Getting Past Democracy
65 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2000
Everyone believes in democracy these days; although there is a vast and growing literature on the subject, all discussion occurs within the boundaries of this capacious concept. An examination of this literature, however, reveals that the concept has never quite escaped from its association with direct democracy, an association which goes back to the origin of the term, and continued throughout Western history until the nineteenth century. Liberal theory, elite theory, pluralist theory and deliberative democratic theory all bear evidence of this association. As a result, the concept of democracy fails to describe the representative governments that developed over six or seven centuries of Western history, and particularly fails to describe modern administrative government, where most decisions are not made by elected representatives, and certainly not by an assembly of the people. This article suggests that we set the term democracy aside, as a thought experiment, and try to describe our current government in other terms. It presents an image of government as a system engaged in active interaction with various segments of the populace at both the political (legislature or chief executive and legislature) and the administrative level. These interactions involve elections at the political level (whose primary purpose is simply to solve the problem of succession) and lobbying, consultation, and various other activities at all levels. The article suggests that we will not only describe our government more accurately, but also be able to frame better prescriptions for its improvement, if we focus on this interactive image, and free ourselves from the irrelevant or outmoded associations that the concept of democracy inevitably engenders.
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