The Nature of Democratic Theory
- I. What
citizens know about politics and their opinions about
have common understandings of American politics, and
some of their understandings are just plain
example, polls regularly show that a majority of
Americans think that foreign aid constitutes the
largest item in the U.S. budget, when foreign aid
constitutes less than 1%.
does this mean for democratic theory?
government always do what people want or what
people think is the obvious solution to a
- II. People
also have strong opinions about politics that can't be
judged by reference to facts.
prayers in schools: About 65% of the American public
favors some sort of prayer in school, yet the
government forbids allowing prayer in
the case of gun control: A majority of Americans favor
gun control, but Congress is reluctant to enact strong
measures controlling handguns.
- III. Given
these cases of government acting contrary to public
- Is our
the shallow base of understanding of public affairs,
is it wrong that government goes against public
Democratic theory is NORMATIVE in character
evaluates or prescribes governmental
the assertions of democratic theory cannot be
"validated" in the same way, for example, as the
claims of Keynesian economic theory about the
operation of the economy.
democratic theory rests on understandings of
political facts and empirical theories of human
these assumed facts are shown to be in error or
theories are shown to be wrong, then support is
undercut for belief in the value
- II. A
major normative principle of western political theory is
that "Democracy is the best form of government." There
are two schools of thought about what constitutes a
- A. The
PROCEDURAL VIEW of democracy prescribes a set of
normative principles for democratic
principles derive from answers to three questions
about decisionmaking in any group:
should participate? Everyone -- which leads to
the principle of UNIVERSAL
much should individual preferences count?
Equally -- which leads to POLITICAL
many votes are needed to reach a decision? A
majority -- which leads to MAJORITY
these principles apply only to government in a
DIRECT democracy, in which all members of the group
meet to make decisions themselves.
an INDIRECT democracy, citizens choose officials
to make decisions for them -- which is also
known as REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT.
the fact of representative government in all
modern nations, a fourth principle is
states that elected representatives should respond
to public opinion.
should do what a majority of the citizens want,
regardless of what that is.
principle is unsettling to some people, who fear
the enactment of "undemocratic" decisions by
responding to majority rule.
- B. The
SUBSTANTIVE VIEW evaluates democracy on the basis of
substance of government policies.
substantive theorists require that democratic
government must guarantee civil rights and
would add social and economic rights to the list of
substantive outcomes a democracy
Procedural and substantive views of democracy are at odds
with each other.
unlimited majority rule of procedural democracy may
result in policies unfavorable to
imprecise standards of the substantive perspective
cannot adequately resolve whether policies are truly
We favor the
PROCEDURAL conception of democracy in this book because it
more clearly approaches the classical definition of
democracy as government by the people.