim to resolve all political conflicts, but it does aim to make these conflicts more comprehensible and to provide tools for informed reflection and debate. Ultimately, the aim is to contribute to more thoughtful and ethically responsible policy decisions.

Democracy in modern political theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The importance of democratic pluralism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Why should we study pluralist theories of democracy, of which Robert Dahl's is an emblematic example? What is the relevance of these theories, which were developed fifty years ago and whose shortcomings are well known? The answer lies in the fact that these theories, and Dahl's in particular, offer us a representation of the democratic world that seems to accurately reflect the fundamental aspects of our contemporary societies.

Despite the cultural and historical differences between countries such as the United States, Switzerland, France, India, England and the Scandinavian countries, there are common features that define their modern democracies. These characteristics include representative government, universal suffrage, majority decision-making through votes, and "modern freedoms" to use Benjamin Constant's expression. These freedoms include freedom of expression, thought, religion, association, movement and, of course, political choice. These values are essential to a healthy and functioning democracy, enabling every citizen to have a say in the political process and to enjoy their fundamental rights without fear of repression or discrimination. These aspects, highlighted by pluralist theories, are crucial to understanding and apprehending the functioning of modern democracies.

What makes pluralist theories so important is the effort they make to offer us a model of modern democracies, a model that transcends their differences. This model serves not only for empirical analysis and social theorising, but also, and above all, for making normative judgements. It does more than simply depict the characteristics of our societies and our modern democracy. It also offers a way of thinking about the legitimacy of our governments, and of the way we govern ourselves. In so doing, it invites us to question the idea, sometimes widespread, that democracy is not, after all, a very effective form of government. By providing us with a framework for analysing and evaluating our democracies, these pluralist theories help to strengthen our understanding of the foundations and challenges of our modern political systems.

The value of pluralist theories lies in their dual utility. On the one hand, they offer an empirically valuable model for analysing political reality. On the other, they are particularly relevant from a normative point of view. These theories attempt to explain why, despite their notorious shortcomings, the democratic governments of our societies enjoy a legitimacy that other forms of government do not. These pluralist models thus articulate a justification for democracy, not as a perfect form of government, but as the least imperfect of the existing ones. By emphasising the mechanisms of control, representation and respect for individual freedoms that are specific to democracy, pluralist theories help us to understand why, despite its shortcomings, democracy remains a legitimate form of governance and preferable to its alternatives.

Pluralism proposes a vision of government as a space for fair competition. In this model, organised political parties, as well as other secondary associations such as trade unions, employers' associations and religious groups, compete to influence laws and policy directions. In a political system where citizens are divided and cannot agree on how to legislate or govern, pluralism argues that the only form of legitimacy lies in the fair opportunity for all these entities to compete for power. This approach recognises the existence of a plurality of opinions and interests in society, and the need for fair competition to ensure that this diversity is represented in government. Thus, despite disagreements and conflicts, the legitimacy of the system is maintained by the mechanism of fair competition and alternation of power.

The pluralist model highlights the fact that for political competition to be fair, it is necessary to guarantee both the equality of citizens and their freedom, both personal and political. Guaranteeing equality ensures that every citizen has the same rights and opportunities to participate in political life. This includes access to information, the right to vote, and the opportunity to stand for political office. By guaranteeing freedom, we enable every citizen to express his or her opinions and political preferences freely, without fear of reprisal or discrimination. The pluralist model therefore gives us a framework for understanding what is needed to guarantee political legitimacy. It shows us that legitimacy is not limited to a simple numerical majority, but also requires respect for the equality and freedom of citizens. This is why the pluralist model is so important to our understanding of modern democracy.

Ancient Greek democracy and its contemporary challenges[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Questioning democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Why is it essential to provide answers to these questions? What makes it so crucial to demonstrate that our governments operate on the democratic principle and that, by virtue of this democracy, they hold considerable legitimacy? The need to answer these questions stems from the fact that the legitimacy of a government is essential to its stability, effectiveness and acceptability to citizens. Democratic governments derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed: it is the citizens who, through their vote, give the government the power to govern. Without this legitimacy, a government is likely to encounter opposition, discontent and resistance from its citizens. Demonstrating that our governments are democratic is not just a question of factual accuracy, but also of justice and respect for citizens' rights. In a democracy, every citizen has the right to participate in decision-making, whether directly or through elected representatives. If a government claims to be democratic but does not respect these rights, it is essential to denounce it and challenge it. The importance of understanding the challenges posed by Greek democracy is that, as the first documented democracy, it represents a kind of 'original model' of democracy. By studying Greek democracy, we can understand how democracy was born and how it has evolved over time. We can also understand the challenges and problems that democracy faced from the beginning, and see how these problems have been dealt with, or not, in modern democracies. This can help us avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and improve the way democracy is practised today.

Democracy, in its original form, was mainly found in small city-states such as Athens and Sparta in ancient times. These cities were home to a limited number of inhabitants, in this case a few thousand, and only a small number of them were considered to be citizens. These citizens were typically free men, while slaves, women and foreigners were excluded from citizenship. Slavery played a central role in these city-states. It was seen as a necessary condition for the existence of democracy in these societies. Slave labour ensured that citizens had enough free time to participate actively in political life and in the affairs of the city. Slaves did most of the manual and domestic work, leaving citizens free to devote themselves to public affairs. However, it is important to note that this form of democracy was radically different from our modern conceptions of democracy. Back then, democracy was direct: all citizens were personally involved in deciding on laws and policies. Today, most democracies are representative: citizens elect representatives who take decisions on their behalf. In short, democracy in the Greek city-states was a small-scale, highly exclusive affair, based on slavery, with direct citizen participation in government. So understanding these origins and characteristics of ancient democracy helps us to better grasp the transformation of this idea and its application in our modern societies.

In our modern, vast and complex societies, slavery no longer exists. Most citizens have to work to support themselves, then return home to take care of domestic chores and family obligations. As a result, they have little time to engage in politics or political education. This raises a fundamental question: is it really possible to have genuine democracy in the modern world, given these differences from ancient Greek democracy? The context of democracy has changed radically: we are no longer in small city-states, but in vast nations. What's more, direct democracy, as practised in Athens, seems impossible on the scale of a modern country. This is why most contemporary democracies are representative democracies: citizens elect representatives who vote on laws and take decisions on their behalf. However, this does not mean that the essence of democracy, namely the rule of the people, cannot be preserved. We simply need to adapt the concept to our contemporary reality. For example, technological advances such as the Internet can facilitate citizen participation and the dissemination of information, making democracy more accessible and vibrant. Democracy in the modern world is therefore certainly different from Greek democracy, but it is no less valid or achievable. We must, however, be aware of these differences and be prepared to continue to adapt and evolve our democratic systems so that they meet the changing needs and realities of our societies.

Challenges posed by the pluralist model[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The first challenge, which is essential, has been of particular concern to philosophers such as Arendt. Following the Second World War, they sought to understand the prospects for democracy in a world marked by two global conflicts. One of these conflicts saw Germany, at the time the most advanced nation, descend into barbarism. We who consider our societies to be democratic must therefore ask ourselves what that democracy is. Indeed, most of us have a limited knowledge of public policy, even in our own country, let alone international affairs.

What's more, we have very little time to participate, organise and debate political issues with others. To make matters worse, not only do we not have slaves, but although we can employ domestic servants, the emancipation of women has also removed the availability of unpaid domestic work. One of the questions raised by the emancipation of women was precisely how we could maintain democracy in a world without slaves, in a world where we no longer had slaves to educate children and organise the home. So if ordinary citizens, with average intelligence and average energies, have to earn a living, look after their children, look after their parents and grandparents, while at the same time educating themselves and taking an interest in a politics that often seems to us very abstract, difficult to understand and, of course, very difficult to influence, then we can seriously ask ourselves how this resembles democracy as it was practised in Greece. In ancient Greece, after all, it was the citizens who governed themselves, who were chosen by lot. These were people who could devote themselves fully to the politics of their country.

The first thing to grasp, when trying to understand the influence of the pluralist model, is the major challenge of determining how we can maintain a democracy today, despite what we call our current governments.

Secondly, unlike the ancient Greek democracies that did not guarantee freedom of religion - as witnessed by the fate of Socrates, who did not enjoy freedom of thought and expression - the citizens of the time were generally in agreement about what constituted a good life and what their state should aim to achieve. In our modern societies, by contrast, we are deeply divided on moral and religious issues, including the need for religion, the number of deities to be recognised, and the role of religion in politics. We are also divided on economic issues, such as how to organise a socialist economy or the need to accept a basic income. These divisions are not just about our personal preferences, but also about our deepest and most intimate convictions.

Faced with this reality, one might ask whether it is still possible, in the modern context marked by fundamental differences on questions of good and morality, to share power as equal citizens. Is it really possible to consider ourselves equal when we hold ideas that we regard as deplorable, ill-conceived or even dangerous? This contemporary challenge confronts us with the question: is it possible to treat each other as equals when, at the end of the day, we share very few common values?

Ultimately, in a modern, cosmopolitan world where economies far outstrip our city and country, and where our governments can only control a small part, we may well ask whether it is possible to maintain a democracy. In ancient Greece, economic decisions did not occupy a very important place in political life, being reduced essentially to questions of taxation and revenue to fund the government, support poor citizens and finance wars, particularly in Athens and Sparta. Today, however, economic issues are an important part of public policy. Clearly, these issues are far beyond our understanding as individuals, and our ability to act is limited. We must therefore ask ourselves whether and how we can have democratic governments in today's world.

The enduring appeal of Greek democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Why pay attention to what the Greeks did? There are certain aspects of their democracy that continue to challenge and attract us, despite centuries of cultural differences and despite our differing values on issues such as gender equality, racial equality and, of course, slavery.

Despite the considerable differences in context and values, it is essential to examine the Greek model of democracy for several reasons. Firstly, it is Athenian democracy that is often regarded as the cradle of democracy, i.e. the form of governance that many modern societies aspire to emulate or perfect. Secondly, Greek democracy offers a unique perspective on how a government can function with the direct and active participation of its citizens. Even if this model is not entirely transferable to our contemporary societies because of their size, diversity and complexity, it nevertheless offers important lessons about civic engagement and political accountability. Moreover, despite their obvious shortcomings, such as the exclusion of women, slaves and foreigners from citizenship, the Greek city-states demonstrated a remarkable capacity for adaptation and resilience in the face of political and social challenges. Their experience sheds light on how modern societies can navigate their own challenges. Finally, despite our obvious differences with the Greeks in terms of gender equality, race and views on slavery, the fact that we can still find value and relevance in their political system is testament to the universality of certain political ideas and human nature. It is a powerful reminder that, despite our cultural, temporal and societal differences, there are fundamental principles of fairness, justice and governance that transcend time and culture.

The appeal of Greek democracy lies in the promise of self-governance - the ability to exert significant influence over the conditions and quality of our own existence. It is the opportunity for every citizen to have a voice that counts, that carries weight in the decisions that affect their daily lives.

It is often difficult for us to exert a significant influence on the events of our lives, even in very personal areas. There are a multitude of factors and circumstances beyond our control that affect our lives. But the absence of power or influence in areas that affect us, particularly in political areas that involve coercive laws, social conventions and the potential for violence, is deeply troubling. The loss of our ability to self-govern - not just individually, but in concert with others - would be truly worrying. It is because we see in ourselves a reflection of the Greek ideal of self-governance that the democratic ideal appeals to us. For us, the crucial question is whether we can achieve self-government, democracy, in conditions radically different from those that gave rise to this idea and this form of government.

Why is self-government so fascinating? For some it's a utopia, for others it's an illusion to believe that we can manage ourselves as a collective, that it's attractive to try to influence politics. To address these questions, it is essential to delve into the philosophy of the individual, the way in which we perceive our possibilities as human beings: our capacity to reflect, to deliberate on our actions, to evaluate our thoughts, desires and achievements. We feel the importance of freedom, the possibility of developing our capacities for action and reflection, of making choices not only as individuals but also as a group. This is what the ideal of self-government refers to. We are interested in politics even if we agree on the ideal of the autonomous individual, master of his emotions and desires, that image of the Stoic ideal that we inherited from the Greeks. We may value politics and the possibility of having a voice that counts as much as anyone else's for purely instrumental reasons, and the importance of these instrumental reasons for wanting democracy becomes clear when we look at past forms of government. From feudal systems to monarchies to representative but undemocratic governments, such as those that prevailed in the United States and Europe in the nineteenth century, we have many reasons to prefer a democracy.

In these other forms of government, the fate of the majority of people was often overlooked. If you were a serf, you were regarded as a mere work animal in the eyes of the nobles; the interests of the serfs themselves were of no importance. They may have been used as cannon fodder in war, as labourers in the fields, or simply for procreation, but their feelings, desires and sentiments were of absolutely no value. Indeed, even in representative but undemocratic governments, such as those in nineteenth-century England, it is clear that the interests of those who did not have the vote, such as working-class women or men, were of little importance. Their lack of a voice and their inferior status made them invisible to others.

The question of political competence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

If we consider that self-governance is a value to be defended, that participation in public affairs is important, then we must be able to justify the political competence of others. Historically, a commonly used justification was that the majority of people were not intelligent enough to participate in matters as complex as politics. Plato argued that politics has a technical dimension and that government should be in the hands of "philosopher-kings", those with a deep understanding of justice and the common good. In his view, these individuals are best placed to guide the city towards truth and general well-being. How do we balance the need for specialist expertise in political decision-making with the basic principle of democracy, which is that every citizen has an equal right to make decisions? It is true that politics, like any other discipline, has a technical dimension that requires a certain amount of expertise. Economic, environmental or public health policies, for example, can be extremely complex and require an in-depth understanding of the issues to be properly implemented. However, this does not mean that democracy is inapplicable or that it should be limited to experts.

Plato developed this analogy in "The Republic" to illustrate his point. He argued that, just as a carpenter is best equipped to build a house through his knowledge of architecture and construction techniques, a ruler must have a deep and accurate understanding of philosophy, justice and ethics in order to govern effectively. For Plato, philosophy was the study of the rational order and essence of things, which included an understanding of the ethical and moral principles underlying existence. He believed that the ideal government was an aristocracy of philosopher-kings, people who had attained a high level of knowledge and wisdom. He saw the role of the ruler not only as making pragmatic decisions about the running of the city, but also as guiding the community towards an ideal of justice and virtue. In his view, this higher vision of leadership required a form of knowledge that went beyond mere technical or practical expertise. He argued that this philosophical and ethical knowledge was not readily available to everyone, and so only those who had acquired it should be qualified to lead.

Plato was convinced that politics was much more than a matter of administrative management or negotiating compromises. He argued that politics had a deep philosophical dimension, involving an understanding of the ethical principles and ideas that form the structure of society. For Plato, an ideal ruler, often referred to as the "philosopher-king" in his writings, would be someone who had achieved a deep understanding of these principles. Such a ruler would be able to discern true justice, to distinguish between right and wrong, and to guide politics on the basis of this knowledge. He also rejected the idea that every individual was capable of this philosophical understanding. Instead, he argued that only a minority of individuals, those who had received a proper philosophical education and engaged in deep introspection and reflection, would be able to grasp these truths. That said, it is important to note that, although Plato's ideas have been highly influential in the history of philosophy, they have also been criticised and debated. Some critics have focused on his apparent elitism and distrust of democracy, while others have questioned the feasibility or appeal of his ideal of the 'philosopher-king'.

According to Plato, the true purpose of politics is not simply to manage the affairs of state, but to steer society towards justice and well-being. For Plato, justice is the harmony of the soul and society, and well-being is a consequence of this harmony. For Plato, therefore, politics is a profoundly moral and ethical activity. He argued that political leaders must be individuals of great moral and ethical virtue, capable of understanding and implementing the principles of justice and well-being. This is why Plato argued that "philosopher-kings" are the most qualified leaders. According to him, these philosopher-kings, who have a thorough understanding of philosophy and ethics, are best placed to govern justly and effectively, guiding society towards justice and well-being. That said, it should be noted that this Platonic vision of politics has been widely debated and criticised. Some people object to his idea of government by an educated elite, arguing that this can lead to a form of authoritarianism. Others challenge his reliance on philosophy and ethics as guides to politics, arguing that there are other important factors to consider, such as economic and socio-political realities.

This reflection highlights an important aspect of democratic motivation: fear of the consequences of being excluded from decision-making. This can be a strong motivation for supporting democracy, even if we reject some of the philosophical or ideological assumptions underlying the origins of democracy in Greek antiquity. It is important to note that democracy is not only attractive for instrumental reasons (what it can achieve), but also for intrinsic reasons: the inherent value of allowing every individual to have a voice and participate in decision-making. This may be linked to a conception of human equality and dignity that goes beyond purely instrumental considerations. The tension between these instrumental and intrinsic motivations, and between different conceptions of what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, is at the heart of many contemporary political issues. It is a tension that can be productive, as it prompts constant reflection on the nature of our political system and how it can be improved.

The fundamental appeal of democracy is precisely this: the idea that every individual, regardless of status, education or wealth, has a role to play in the governance of society. It is the principle of political equality that lies at the heart of democracy. This idea may seem idealised, and it is true that in practice democracy is often imperfect and influenced by various forms of inequality. However, the aim remains to achieve a society where everyone has the opportunity to influence the decision-making process. Democracy is not just about voting. It is also about civic engagement, public debate and respect for everyone's rights. Voting is a key element of democracy, but it is not the only one. The democratic ideal implies a broader commitment to equality, freedom and the active participation of all citizens in public life.

The idea of giving everyone the right to vote is a powerful tool for ensuring that everyone's interests are taken into account in political decision-making. It is a way of ensuring that every voice is heard and that every individual has the opportunity to influence the course of society. It is also a safeguard against paternalism or authoritarianism. If everyone has a vote, then it is harder for a small elite to control government and ignore the interests of the people. Universal suffrage is an important guarantee of political equality and a bulwark against tyranny. However, as with all democratic institutions, universal suffrage is not a panacea. It must be supported by other democratic institutions and standards, such as the rule of law, freedom of expression and the protection of human rights. Furthermore, the effective implementation of universal suffrage requires an ongoing commitment to civic education and social equality. It is important to remember that democracy is not an end in itself, but a means of achieving deeper values such as freedom, equality and justice.

The evolution of the idea of democracy in the modern era[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

What ideas should we refer to? We could find a justification for democracy in the modern fundamental principles of freedom and solidarity. This approach is appealing, although it ignores the idea that individuals with no exceptional special skills are nonetheless capable of participating in difficult tasks such as self-governance.

Paternalism, by definition, is an attitude or practice in which an authority limits the freedom and responsibility of individuals for their own good. This can often be seen as oppressive and restrictive, as it denies individuality and the ability of people to make informed decisions for themselves. In contrast, democracy is fundamentally a system that promotes individual freedom. By granting every citizen the right to vote, democracy enables everyone to participate actively in the political decisions that affect their lives. It therefore avoids paternalism by recognising that every individual, whatever their education or social status, has the capacity and the right to participate in the governance of their society. Democracy also responds to the modern notion of equality. In a democratic system, every vote has the same value, every vote counts as much as any other. This equality of vote reflects a profound respect for human equality. It is a clear rejection of hierarchies and inequalities based on gender, race, wealth or education. What's more, democracy is not just about individual freedom and equality. It is also about solidarity. Democratic participation can bring citizens together, strengthen the sense of community and encourage cooperation to achieve common goals. It can help forge a sense of belonging and mutual responsibility among citizens. So while democracy may seem an ambitious ideal, particularly in large modern societies, it is justified by these fundamental concepts of freedom, equality and solidarity. It gives every individual, even those with no special skills or knowledge, the power to participate in and influence the direction of their society.

Modern freedom is based on the belief that adult, rational and educated individuals have the capacity to make their own choices, even if those choices may be wrong. It is the idea that error itself can be a powerful learning tool and that the right to make mistakes, to acknowledge them and to correct them is an essential part of human freedom. This notion is based on respect for individual autonomy and the belief that each person has a unique and intrinsic capacity to learn, grow and develop. It respects the possibility that each individual may have a different view of what is good or bad for them. It's true that sometimes others may seem to know better what's good for us. As mentioned, our parents are often an example of this. They have more experience and wisdom and can often foresee the consequences of our actions better than we can. However, recognising the validity of their advice is not the same as ceding control over our lives to them. Admitting that they are right in some cases does not mean that we should allow them to make all our decisions for us. This is the heart of modern freedom: the right to make our own decisions, to live with the consequences of those decisions, and to learn and grow from those experiences.

This is a key idea of modern freedom. Freedom is not simply a question of the right or permission to make choices, it is also the ability to take responsibility for those choices. It is the ability to draw one's own conclusions, to learn from one's mistakes and to evolve accordingly. Freedom is not an end in itself; it is a dynamic process and a constant dialogue with ourselves and with others. It is in this process that we develop our understanding of ourselves, our values and our place in the world. Above all, freedom is a way of learning. When we make mistakes, those mistakes become an opportunity to learn, grow and develop. Mistakes can be painful, but they are also essential to our personal development. This learning process is intrinsically linked to our ability to discuss and reflect on our actions with others. By sharing our experiences and perspectives, by listening to the experiences and perspectives of others, we enrich our own understanding and open up the possibility of seeing things from a different angle. So, in essence, modern freedom is much more than a simple absence of constraints, it is a dynamic of learning, growth and dialogue, an ability to act, reflect and interact with the world around us.

Alexis de Tocqueville by Théodore Chassériau (1850).

Democracy is characterised by its fundamental respect for individual freedom. It is based on the principle that every citizen has the right to participate in the political life of their community, whether by expressing their opinion, voting for their representatives or taking an active part in shaping public policy. Democracy also provides mechanisms to protect these individual freedoms. For example, in a democracy, citizens can meet and organise to defend their rights and freedoms, they can seek judicial review of government actions, and they can elect representatives who are committed to protecting their freedoms. Moreover, democracy is not limited to guaranteeing individual freedoms. It is also committed to promoting equality, ensuring social justice and fostering the well-being of all citizens. This is why democracy is often associated with other modern values, such as equality, justice and solidarity. In a democracy, individual freedom and collective action go hand in hand. The freedom of each citizen is protected and strengthened by collective action, and vice versa. Citizens can come together to defend their individual freedoms, and the exercise of these freedoms helps to strengthen the solidarity and cohesion of the community as a whole. In short, democracy is the form of government that corresponds most directly to the value of individual freedom and to our collective capacity to protect that freedom. It provides a framework within which each citizen can exercise his or her freedom while contributing to the collective well-being.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his famous book "Democracy in America", stresses the importance of the corrective mechanisms inherent in democracy. For Tocqueville, the greatness of democracy does not necessarily lie in the superior intelligence or technical expertise of its leaders. In fact, he acknowledges that democratic leaders can sometimes lack competence or make mistakes. However, where democracy excels is in its ability to self-correct. Unlike other forms of government where mistakes can be institutionalised or abuses of power go unpunished, in a democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to vote allow society to criticise, challenge and ultimately correct erroneous decisions or bad policies. By allowing a free and open flow of ideas, democracy encourages questioning and accountability. If a leader or political party fails to meet the expectations of citizens, they can be held accountable for their actions and ultimately removed from power at the next election. In this sense, democracy is a resilient and self-regulating system, capable of adapting and reforming itself in response to its own shortcomings and the changing challenges of society. It is this capacity for evolution and continuous improvement that makes democracy an ideal that remains relevant and attractive, despite its imperfections and challenges.

The role of institutions in democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, has made a major contribution to social and political philosophy through his work on development, social justice and democracy. He has emphasised the role of democratic institutions not only in ensuring social justice, but also in ensuring economic development. Sen also argued that democracy offers an essential means of protecting the fundamental rights of individuals. He pointed out that democratic countries, with their respect for human rights, freedom of speech and free press, are better equipped to respond to the needs of their citizens and prevent crises such as famine. Sen's main argument is that democracy works not only by giving everyone a voice, but also by creating an environment where mistakes can be corrected, abuses of power checked and social needs met. This is achieved through freedom of expression and debate, which are fundamental elements of democratic societies. Sen thus emphasises not only the importance of democracy as an end in itself, but also its role as a means of promoting economic and social development.

Amartya Sen has developed the theory that there has never been famine in a functioning democracy with a free press. He attributes this to the fact that in democracies, information about food shortages is freely circulated, those responsible are held accountable and corrective action is taken. It is the power of transparency and accountability in a democracy that he believes effectively prevents famines. In the case of India, after independence and the establishment of democracy, despite many socio-economic challenges and policy mistakes, there has been no large-scale famine. This is partly due to the freedom of the press, the free flow of information and political accountability, essential elements of a democracy. This does not mean that India has solved all its problems of food security or malnutrition. Much remains to be done, but the fact that a disaster as devastating as famine was averted shows the potential power of a functioning democracy to respond to crises.

Freedom of movement, coupled with freedom of expression, plays a crucial role in spreading information and raising awareness. If people in a village in India, for example, experience a food shortage due to bad policy or environmental change, they can move to more prosperous areas and inform others of the situation. What's more, they can also raise their voices against injustice and inequality, holding politicians to account. This is a key aspect of democracy: the ability to hold governments to account and promote change through the dissemination of information and collective action. It also shows how individual rights and freedoms - such as freedom of movement and freedom of expression - can have an impact on collective and systemic issues, such as food security. Democracy, by respecting and protecting these freedoms, enables society to respond more effectively to these challenges.

Democracy is also closely linked to the modern idea of equality. In a democracy, all citizens are equal before the law and have the right to participate in political decision-making. This equality of rights and participation is a fundamental principle of democracy. Voting, for example, is a right that is granted to all citizens, regardless of their origin, gender, race or economic status. It is a concrete manifestation of equality in a democracy. Every vote counts and carries equal weight, reflecting the principle of equality. Democracy also seeks to promote equality of opportunity. Through public policies, it aims to reduce socio-economic inequalities and ensure that all citizens have the same opportunities for education, employment and social success. So if we value modern equality, we have all the more reason to value democracy. Although democracy does not realise the Greek ideal of self-government, it nevertheless provides a framework within which the modern principles of freedom and equality can be put into practice.

Democracy is a political system that embodies the ideal of equality. It offers every individual, regardless of resources or social status, an equal voice in political decision-making. In this sense, democracy puts into practice the principle of political equality, an essential aspect of the modern idea of equality. In our contemporary world, equality is a value of great importance, but it is also a source of much controversy. Some people may argue that equality of outcome is preferable to equality of opportunity. Others may argue that equality should focus more on the recognition of individual and cultural differences, rather than uniformity. Despite these debates, equality remains a fundamental principle in our modern societies. Therefore, if we value modern ideas of equality, then we have good reason to value democracy. Although modern democracy cannot fully realise the ideal of self-government as it was understood by the ancient Greeks, it nevertheless offers a form of self-government that is appropriate to our modern world and consistent with our modern values of freedom and equality.

It is undeniable that the ideal of self-government, rooted in ancient societies, is difficult to realise in the modern context. Democracy as a form of self-government is a complex concept, particularly in large countries and in a globalised world where political decisions go far beyond the national framework. Indeed, how can we speak of self-government when our country's actions are influenced by a multitude of international players? How can we envisage real public control over political affairs when decision-making is increasingly complex and technocratic? These are legitimate questions, and they highlight the challenges inherent in implementing democracy on a large scale and in an interconnected world. However, while achieving the ideal of self-government may seem difficult in today's conditions, the fundamental values that underpin this ideal - freedom, equality and potentially solidarity - remain relevant and crucial. These modern values form the basis of our attachment to democracy and provide a solid justification for continuing to value and pursue this ideal. Freedom, which values individual autonomy and allows everyone to express and defend their opinions; equality, which ensures that every citizen has an equal say in decision-making; and solidarity, which promotes social cohesion and collective cooperation, are all pillars that strengthen our commitment to democracy, despite the challenges it faces in the modern world. It is therefore crucial to continue to value and promote these values in our societies, in order to preserve and improve democracy as we know it. It is also necessary to seek innovative ways of adapting the ideal of self-government to our globalised and complex world, in order to ensure meaningful and effective citizen participation in political decision-making.

The ideal of democratic representation[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Representative democracy, sometimes also called indirect democracy, is a form of government in which citizens elect representatives to govern them. It is this notion of representation that makes the idea of democracy work, especially in large, complex societies. But how can these representative governments be considered democratic? Firstly, representative democracy allows broad participation. It would be impractical for all citizens to participate directly in all political decisions in a large nation. Representative democracy therefore offers a pragmatic solution by delegating decision-making power to elected representatives. Secondly, these representatives are supposed to reflect the interests and values of the citizens they represent, thus serving as a link between the people and the government. This idea of representation brings the ideal of democracy to life by ensuring that every citizen's voice is heard and taken into account in the decision-making process. Thirdly, by electing representatives, citizens have the opportunity to hold their leaders to account. If representatives fail in their duties or do not live up to the expectations of their constituents, they can be replaced at the next election. However, for representative democracy to work as intended, several conditions must be met. There must be free and fair elections, open political competition, freedom of expression and association, and civic and political rights for all. In addition, elected representatives must be genuinely responsive to their constituents and act on their behalf. So, although representative government is not a direct democracy in the strict sense of the term, it nevertheless retains its fundamental principles: the sovereignty of the people, political equality and citizen participation. It is in the balance between these principles and the need for effective and enlightened governance that the essence of representative democracy lies.

Bernard Manin, in his book "Principles of Representative Government", presents an argument that the emergence of representative government in the 18th century was a reaction against the democratic ideal of the time, in particular the idea of direct democracy where all citizens would actively participate in political decision-making. The idea of representation arose in part from scepticism about the ability of the people to govern themselves. Political thinkers of the time, such as James Madison in the United States, believed that it would be preferable to entrust political power to an enlightened elite rather than to disperse it widely among the people. They feared that direct democracy would lead to instability, demagoguery and eventually the tyranny of the majority. Moreover, in modern, rapidly expanding societies, it was simply unrealistic to expect all citizens to have the time or inclination to engage fully in public affairs. Representative government therefore emerged as a solution for reconciling public participation in politics (through voting) with effective and stable government. However, this initial conception of representative government has evolved considerably since the 18th century. Today, most democracies are based on some form of representative government, and the ideas of equality, popular sovereignty and the accountability of leaders to their constituents are widely accepted. The challenge for contemporary democracies is to ensure that these principles are respected in practice, despite the challenges posed by the size and complexity of our modern societies.

Reconciling the democratic ideal with the realities of representative government is a complex challenge. Part of the idea of representation is that some people, because of their training, education or experience, are better able to make informed political decisions on behalf of all. However, this does not mean that democracy is incompatible with representative government. On the contrary, they can be complementary. Democracy is a fundamental value that requires all citizens to have the opportunity to influence decisions that affect them. Representative government can be a means of achieving this objective in a large and complex society. For example, in a representative democracy, citizens have the power to elect their representatives. These representatives have a duty to serve the interests of their constituents and to be accountable to them. Citizens also have the opportunity to engage in public debate, to express their opinions and to mobilise for the causes they consider important. So while most citizens are not directly involved in political decision-making, they still have many opportunities to influence the political process. What's more, the idea of democracy is not just about voting. It also involves freedom of expression, the right to education, equality before the law, social justice and many other fundamental values. The challenge for modern representative democracies is therefore to find ways of involving as many citizens as possible in the political process, while respecting these fundamental values.

These issues of representativeness and voting rights are crucial in the history of democracy. In the nineteenth century, many countries, including the UK, had a political system in which only certain sections of the population, usually wealthier white men, were allowed to vote. This led to governments that represented the interests of a small minority at the expense of the majority of the population. However, from the 19th century onwards, reform movements began to demand that the right to vote be extended to wider population groups. In England, for example, the reform movement led to several electoral reforms that gradually extended the right to vote to more citizens. Similar movements have taken place in other countries, such as the United States and France. These reform movements sought to make government more representative of the interests of the whole population, not just a privileged elite. They argued that all citizens, regardless of wealth, race or gender, should have the right to participate in the political process. However, these movements also highlighted the tension inherent in representative democracy: how to reconcile the representativeness of the population as a whole with the idea that certain individuals, because of their education or experience, are better able to make political decisions? This question remains a major concern in today's representative democracies. Despite the extension of the right to vote to the majority of the population, there are still many inequalities in political representation. Much remains to be done to ensure that representative governments are truly representative of the interests and aspirations of all their citizens.

Elitism in democracy: the case of Schumpeter[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Joseph Schumpeter.

The challenge of universal suffrage[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Why did universal suffrage seem to be such a problem? This question addresses a fundamental fear that many political thinkers have had about extending the right to vote: the risk of the "tyranny of the majority". This idea suggests that if everyone has the right to vote, then the interests of the majority could easily override those of minorities, leading to the oppression of the latter. As many countries began to introduce universal suffrage, this fear was widespread among the political elite. However, it is based on a series of assumptions, some of which are disputed. For example, the idea that workers would necessarily vote as a bloc underestimates their diversity of opinions and interests. Moreover, democracy, even in its broadest sense, does not just mean the right to vote for all. It also implies the existence of mechanisms to protect the rights of minorities and to ensure fair representation. Systems such as proportional elections, the constitutional protection of human rights, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary are all means of preventing the tyranny of the majority. Finally, it should be noted that representative government is not necessarily opposed to democracy. On the contrary, the principle of representative government is often seen as a means of achieving democracy in modern, complex societies. Indeed, representation allows elected individuals to make decisions on behalf of their constituents, thus enabling a form of democracy that does not require every citizen to be involved in every political decision.

Schumpeter supported a particular vision of democracy that he called "the theory of elite democracy". According to this view, democracy is not so much a form of government that allows every citizen to have a direct say in politics, but rather a form of competition for political leadership. In this view, the role of the citizen is primarily to choose between the various political elites vying for power. Schumpeter saw this conception of democracy as a way of reconciling the need for representative government in a large and complex society with the principle of political equality. By giving every citizen the right to vote, we maintain political equality. And by limiting the citizen's role to the selection of leaders rather than direct participation in politics, we enable effective representative government. According to this view, democracy is not threatened by the ignorant or uneducated majority who might make harmful political decisions. On the contrary, democracy is a system in which political elites must compete for the favour of this majority. In this way, Schumpeter seems to have found a way to reconcile equality, freedom and representative government. His approach has had a major influence on the way we think about democracy today. However, it has also been criticised for downplaying the importance of citizen participation and for perhaps placing too much emphasis on political elites.

Tocqueville observed that the advent of modernity led to an increase in individual freedoms. In our modern societies, we enjoy greater privacy, the possibility of starting a family, playing sports, engaging in community activities, freely practising our religion, setting up charities, travelling, and so on. These new freedoms have transformed our relationship with politics. Because we have so many other spaces in which to express our preferences and realise our aspirations, politics can seem less central to many people. This is not to say that politics has become less important, but rather that our engagement with it has changed. Tocqueville also noted that these modern freedoms could have an atomising effect, causing us to focus more on our private lives and disengage from public life. This tension between private and public life is a central theme of modern democracy, and it raises important questions about how we can encourage meaningful political participation in societies where individuals have so many other ways of expressing themselves and fulfilling their aspirations.

These aspects of modern life, Schumpeter argues, tend to turn us away from politics. In our free societies, we have so many other things to do and explore that politics can often take a back seat. Schumpeter therefore argued that, even in a democracy, only a minority of people will actually be politically active. However, he also pointed out that this does not make democracy obsolete or unimportant. On the contrary, he pointed out that the role of the majority in a democracy is to choose between different political elites. So even if most citizens are not actively involved in politics, they still have a crucial role to play in selecting their leaders. This view has been criticised for being pessimistic about the ability and desire of ordinary people to participate in politics. It has also been criticised for its emphasis on elites. However, he offers a way of understanding how democracy can work in large modern societies where time and resources are limited.

According to Schumpeter, in modern societies, although all individuals are eligible to participate in politics, many have neither the desire nor the resources to do so actively. The multitude of commitments and distractions of contemporary life often limit our willingness and ability to engage fully in the political process. It is important to clarify that Schumpeter's view does not imply that individuals do not care about their political rights or their ability to influence political decisions. On the contrary, they value their right to vote and want to be able to intervene in the political process. However, they may not have the time, energy or resources to engage actively in politics beyond exercising their right to vote. This is why Schumpeter emphasised the importance of universal suffrage: it offers individuals a means of participating in politics without requiring continuous or intense involvement. At the same time, it ensures that everyone has a voice in the political process, which preserves the democratic legitimacy of the political system.

The division of labour in politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Joseph Schumpeter therefore highlighted the idea of a "division of labour" in politics. According to this view, in a modern democracy, the majority of citizens delegate responsibility for governance to a small group of elected representatives. This division of political labour has two main advantages. On the one hand, it allows ordinary citizens to devote their time and energy to other aspects of their lives, while retaining their right to vote and their influence on political decisions. On the other hand, it ensures that political decisions are taken by individuals who, ideally, are better informed and better equipped to understand the complexities of governance. However, this conception of democracy presupposes that elected representatives faithfully represent the interests and values of those who elected them. This is why transparency, accountability and integrity are crucial values in this system. Without them, the division of political labour could easily turn into a disconnection between the elected and the electorate, which would compromise the democratic legitimacy of the system.

Schumpeter's elitist conception of democracy, despite its name, is in fact very much in tune with the way modern democratic societies are currently organised. This democratic model is based on the principle of competence: those who are most competent in politics are those who should govern. In this system, the role of citizens is to choose from among the candidates those who will be their representatives, on the basis of their programmes, skills, experience, values and so on. Voting thus allows a political elite to emerge, but this elite is elected by the citizens and is accountable to them. This is how Schumpeter's elitist democracy remains a democracy: power is held by the people, but it is exercised through elected representatives. The political elite is in a sense "legitimised" by the people through the electoral process. The role of citizens is therefore not only passive (in the sense that they are governed), but also active (in the sense that they participate in the selection of their rulers).

Adapting the ideal of self-government to modern reality[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Schumpeter's conception of democracy is at odds with the original idea of self-government found in the direct democracies of antiquity, such as in Athens. In these societies, every citizen had the right to participate directly in political decision-making, which is the opposite of the modern representative system. However, it should be noted that large-scale implementation of self-government in our complex and densely populated societies would be extremely difficult. Delegating power to elected representatives makes the decision-making process more manageable and efficient. This does not rule out the possibility of citizens becoming actively involved in politics at different levels, for example through associations, social movements, or by expressing their opinions and putting pressure on their representatives. Representative democracy can thus be seen as an adaptation of the idea of self-government to the reality of modern societies. There are, of course, disadvantages to this system, not least the risk that representatives do not respond sufficiently to citizens' concerns. That is why it is crucial that the electoral process is fair and transparent, that citizens are well informed and that they have the opportunity to make their voices heard.

The Schumpeterian conception of democracy, also known as "procedural democracy" or "elitist democracy", is based on the idea that citizens elect representatives who are specialised in political work. It is a vision that emphasises the competence and expertise of leaders, and considers that the election itself is the democratic mechanism par excellence. According to Schumpeter, democracy does not necessarily aim to actively involve all citizens in decision-making. He did not see democracy as a system that would allow the perfect realisation of the ideal of self-government. On the contrary, for him democracy is a method of choosing leaders, not an end in itself. This vision is open to criticism, as it implies a relatively low degree of citizen participation. If citizens are content to vote for representatives without actively engaging in political debate, this can lead to a form of political passivity and disinterest in public affairs. On the other hand, Schumpeter argued that this approach was more realistic and better suited to modern conditions, given the complexity of political problems and the scale of contemporary societies.

Schumpeter's vision is based on the idea that modern equality is best protected by an elitist democracy in which trained experts specialising in politics compete for power. This competition is seen as beneficial because it fosters innovation and political efficiency, while ensuring that policies are formulated by those who have an in-depth knowledge of complex issues. According to Schumpeter, the majority of citizens do not have the time, knowledge or inclination to deal with the complex issues of international politics, energy or finance. This is why he prefers to leave these matters to specialists who have a detailed understanding of them. It is important to note that this vision of democracy can be criticised for its apparent elitism and disinterest in citizen participation beyond voting. However, Schumpeter would argue that this is not necessarily undemocratic if one considers that the ultimate goal of democracy is to ensure effective and equitable governance, not necessarily to allow maximum participation. However, Schumpeter's perspective remains relevant to the debate on representative democracy. Many democratic societies struggle with the challenge of reconciling expectations of wider citizen participation with the need for effective decision-making on complex issues. It is a debate that continues to this day, with important arguments on both sides.

According to Schumpeter, the reality of modern democracy is that the majority of citizens do not have the desire or ability to engage fully in politics. This is due to a multitude of factors, including lack of time, personal and professional obligations, and often a lack of interest in or in-depth knowledge of complex political issues. Schumpeter therefore argues that elitist democracy, where policies are determined by a class of trained and educated political professionals, may in fact be a better realisation of the values of modern equality. This is because this approach allows all citizens to participate in the political process through voting, while ensuring that policy decisions are made by those best able to do so. This does not mean that ordinary citizens are excluded from the political process. On the contrary, they have the power to choose their representatives and hold them accountable for their actions. And in many democratic countries, there are also mechanisms for greater citizen participation, such as referendums, citizens' initiatives and public consultations. But according to Schumpeter, for democracy to work effectively in the modern world, we have to accept that the majority of citizens will not be active participants in politics beyond these mechanisms. This is a controversial view, and it is clear that the debate about how best to realise the democratic ideal in the modern world is far from over.

The contrast between Rousseau's ideas and those of Schumpeter is striking. Rousseau, a key figure in republicanism, argued that to be truly free, citizens had to participate actively in politics and public decision-making. This conception of freedom is often referred to as "positive freedom" or "freedom of the Ancients". Rousseau saw political participation not only as a right, but also as a duty. In his Social Contract, he argues that sovereignty belongs to the people and that every citizen must contribute to the expression of the general will. This general will is not simply the sum of individual wills, but rather the will of the body politic as a whole, aimed at the common good. Thus, for Rousseau, to be a citizen is to participate actively in shaping the general will. Schumpeter, on the other hand, had a much more pragmatic and realistic view of politics. He recognised that most people are unwilling or unable to engage in politics in any meaningful way. In his view, the role of citizens is primarily to choose political leaders by voting, while the job of governance should be left to a professional political elite. This contrast reflects very different conceptions of freedom and citizenship. For Rousseau, freedom is about actively participating in making the laws that govern us, while for Schumpeter, freedom is more about choosing our leaders and holding them accountable. These two views continue to influence the debate on the role of the citizen and the nature of democracy in the contemporary world.

Schumpeter's approach to democracy and political participation is realistic and pragmatic. In his view, most people are more interested in their private lives, their families, their careers and other aspects of their daily lives than in active and direct participation in politics. For him, democracy does not mean that everyone has to participate actively in political decision-making. Instead, he sees democracy as a mechanism by which citizens elect leaders to make these decisions for them. According to Schumpeter, this 'elitist' model of democracy both protects individual freedoms and ensures equality. Citizens have the freedom to focus on their own lives and interests, while also having an equal vote to choose those who will govern and make decisions on their behalf. In this sense, he sees democracy not as an end in itself, but as a means of achieving other social and individual goals. However, this vision of democracy is not without its critics. Some may argue that a true democracy requires more than a periodic vote for representatives. They may argue that citizens need to be actively engaged in public debate, informed about political issues, and able to contribute to political decision-making. In addition, some may worry about the risk of political elites becoming disconnected from the concerns of ordinary citizens in such a system.

Schumpeter certainly provided an interesting perspective on how democracy can work in a complex modern society. By accepting a certain division of political labour, where a political elite specialises in governance and ordinary citizens focus on other aspects of their lives, Schumpeter offers a vision of democracy that is both realistic and workable. It is important to note that this approach does not mean that citizens are completely detached from the political process. On the contrary, they play a crucial role in electing these elites and deciding who should govern them. Nor does it mean that citizens cannot become more involved in the political process if they so wish. Citizens can always choose to become more involved in politics, to keep themselves informed about political issues and to make their voices heard in a variety of ways. However, this approach also raises important questions. How can we ensure that political elites remain accountable to citizens and reflect their concerns and interests? How can we avoid political elites becoming too distant or disconnected from ordinary citizens? How can we ensure that citizens have enough information and knowledge to make informed decisions when they vote? These are important challenges that all democracies, whether based on the Schumpeterian model or not, must face.

Elitist democracy: a pragmatic vision[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The elitist model of democracy, as conceptualised by thinkers such as Schumpeter and Huntington, emphasises the crucial role that elites play in the democratic process. They argue that the complex and technical issues that often define modern politics require specialised expertise that is best managed by a trained and competent elite. They argue that the division of political labour, where citizens elect representatives to govern on their behalf, allows for more effective and stable governance. Huntington, in particular, argued that this model was essential for maintaining order and stability in modern societies. He warned against what he called an "excess of democracy", where too much participation and pluralism can lead to political instability and governmental inefficiency.

According to Schumpeter, Huntington and others who support the elitist model of democracy, widespread and active political engagement can potentially lead to major group conflict. They argue that if each individual or group seeks to advance its own interests and views through the political process, this could create intense and potentially destabilising competition for power and influence. In complex modern societies, where people from different social classes, religions, ethnic backgrounds and political views co-exist, such a level of political participation and activism could, according to this perspective, lead to conflict and polarisation. This could potentially threaten the stability of society and make political decision-making more difficult and less effective. Furthermore, they argue that the majority of citizens do not have the time, interest or expertise to become actively involved in politics. They believe that it is more efficient and practical for citizens to elect representatives to make decisions on their behalf, while citizens focus on their own lives and careers. Modern democracy, so to speak, depends on the ability to compromise, to accept that only some of our demands will be realised in our common policies, that only some of our ideas, only some of our efforts, will be realised in politics.

The perspective of Schumpeter and those who share his point of view is often described as "realistic" or "cynical", because it tends to describe democracy in terms of what is feasible in the context of modern society, rather than in terms of what would be ideal according to certain theoretical principles. From this perspective, self-government in the classical sense - where every citizen is actively involved in the political decision-making process - is seen as impractical and perhaps even undesirable. Instead, these theorists propose a model in which the political participation of ordinary citizens is essentially limited to electing their representatives, while the actual political decisions are taken by a specialised elite. This elite is supposed to represent the interests of citizens and act on their behalf, while taking into account the full range of skills, knowledge and expertise needed to govern effectively in today's complex world. In this way, proponents of this vision believe that elitist democracy can maintain the fundamental values of freedom and equality while being functional and stable.

In the vision of elitist democracy that Schumpeter and others support, what matters most is not heritage, wealth or social class, but rather the ability to win the support of citizens and represent them effectively. This vision emphasises skills such as charisma, communication, negotiation, and the ability to take difficult decisions in the public interest. This vision of democracy differs from aristocracy or hereditary nobility, where power is held by a privileged class because of their birth or wealth. In an elitist democracy, anyone can theoretically stand for political office, but only those who can win the support of the people through their skills and actions will be elected. Elitist democracy as described by Schumpeter does not intrinsically privilege birth or wealth. Instead, it values skills such as charisma, eloquence, the ability to inspire and mobilise people, and the ability to negotiate and compromise on difficult issues. These characteristics are seen as essential to winning the support of citizens and to running an effective government in an elitist democracy. However, it is important to note that while birth and wealth are not explicitly valued in this vision of democracy, they can still play an indirect role in giving some individuals easier access to high-quality education, influential social networks and other resources that can facilitate their success in politics. The case of Laurent Fabius and his role at COP21 in Paris illustrates this point. Fabius, as president of COP21, was recognised for his ability to lead the negotiations to a universally agreed climate deal, demonstrating effective leadership and negotiating skills. However, his ability to play this role successfully was also linked to his previous political experience, education, and the network of contacts he was able to establish over the course of his career, factors that can be linked to his family background and socio-economic situation.

Elitist democracy, as conceptualised by Schumpeter, has several advantages. By recognising that the majority of citizens may not wish to become actively involved in politics, this system aims to protect individual freedom to pursue other interests and to lead a private life without excessive political interference. Furthermore, by avoiding an authoritarian approach that insists on compulsory political participation or that prioritises the interests of citizens over those of non-citizens or the environment, this model offers a more inclusive and balanced vision of democracy.

Delegation of power to an elite[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

While this approach may be pragmatic and realistic in recognising that not all citizens wish to be actively engaged in politics, it can also seem cynical in not valuing citizen participation beyond voting sufficiently. In such a system, citizens can often feel alienated or disconnected from the political process, as they are largely passive, having little real influence on policy outside of elections. This political passivity can potentially lead to apathy and disillusionment, undermining confidence in the political system and its actors. Furthermore, while elitist democracy can lead to more effective and expert decision-making, it can also undermine the accountability of political elites. Without active and informed citizen participation, it can be more difficult to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. With this in mind, it is essential to strike a balance between effective government and citizen participation. While elitist democracy emphasises efficiency, other models of democracy, such as participatory democracy, place greater value on citizen participation.

Robert Dahl, an influential 20th century political scientist, offered an alternative perspective to Schumpeter's elitist vision with his "polyarchy" model. Dahl recognised that large-scale direct democracy was not feasible in modern societies, but argued that Schumpeter's elitist model was not sufficient to realise the democratic ideals of equality and freedom.

For Dahl, a polyarchy, a form of government in which power is invested in several people, was a more authentic democracy. It gives central importance to citizen participation and political competition. In a polyarchy, power is distributed between several decision-making centres, allowing citizens to participate actively in politics through different channels and institutions.

Dahl's polyarchy is characterised by several key elements:

  • Election of leaders: citizens have the right to vote for their representatives.
  • Freedom of expression: citizens have the right to express themselves without fear of punishment.
  • Access to alternative information: citizens have the right to access diverse and independent sources of information.
  • Associativity: citizens have the right to form and join independent associations.
  • Inclusiveness: all citizens have the right to participate, regardless of their social or economic status.

Dahl argued that these characteristics were essential to achieving genuine democracy in modern societies. By encouraging more active citizen participation and freer and more open political competition, polyarchy seeks to reconcile the tensions between freedom and equality in democracy.

Schumpeter's model is elitist in the sense that it recognises the importance of competence and specialisation in government, not in the sense that it favours a certain group of people based on their heritage or social status. According to Schumpeter, in a modern democracy, citizens delegate power to an 'elite' of politically competent and educated individuals, who compete for the votes of citizens in competitive elections. This 'elite' is not necessarily wealthy or from a 'good family'; it is simply better equipped to understand and manage the complexities of modern governance. Schumpeter's emphasis on competence and specialisation in politics is linked to his conception of democracy as a system in which citizens have the opportunity to choose their leaders, but are not necessarily involved in day-to-day political decision-making. It is this delegation of power to a political elite that means his model is often described as "elitist".

In Schumpeter's model, the political elite is not an elite by birth, wealth or social class, but by competence, talent and dedication to politics. This elite is chosen by the people in free and competitive elections. Electoral competition is seen as the key mechanism for ensuring the accountability of leaders to the people and for ensuring that only the most competent and dedicated candidates serving the public interest are elected. The individuals who form this political elite are often those who have a vocation, a passion for politics, and who have acquired expertise in the field through education, experience and constant commitment. They are capable of understanding the complex problems facing society and proposing effective political solutions.

Schumpeter's idea of democracy is based on the concept of political competition. The individuals most competent and capable of making the best decisions for the community are elected to govern. This competition fosters a kind of "political Darwinism" in which only the best survive and prosper. According to Schumpeter, competition for the popular vote forces candidates to demonstrate their competence, their political vision and their ability to govern. This differs from systems based on heredity or lottery, where leadership can be awarded regardless of competence or ability to govern. Furthermore, Schumpeter argued that most citizens are not interested in politics beyond voting in elections. They prefer to leave the management of state affairs to professional politicians. For him, this was not only acceptable, but also beneficial to society.

Schumpeter saw democratic elections as a method of ensuring better representation of citizens' interests than systems based on heredity or lottery. In his view, in order to be elected, political candidates should respond to the needs and concerns of the electorate. The governments that emerge from this electoral competition would therefore be more likely to be concerned with the well-being of the population, to seek to meet their needs and to respect their rights. From this perspective, citizens' political commitment manifests itself primarily through voting. It is through this process that citizens express their preferences and choose those who will govern them. This approach, however, raises questions about political passivity and the active role that citizens can and should play in democratic life beyond voting.

For Schumpeter, democracy is above all a competitive process for the popular vote. In his model, government may be led by an elite, but that elite is subject to the will of the people as expressed by the vote. He saw this as the best way of ensuring a government that responds to the needs and desires of the people, since candidates seeking election must necessarily take into account the preferences and interests of the electorate. In other words, in Schumpeter's vision, democracy does not mean that everyone must be involved in making every decision. Instead, it implies that everyone has the right to participate in choosing the leaders who, once elected, will be responsible for making important political decisions.

Self-government according to Schumpeter[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Joseph Schumpeter was rather sceptical about the idea of participatory or direct democracy, especially in large and complex modern societies. In his view, total self-government, where every citizen would have an active and direct role in making all political decisions, was neither realistic nor desirable. He argued that most people do not have the time, expertise or desire to become directly involved in politics at this level. Furthermore, he feared that direct democracy would lead to inefficient decision-making and constant social conflict. So he argued that the best form of government is a representative democracy, where citizens elect representatives to make political decisions on their behalf. This is why his vision of democracy is often described as "elitist": although citizens have the power to vote, the decision-making process is essentially in the hands of an elected elite.

According to Schumpeter, representative democracy makes it possible to protect individual freedom by offering citizens the opportunity to become politically involved if they wish, but without forcing them to do so. This is the opposite of certain political systems that can force citizens to participate actively in governance, whether they want to or not. Moreover, in the representative democratic system, citizens always have the power to choose their representatives in regular elections. These elected representatives are accountable to their electors, and can be replaced if they do not live up to their expectations. It also guarantees equality in that all citizens have the same right to vote, regardless of their social status, wealth or education. So, in this system, every citizen has an equal say in determining the government, which reflects the idea of political equality. That said, Schumpeter also recognised that in this system, an 'elite' of professional politicians would naturally emerge. However, in his view, this is the result of a necessary specialisation and division of labour, rather than the result of unequal access to political power.

Political participation and delegation of power according to Schumpeter[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Schumpeter emphasised what he called the "freedom of the modern", which includes the right to choose our level of political involvement. For him, democracy does not impose a duty on citizens to participate actively in politics. In fact, he believed that individual freedom was best preserved when people could decide for themselves how much involvement they wanted in public affairs. In his view, representative democracy is a system that respects this individual freedom. In this system, everyone is free to stand for election and take part in politics if they wish, but they are not obliged to do so. People have the right to concentrate on their private lives, their work, their hobbies or anything else they consider important. At the same time, the representative democratic system allows citizens to control the government by electing their representatives. This system therefore balances individual freedom with the possibility of participating in collective governance, which Schumpeter considered to be the best possible compromise in a complex and diverse modern society.

Schumpeter saw the freedom of non-participation in politics as a fundamental dimension of democracy, particularly when contrasted with the authoritarian regimes of the mid-twentieth century, such as fascism, Nazism and Stalinism. These regimes tended to impose compulsory political participation, often by coercive means, and repressed those who sought to abstain or challenge the dominant political orthodoxy. For Schumpeter, the ability to opt out of political participation is a crucial aspect of individual freedom. The freedom to choose not to participate in politics was seen as a guarantee against totalitarianism and authoritarianism. In his conception of democracy, citizens are not obliged to be constantly engaged in politics, but rather have the right to concentrate on other aspects of their lives. It is precisely this freedom to choose one's level of political engagement that, according to Schumpeter, distinguishes liberal democracies from authoritarian regimes.

Schumpeter's perspective on democracy places central importance on individual freedom, including the freedom not to participate in politics. In his view, compulsion to participate in politics is not compatible with true democracy. This vision is based on a fundamental understanding of freedom and equality. For Schumpeter, freedom implies the right to choose one's own level of involvement in politics, including the right to abstain altogether. Equality, in this view, is not equality of active participation, but rather equality of opportunity: all citizens have the possibility of participating or standing for election if they wish, but no one is obliged to do so. It is therefore a vision of democracy in which equality is defined primarily in terms of equal political rights, rather than equal political participation. This approach is sometimes criticised for having too passive a conception of citizenship, but for Schumpeter it forms the core of democracy in modern societies.

Schumpeter considered representative democracy to be a superior form of government, particularly in comparison with the direct democracies of antiquity or the republics of the Renaissance. In his view, representative democracy was capable of reconciling efficiency, freedom, equality, stability and competence, characteristics that he felt were insufficiently present in these ancient forms of government. In direct democracies like those of ancient Greece or Renaissance republics like Florence, the active participation of all citizens in political decision-making often created conflicts of interest and power. These systems were often unstable, with periods of intense tension and sometimes violence, such as the exile of citizens. In a representative democracy, on the other hand, decision-making is delegated to elected representatives, which can, in theory, lead to more efficient and less conflictual decision-making. Citizens have the freedom to participate or not in politics, while retaining their equal political rights, including the right to vote. Competent governance is also promoted by the selection of elected representatives through elections, which can encourage the rise of people with a certain expertise or talent for politics. Finally, representative democracy, through its institutional structure and mechanisms, can promote stability by providing a framework for the peaceful management of conflicts and divergent interests. This is one of the main attractions of Schumpeter's vision of democracy.

Schumpeter believed that representative democracy was preferable to direct democracy for several reasons. First, representative democracy is more realistic and manageable in a modern, complex society. In a direct democracy, every citizen is expected to participate actively and to understand all the issues on which they have to vote. This is both a burden on citizens, who may not have the time, expertise or interest to engage at this level, and on society in general, which has to manage a massively decentralised political decision-making process. Secondly, representative democracy allows for a degree of specialisation. Elected representatives can devote their time and effort to understanding and managing political problems, while citizens can concentrate on other aspects of their lives. Thirdly, representative democracy promotes unity and stability. Representatives are encouraged to seek compromise solutions and build broad coalitions to win elections and govern effectively. This contrasts with direct democracy, where distinct factions can clash over individual issues, leading to political polarisation and instability. For all these reasons, Schumpeter saw representative democracy as the best form of government for a modern society.

Schumpeter's idea was that, once citizens have elected their representatives, these representatives should be the ones who take care of most political affairs, without the citizens needing to be actively involved in every political decision. Citizens put their trust in their representatives to make decisions on their behalf and for the good of the country. This vision is based on the idea that representatives are better able to understand and manage the complexities of modern politics, and that they are accountable to the electorate through the possibility of re-election. This accountability encourages representatives to work for the good of their constituents, as their political careers depend on their ability to meet citizens' expectations and needs. It is in this sense that Schumpeter speaks of "stable democracy": by delegating decision-making to a team of elected experts, the democratic process becomes more manageable and predictable. It also allows citizens to concentrate on other aspects of their lives without having to worry constantly about politics.

Schumpeter's view on instability is interesting and is based on the idea that maintaining a constant level of political activity among citizens can actually be detrimental to political stability. For him, once representatives are elected, citizens should trust them to make decisions on their behalf. One implication of this view is that demonstrations, petitions and other forms of public protest could be seen as signs of instability in a democracy. For Schumpeter, these behaviours could suggest that the representative system is not working properly, as they indicate that citizens feel their elected representatives are not responding adequately to their needs or concerns. Schumpeter argues that, in a healthy and stable democracy, citizens should be able to rely on their representatives to deal with politics, allowing them to concentrate on other aspects of their lives. For him, the 'good' democracy is one where citizens feel sufficiently confident in the representative system that they do not feel the need to constantly engage in political activity.

The elitist model of democracy proposed by Joseph Schumpeter suggests that government should be left in the hands of an elected 'elite'. It is a kind of division of labour in which citizens elect individuals to manage public affairs so that they can concentrate on other aspects of their lives. Schumpeter argued that this model respected democratic principles because citizens retain the ultimate decision-making power: they choose those who will govern them. However, once this decision has been made, citizens should, in his view, withdraw from active politics and let the elites rule. This is why some critics refer to this model as "depoliticised democracy". However, it is important to note that this vision of democracy is not without its critics. Some argue that democracy requires active and continuous citizen participation, and that laissez-faire after the election of representatives can lead to political apathy and distance between elected representatives and voters. On the other hand, it could potentially open the door to abuse of power or political inaction if citizens are not vigilant and active in monitoring their elected representatives.

The limits of elitism according to Schumpeter[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Schumpeter's theory is based on the idea that competition in a representative democratic system will stimulate the emergence of competent leaders dedicated to the well-being of citizens. In practice, however, a number of problems can arise. Firstly, not all candidates may be equally competent to govern. Politics can attract individuals motivated by power, prestige or personal enrichment rather than by a desire to serve the public interest. Citizens can also be seduced by charismatic personalities who lack the skills to govern effectively. Secondly, political competition may not necessarily produce stable government. On the contrary, it may give rise to rivalries and divisions that hamper the decision-making process. Thirdly, Schumpeter's vision assumes that citizens are capable of making informed choices in elections. However, they may lack accurate or reliable information about candidates and issues, or be influenced by propaganda or fake news. Finally, Schumpeter's model could potentially lead to a disconnect between elected representatives and voters. If citizens are encouraged to leave politics to the "experts" once their representatives have been elected, this could create a political elite that is disconnected from the concerns of the population. This is why, although Schumpeter's vision has its merits, it is not without its problems and is the subject of much debate among political scientists and philosophers.

In theory, Schumpeter's model seems quite promising. If a political party wants to remain competitive and relevant, it must constantly seek out new talent, new ideas and new perspectives. This should, in principle, open the door to talented individuals from all walks of life who can make their own unique contribution to politics. By seeking out political talent everywhere, parties can ensure the renewal of their support base, maintain their relevance and avoid the trap of stagnation. In a sense, it is a form of 'meritocracy', where those with skills and a passion for politics are invited to participate, regardless of their background. However, it is also important to note that this model is based on several assumptions. It assumes that political parties are open to change, innovation and the inclusion of new voices. It also assumes that political talent is evenly distributed across the population and that parties are willing and able to recognise and use it effectively. In practice, many factors can hinder the application of this model. Political parties may be resistant to change, favour certain elites or groups, or be unable to recognise and effectively utilise the political talents of different groups in the population. Moreover, competition between parties can sometimes lead to polarisation or political paralysis rather than innovation and inclusion.

In practice, Schumpeter's model may have limitations, particularly in societies where political participation is not widely encouraged or facilitated. The concept of a 'political class' can emerge, where politics is dominated by a small elite, often from the same families or social or economic groups. In many countries, including the United States and several Latin American countries, we can see examples of this phenomenon, where politics is often seen as a "family profession" and the children of well-known politicians follow in their parents' footsteps. This can potentially lead to political stagnation, a lack of diversity of ideas and perspectives, and a sense of alienation among those who are not part of these political elites. It can also create a distance between political elites and the rest of the population, making it more difficult to understand and respond effectively to the needs and concerns of ordinary citizens. Moreover, it can also contribute to a growing distrust or cynicism towards politics and politicians, which in turn can deter more people from actively participating in politics.

So we can identify the potential problems of the existence of "political dynasties". If politics becomes a family affair, the democratic process can be compromised. In the case of the Bush family in the United States, for example, there have been two presidents from this family: George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush. In addition, Jeb Bush, another son of George H. W. Bush, has also been an influential politician as Governor of Florida and as a presidential candidate. Although each of these politicians has his or her own merits and has been democratically elected, the presence of such political dynasties can raise questions about the fairness of the political system and about equal opportunities for all citizens to reach positions of power.

The theory linking competition to the formation of a specialised non-hereditary elite has not found concrete validation in reality. Instead of genuinely focusing on the welfare of citizens who are disinterested in politics, the inevitable emergence of a competent political elite has the consequence of providing our representatives with the tools they need to ensure their future survival. In this way, political power is transformed into a means of accumulating wealth and maintaining a social status that they might not have been able to achieve by birth. When politics becomes the preserve of a specialised elite, two major problems can arise:

  • Alienation of citizens: If ordinary citizens feel that they have no real influence on political decisions, or that these decisions are taken by a small elite that does not understand their day-to-day concerns, they may feel disconnected from politics and become apathetic or cynical. This can weaken democracy by reducing voter turnout and increasing distrust of political institutions.
  • The risk of corruption: If a small elite has significant control over political power, there is an increased risk that this elite will use this power for personal enrichment or to further their own interests. This can lead to high levels of corruption and unequal distribution of resources.

In the past, power was often linked to wealth and social position. Individuals born into nobility or wealth often had privileged access to education and other resources, enabling them to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to rule. Their landholdings and social standing also gave them the authority and respect to rule. In many cases, these individuals took on leadership responsibilities at a young age, learning the tricks of the political trade through experience. This 'training' enabled them to develop the skills needed to navigate the corridors of power, such as diplomacy, political strategy and decision-making. The social and economic structure also favoured their accession to power. For example, they could use their wealth to influence voters, finance political campaigns or bribe public officials. Their family and social relationships also enabled them to create political alliances and protect themselves against threats.

In Schumpeter's model, the rise to political power can sometimes be motivated not by a desire to improve the well-being of society, but by a desire to enrich oneself and solidify one's social position. This can lead to a situation where political power becomes a route to wealth and economic security, rather than a means of serving society. In some cases, individuals may seek to enter politics precisely because they see it as an opportunity to accumulate wealth and social status, rather than because they have a passion for public service or a vision for improving their community or country. This can lead to corruption and abuse of power, with politicians using their position for their own advantage, rather than for the good of those they are supposed to represent. They may also not be fully equipped or willing to make the sacrifices necessary to lead a life of public service. They may lack the skills, experience or commitment necessary to meet the challenges of governance. And if their primary motivation is self-enrichment, they may be less inclined to take decisions that would benefit society but harm their own financial interests.

In such a structure, there is a serious risk that the interests of the larger group, ordinary citizens who are not deeply engaged in politics, will be neglected or misrepresented. This separation between those who hold power and those who are supposed to be represented by that power can potentially lead to a sense of alienation among citizens, diminishing their confidence in the democratic system. From a normative perspective, it also raises serious questions about the nature of freedom and equality in such a democracy. If a privileged and specialised minority possesses the majority of power and political know-how, can the majority of citizens be considered truly free and equal? This configuration may seem cynical, in contrast to the ideal of a democracy in which all citizens are considered equal and have equal weight in the decision-making process. What's more, this kind of situation can easily lead to a concentration of power and abuse, as those in power are able to act in their own interests rather than those of the people. This can lead to growing inequality and reduced freedom for the majority. These problems underline the importance of maintaining checks and balances in a democracy to prevent the abuse of power and to ensure that the voices of all citizens are heard and taken into account.

Towards a less elitist model of democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

It is entirely possible to adapt the elitist model of democracy to mitigate its elitist nature, by making it more participatory and egalitarian. We could, for example, envisage a system that retains the notion of competition for power within a restricted group, while incorporating positive action mechanisms aimed at diversifying and widening the circle of governors. We could also envisage a system inspired by corporatism, as developed by Durkheim and his successors. In this approach, we would seek to involve and represent in politics the various interests of different sections of the population. In short, we could imagine a democracy that combines competition for power, the broadening of political representation through affirmative action, and the active participation of various interest groups via a corporatist system.

The corporatist model of democracy is based on the active participation of different social groups or "corporations" in political decision-making. This approach aims to go beyond simple individual representation based on the right to vote, by recognising that individuals have several identities and interests depending on their role in society (worker, employer, member of a religious community, etc.). In a system of corporatist democracy, these different groups have a voice in the political process. For example, trade unions may represent the interests of workers, employers' associations may represent the interests of employers, religious organisations may represent the values of their members, and so on. The theory behind this is that these groups, because of their expertise and first-hand knowledge of the issues affecting their members, can provide valuable perspectives and contribute significantly to the development of effective policies. However, corporatism also has its own challenges. It can, for example, favour the most organised and powerful groups to the detriment of the interests of less represented individuals and groups. In addition, it can sometimes be difficult to balance the interests of different groups in political decision-making.

Digging deeper into this idea, what we might envisage is a more nuanced and inclusive system of representation than the traditional model of representative democracy. In this system, individuals would not only be voters in political elections, but they would also be represented by associations or organisations that reflect their specific professional identity, interests and needs. For example, a farmer could be represented not only by the politician he or she elected in his or her constituency, but also by a national farming organisation that would defend the interests of all farmers in the country. Similarly, an industrial worker would be represented by his trade union, which would defend his rights and working conditions vis-à-vis political decision-makers. This dual representation, political and corporatist, would ensure that the diversity of interests within society was more fully taken into account. In short, this corporatist model would enable a more participatory form of democracy, where citizens would have a more direct and constant voice in political decisions. Not only could this potentially improve the equality and representativeness of the system, but it could also encourage greater participation by citizens in politics, allowing them to get involved in areas that directly affect their daily lives.

The model we have just discussed goes beyond the limits of Schumpeter's elitist vision of democracy. According to Schumpeter, democracy is a competition between elites for the votes of the electorate, and once these elites are elected, they have a duty to govern without interference from ordinary citizens. However, this more participatory corporatist model that we have explored puts forward the idea that every citizen, regardless of their specific interests or profession, should have some level of involvement and representation in the political process. This could be achieved through different forms of participation, whether voting in elections, joining trade unions or professional associations, or getting involved in local or community initiatives. In other words, according to this model, politics is not just a matter for the elites, but should be something that interests and involves all citizens. This of course implies a certain responsibility and commitment on the part of the citizens themselves, but it could also lead to a more dynamic and representative democracy, where political decisions are more closely linked to the interests and concerns of all citizens.

David Held, a British political theorist renowned for his work on democracy and globalisation, has written extensively on models of democracy and how they might evolve. He has not simply criticised existing models, but also considered how they might be improved or modified to better suit a changing world. In his book "Models of Democracy", Held examined a variety of models, including direct democracy, liberal democracy, deliberative democracy and cosmopolitan democracy, among others. He suggested ways of improving these models, taking into account the growing interdependence of states, the globalisation of the economy and transnational issues such as climate change. For example, in the case of deliberative democracy, Held argued that it could be improved by ensuring greater representativeness and inclusiveness in deliberative processes, and by balancing citizen participation with professional expertise. As for cosmopolitan democracy, Held suggested that it could be strengthened by developing democratically accountable supranational institutions capable of regulating global issues and guaranteeing universal rights and norms.

Émile Durkheim, an influential French sociologist, introduced many concepts to the field of sociology, including corporatism. According to Durkheim, corporatism is a way of organising society in which professional, industrial or other types of association play a central role. In his book "The Division of Social Labour", Durkheim explains that corporatism could serve as a means of avoiding the anomie (the absence of clear social norms, leading to a sense of alienation and despair) that can occur with a more specialised division of labour in a modern society. In a corporatist society, according to Durkheim, individuals would be members of specific professional or industrial associations, called corporations, which would defend their specific interests. These corporations would also mediate between individuals and the state, by facilitating collective representation of their members. In other words, Durkheim's corporatism would seek to bring about a degree of social harmony by grouping individuals according to their professional roles, rather than their class or political affiliations.

One of the main dilemmas of democratic reform is to find a balance between maintaining the advantages of an existing system and correcting its defects. Schumpeter's model certainly has attractive qualities, not least its simplicity and apparent efficiency. However, its limitations, particularly in terms of citizen participation and equity, are also obvious. If we try to improve on Schumpeter's model by incorporating more participatory or egalitarian elements, sucah as corporatism or pluralism, we could 'overcome' some of its attractions. For example, introducing measures to increase citizen participation could complicate the system and make it less effective. Furthermore, efforts to make the system more egalitarian could reduce competitiveness, which is another key aspect of Schumpeter's model. However, this is not necessarily an argument against trying to improve the system. Indeed, it is possible that the benefits gained in terms of inclusion and equity outweigh the potential losses in terms of efficiency or competitiveness. At the end of the day, the question is what values do we prioritise in our conception of democracy?

Robert Dahl proposes an alternative model of democracy that he calls 'polyarchy' or 'pluralist democracy', which seeks to reconcile the efficiency and stability of the Schumpeterian model with a higher degree of participation and equality. In Dahl's vision, democracy is a system in which diverse groups and interests in society have the opportunity to influence public decisions. Instead of focusing on a small group of elites vying for power, as in Schumpeter's model, Dahl emphasises the dispersion of political power among many different groups. This dispersal of power encourages competition and collaboration between different groups, which Dahl argues can help maintain stability and efficiency while promoting greater participation and equality. Dahl's vision, therefore, attempts to balance the attractions of Schumpeter's model with the benefits of wider citizen participation and fair representation of different interests.

Dahl's democratic pluralism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Robert A. Dahl.

We will explore how Dahl seeks to capitalise on the seductive and perhaps even innovative aspects of Schumpeter's vision, while sidestepping the empirical and normative problems inherent in this elitist conception of democracy. We will discover why Dahl believes that a pluralist perspective, rooted in diverse forms of power, seems not only more in tune with empirical reality, but also more normatively desirable than the elitist vision proposed by Schumpeter.

The distribution of power in pluralist democracy[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Pluralism, as advocated by Robert Dahl and others, is based on the idea that the health of a democracy depends on the presence of diverse groups and associations within society. These groups may be based on a multitude of factors, ranging from professional interests to religious affiliations, shared hobbies or political causes. The fundamental idea of pluralism is that freedom of association allows each individual to find a group or organisation that reflects his or her interests and beliefs, and to use it as a means of making his or her voice heard within the political system. In this context, groups and associations act as intermediaries between the individual and the government, representing the interests of their members and giving them a stronger collective voice. Moreover, in a pluralist society, no single association is expected to dominate the political landscape. Instead, power is distributed among many diverse groups, which can help to balance influences and avoid the concentration of power in the hands of a narrow elite. Pluralism can also encourage a richer and more dynamic exchange of ideas, as different groups bring different perspectives to public debate. This can help nurture creativity and innovation in politics, while avoiding the stagnation that can occur when power is held by a homogenous group. It is therefore by encouraging diversity and freedom of association that pluralism seeks to avoid the problems associated with the elitism described by Schumpeter, while preserving the benefits of political competition and representation.

Much of Dahl's criticism of Schumpeter stems from Schumpeter's limited conception of democracy. For Dahl, Schumpeter ignores a fundamental aspect of modern democracy: its societal dimension. In his view, democracy is not limited to an electoral process in which political elites are elected to govern. It is also, and above all, part of the social fabric and is based on the free association of individuals. Like Tocqueville before him, Dahl maintains that the democratic vitality of a society lies in its ability to foster the formation of diverse and multiple associations. These associations may be born of common passions, shared interests or simply the pleasure of coming together around a cause or objective. They play a crucial role in democratic life by enabling citizens to come together to defend their interests, participate in public life and influence political decisions. This broader vision of democracy, which extends beyond the mere institutional framework to encompass society as a whole, is what distinguishes Dahl's pluralist approach from Schumpeter's more restricted one. According to Dahl, it is this richness of association that gives democracy its depth and enables it to truly flourish.

Tocqueville's and Dahl's vision of democracy is rooted in the idea that modern democratic government must be based on a society of citizens who organise and associate in a variety of ways, according to their individual tastes, needs and beliefs. The central element of this conception is freedom of association: citizens should be free to create, join or leave associations as they see fit. In such a society, the cleavages that emerge are often complex and intertwined - that is, individuals are not divided along a single social or political divide, but may belong to different groups and associations with sometimes divergent interests. This multiplicity of affiliations and identities contributes to a certain democratic dynamic, encouraging debate, compromise and collective decision-making. It also helps to avoid excessive polarisation, by preventing the formation of two homogenous and antagonistic blocs. According to Tocqueville and Dahl, a healthy and dynamic democracy requires an active and diverse civil society, where citizens are free to associate according to their interests and convictions.

The main idea here is that in a society where freedom of association is encouraged, we have the opportunity to unite with others on a multitude of issues that are important to us. This diversity of association allows individuals to come together around common interests, whether social, political, religious, etc., transcending differences of class, race or creed. This process fosters a deeper understanding and appreciation of the diversity of our society. We begin to understand that our identities are not limited to a single category, but rather are a mosaic of different affiliations and interests. This awareness leads us to recognise that our personal interests and those of others are often intertwined and interdependent, which can lead to greater tolerance and cooperation in the political sphere. Freedom of association can help to bridge societal divides, fostering the creation of a vibrant and diverse civil society capable of nurturing healthy and productive democratic debate.

The role of civil society in politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In the face of the fear expressed by Schumpeter and many political scientists since the introduction of universal suffrage - that the vote would be reduced to a simple expression of social class, with workers voting solely for their class interests and landlords doing the same - Dahl emphasises the importance of associations. In his view, associations reveal that our identities and interests are not limited to our socio-economic position. As workers or owners, we also have a multitude of other interests that transcend our social class. Whether it's education, religion, culture, the environment or leisure, we all have a variety of concerns that lead us to associate in many different ways. This complexity and diversity of interests can and should be reflected in politics. So, far from being simply a struggle between different social classes, politics can be a space where a multitude of interests and identities are expressed and negotiated. This can encourage richer and more inclusive democratic debate, and help to reduce polarisation and class conflict.

The underlying idea is that democracy goes far beyond a simple system of representative government based on universal and majority suffrage. It also requires a vibrant and dynamic society, in which individuals are active, discuss and seek partners with whom they can associate to defend their interests. When we envisage this society buzzing with diverse and lively groups, reflecting and defending the full range of our interests, we come closer to a conception of democracy that is truly free. Indeed, such a model of democracy reflects and respects the diversity and freedom of its citizens. It also promotes equality by disconnecting birth from political destiny. In such a democracy, being born poor is not condemned to a life of poverty. On the contrary, being poor does not prevent you from joining numerous groups of associations with other individuals who are not poor and who share common interests. In this way, despite economic inequalities, citizens can benefit from a degree of political and social equality through their active participation in community life.

The idea is that when people choose to get involved in politics on the basis of their religion, we also have the opportunity to reduce racial differences and the divide between immigrants and natives. Ultimately, if individuals can represent their interests as members of the same religious association, they will have reason to seek the welfare of all other members of their religion, regardless of their skin colour, immigration status or ethnic origin. It is the ideal of a world where people transcend hereditary differences and the divisions that separate them, to achieve a competitive politics where cleavages are fluid and can change at any time. It is a creative and responsive politics that is directly responsible for the interests of individuals as they see themselves. This vision proposes a dynamic democracy, constantly evolving to reflect the diverse aspirations and identities of its citizens.

For thinkers such as Dahl and perhaps Tocqueville in his book "Democracy in America", a truly democratic society is a mosaic of multiple and changing associations. In such a society, political skills and knowledge are accessible to all, as each association must manage itself, meet and learn to cooperate with others. In this way, the individual can learn the nuts and bolts of politics by managing an association, and gradually politics becomes an extension of his or her personal interests that trains him or her and gives him or her the tools to participate at national level. This vision positions politics not as a remote and mysterious discipline, but as an aspect of everyday life, directly linked to our personal and collective aspirations. Unlike Schumpeter's approach, which sees politics as a specific and distinct profession, inaccessible to the majority of people, Dahl's pluralist vision makes it accessible to everyone. In his view, politics is not the preserve of an elite. On the contrary, it is within the reach of every citizen, forming an integral part of daily life and interacting directly with our personal and collective interests. This perspective genuinely democratises politics, by encouraging everyone to get involved, regardless of their educational background or social status.

Dahl offers a seductive vision, giving new meaning to the ideal of self-government in the modern world and highlighting the appeal of democratic associations. However, despite the appeal of this dynamic, adaptable and evolving perspective on politics, the reality is often far more complex. In practice, establishing and maintaining such a fluid and responsive democracy can face a number of practical challenges and obstacles.

The consequences of the professionalisation of politics[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Robert Putnam, in his 2000 book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," laments the disappearance of this idealized vision and the pluralistic world that Dahl had advocated.[4] He notes a trend towards the disintegration of social ties, resulting in a decline in participation in community associations and groups. This has important implications for the functioning of democracy, and raises questions about the viability of the pluralist model in the contemporary context.

Robert Putnam expresses a certain nostalgia for what seems to be a bygone era, the America of the 1950s, when citizen participation was, in his view, more robust and society more integrated. In this idealised vision, citizens were engaged in a myriad of associations, forming a dynamic web of social and political interaction. In his view, this active participation at local level was an essential ingredient of democracy, as it allowed citizens to participate directly in the management of their communities, fostered the learning of political skills and created a sense of community. He deplores the fact that modern politics no longer seems to work in this way. According to Putnam, there has been a marked decline in civic engagement and community associations in American society, leading to a decline in active citizen participation and increased social fragmentation. This has important implications for democracy, as active citizen participation is an essential element of democratic accountability and legitimacy.

Politics has become increasingly professionalised at all levels. This process has led to a situation where political parties and interest groups hire professional experts and consultants to devise political strategies and run campaigns. One of the reasons for this development is the increasing complexity of political issues, which requires specialist expertise. In addition, the modern media landscape, with its ability to reach large audiences and its crucial role in influencing public opinion, has also encouraged the professionalisation of politics. The result is an increased distance between ordinary citizens and the political process, which may seem to echo Schumpeter's elitist model. Moreover, the professionalisation of politics also tends to favour those who can afford to pay for this professional expertise, which can reinforce existing inequalities of power in society and act in contradiction with the democratic ideal of political equality.

The limits of Dahl's pluralist model[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Representation of minority or marginalised groups[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The pluralist model presents a significant difficulty when it comes to representing and protecting the interests of minority or marginalised groups. In a pluralist society, although citizens have the opportunity to come together and organise around common interests, some groups may be too small or too marginalised to be effectively represented. The concerns and needs of these minority or marginalised groups are likely to be overlooked or ignored in the political process, simply because they do not have the numerical weight to influence the outcome of political decisions. This situation contradicts the democratic ideal of equality and inclusiveness, according to which every citizen is entitled to a voice and fair representation in the political decision-making process. In addition, distinctive minorities may also face structural barriers that hinder their ability to organise and defend their interests. These obstacles may include discrimination, lack of resources or access to information, or language or cultural barriers. These challenges underline the need to address these issues within the framework of the pluralist model and to seek ways of ensuring equitable representation and participation for all groups in society.

The dynamics of pluralism imply a diversity of intersecting and overlapping interests, facilitating the representation of multiple concerns within public discourse. However, for distinct and isolated minority groups, this dynamic can pose a serious challenge. These groups may not share common interests with majority groups or other minorities, making it difficult to integrate them into the pluralist associative fabric. In addition, these groups may be too small to exert significant political influence in terms of numbers, and their concerns may be too specific or unique to be taken into account by wider lobbying groups. As a result, they may find themselves under-represented or even unrepresented in public policy, which calls into question the ideal of equality and inclusiveness in a pluralist democracy. This highlights the need for measures and policies that protect and promote the representation of distinct minority groups, to ensure that all voices, not just the most powerful or numerous, are heard in the democratic process.

Collective action in democratic pluralism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Mancur Olson's idea in "The Logic of Collective Action" (1965) is that the organisation of groups requires resources, and that the effectiveness of these groups depends on their ability to mobilise these resources. This poses a challenge to the pluralist ideal of free association, because not all groups have the same access to the resources needed to defend their interests effectively. Resources can be financial, but they can also relate to time, skills or expertise, information, networks and contacts. Groups with large financial resources can hire professional lobbyists, run sophisticated public relations campaigns, or influence decision-makers more directly. In addition, individuals who have more time or expertise to devote to associative activity may be better able to advance their causes. This can lead to inequality in the power of representation between different interest groups, calling into question equality of opportunity in a pluralist democracy. It is therefore crucial that pluralist democracy is accompanied by policies aimed at equalising access to the resources needed for effective political participation.

It is often difficult for consumer associations to have a significant impact, despite the large number of consumers they represent. There are many reasons for this challenge. Firstly, although consumers are numerous, they are also very diverse. Consumers have a range of interests and priorities that vary considerably, which can make it difficult to identify and promote a common agenda. In addition, consumers are often geographically dispersed, further complicating the task of organisation. Secondly, the resources available to consumer associations are often limited. Compared with businesses or industries, which may have substantial financial resources at their disposal, consumer associations often have to make do with smaller budgets. This can limit their ability to run effective awareness campaigns, hire professional staff or exert political influence. Thirdly, consumers often have less political power than producers. Producers, particularly large companies, can exert direct political influence through their financial contributions to election campaigns, their lobbying and their relationships with policy-makers. Consumers, on the other hand, often wield political power indirectly, mainly through their consumption choices. These challenges do not mean that consumer associations are powerless, but they do underline the need for strategies and policies that recognise and respond to these obstacles. To overcome these challenges, consumer organisations can seek to build alliances with other interest groups, use the media and social networks to reach and mobilise a wider audience, and promote policy reforms that empower consumers in economic and political decision-making.

The challenges posed by structural prejudice[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

One of the main challenges facing the pluralist model is that it does not take sufficient account of structural inequalities, including those based on gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or other factors. In the pluralist model, the emphasis is on the ability of individuals to form groups to defend their common interests. However, this assumes that all individuals have equal access to the resources, information and opportunities necessary to form these groups, which is often not the case due to systemic prejudice and discrimination. For example, women, people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people from religious minorities may face structural and institutional barriers to political participation. These barriers can take the form of under-representation in decision-making processes, lack of access to the resources needed to run effective political campaigns, and social and economic marginalisation that limits their ability to exercise power. In addition, the pluralist model may struggle to address issues that transcend individual groups or are structurally embedded in society, such as gender or racial inequalities. In these cases, it may be necessary to adopt more holistic and intersectional policy approaches that take into account the multiple facets of people's identities and how they interact with structures of power and inequality.

Despite the theoretical freedom of association we enjoy in many democracies, practical access to this freedom is often hampered by a range of inequalities and structural biases. Wealth, education, social status and other socio-economic factors can greatly influence a person's ability to participate actively in associations or to form new associations. For example, people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds may not have the time, resources or skills to engage fully in associations or political activities. In addition, systemic discrimination and societal prejudice can hinder the ability of marginalised groups to associate effectively. Women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and other groups may face social, economic and political barriers that limit their ability to form associations, participate in existing associational activities and advance their interests. This can lead to under-representation of these groups in the associational and political landscape, which in turn can perpetuate inequality and injustice.

In theory, pluralism promises a degree of equality in the representation of the varied and diverse interests of citizens. It suggests that, through freedom of association, we could alleviate inequalities and social divisions based on class, race, religion and other factors. In practice, however, this idealised vision of pluralism is often far from reality. In many cases, voluntary associations can actually reinforce and deepen existing divisions, rather than mitigating them. This is sometimes referred to as 'voluntary segregation' - the phenomenon whereby individuals choose to associate primarily with people who are similar to them or share their views, thereby reinforcing existing divisions and creating isolated 'bubbles' in society. This can be due to a variety of factors, including people's natural preference for familiarity and comfort, existing prejudices and stereotypes, and the wider socio-economic structure in which these associations operate. In this context, it is essential to recognise the limits of pluralism and to work actively to promote inclusiveness and equality in our societies, seeking ways to combat voluntary segregation and to encourage diversity and collaboration within voluntary associations.

Contemporary issues in normative political theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

We have looked at two models of democracy that seek to combine freedom and equality to realise the ideal of autonomy in the modern world: Schumpeter's elitist model and Dahl's pluralism. Each of these models offers fascinating insights into how we might conceive and practise democracy, and each has made an important contribution to our understanding of democracy as an idea and as a practice. However, these models also have significant limitations. The elitist model, for example, has been criticised for its narrow conception of democracy and for the way it can exclude the vast majority of citizens from meaningful political decision-making. Similarly, the pluralist model, despite its attractive emphasis on freedom of association and diversity of interest, has been criticised for its failure to take account of the structural inequalities and exclusions that exist in our societies. These challenges underline the fact that democracy is a complex and contested idea, which continues to evolve and develop in response to the political, social and economic challenges of our time. They also remind us that the goal of achieving true democracy - a democracy that respects both freedom and equality, and allows genuine autonomy for all citizens - remains a work in progress.

How can we combine the strengths of existing models of democracy with the structural inequalities inherent in our societies?

Dahl's pluralist democracy and Schumpeter's elitist democracy, while having important qualities, have shown their limits, particularly in their ability to tackle systemic inequalities and promote a genuine common good. One possible response to these challenges might be to rethink our democracies in terms of deliberative democracy. Deliberative democracy argues that citizens and their representatives should deliberate on laws and public policies. This deliberation is not simply an open and respectful debate, but a thoughtful and informed collective discussion of issues of public interest. Advocates of deliberative democracy argue that the quality of deliberation can be improved by institutional reforms that encourage more diverse and equitable representation and ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to participate in deliberation.

The idea is to encourage the active participation of all citizens, including marginalised or minority groups, and to emphasise deliberation rather than mere competition between divergent interests. This approach would not only allow a wider range of interests to be taken into account, but would also foster greater understanding and mutual respect between citizens with different points of view. However, like previous models, deliberative democracy also presents challenges, such as the risk of domination by more eloquent or powerful groups, or the difficulty of organising genuine deliberation on a large scale. Despite these challenges, many see deliberative democracy as a promising way of improving our democracies and responding better to the challenges of our time.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  • Grant, Wyn, 'David B. Truman, The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion', in Martin Lodge, Edward C. Page, and Steven J. Balla (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Classics in Public Policy and Administration, Oxford Handbooks (2015; online edn, Oxford Academic, 7 July 2016),
  • Studlar, D. (2016). E. E. Schattschneider,. In M. Lodge, E. C. Page, & S. J. Balla (Eds.), Oxford Handbooks Online. Oxford University Press.

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

  1. Dahl, R. A. (2005). Who governs?: Democracy and power in an American City, second edition. Yale University Press.
  2. The governmental process. Political Interests and Public Opinion. By David B. Truman. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1951. xvi, 544 pp. $5. (1951). In National Municipal Review (Vol. 40, Issue 9, pp. 504-504). Wiley.
  3. Schattschneider, E. E. (1975). The semi-sovereign people: A realist's view of democracy in America. Brooks/Cole.
  4. Harraka, Melissa. "Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community, by Robert D. Putnam." Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice 6.2 (2002).