Democracy: universality and diversity

Article English OPEN
Beetham, David (2009)
  • Publisher: Co-Action Publishing
  • Journal: Ethics & Global Politics (issn: 1654-6369)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/egp.v2i4.2111
  • Subject: Democratic principles; Universalism; Paternalism; Rights; Democracy; Majoritarianism; Minorities

The argument of this paper is that the justification of democracy’s core principles of popular control over government in conditions of political equality, and the defense of them against paternalist alternatives, requires appeal to basic features of political decision-making and of human nature, respectively*its capacities and limitations*which are universal in their scope, and do not stop at borders. It follows that if a democratic form of government is appropriate anywhere, it must be so everywhere, though differences of social structure and historical tradition may make it more difficult to establish and sustain in practice in some countries than in others. However, these common features do not entail uniformity. The fundamental freedoms necessary to popular selfgovernment in any form encourage diversity, and allow it to find full expression in the public sphere. Yet, there is a limit to the movements and beliefs that are compatible with democracy, and that comes when they reject one or other of its core principles. At the same time, some of democracy’s characteristic elements*freedoms of expression and association, electoral competition for office, majoritarian procedures*can serve to exacerbate societal conflict, especially though not only in newly democratizing countries. In such circumstances only the establishment of a process of inclusive dialogue, involving respect for difference and an understanding of the requirements of political equality, can serve to resolve such conflicts. In other words, a commitment to democracy’s core principles is needed to moderate the effects of some of its own typical procedures. Keywords: democratic principles; universalist; paternalism; rights; democracy; majoritarianism; minorities (Published: 4 December 2009) Citation: Ethics & Global Politics, Vol. 2, No. 4, 2009, pp. 281–296. DOI: 10.3402/egp.v2i4.2111
  • References (6)

    13 February 2003. For a wider discussion of Islamist parties and democracy, see Journal of Democracy, 19, no. 3 (2008): 5 54.

    See EHRC press release of 23 June 2009, http://www.equalityhumanrights; also the report and comment in The Guardian, 24.06.09, 4, and 25.06.09, 26.

    For a recent review of the literature on this subject, see Judith Vorrath and Lutz F. Krebs, 'Democratization and Conflict in Ethnically Divide Societies', Living Reviews in Democracy, March 2009.

    For a fuller discussion of the challenges facing democracy in multi-national states, see Alan Gagnon and James Tully, eds., Multinational Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

    Ronald Dworkin, A Bill of Rights for Britain (London: Chatto and Windus, 1990), 35 6.

    Jeremy Waldron, 'Rights and majorities: Rousseau revisited', in J. Chapman and A. Wertheimer, eds., Nomos XXXII: Majorities and Minorities (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 44 75.

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