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Dahl - On Democracy

Dahl - On Democracy

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Published by Felix de Jongh
1998
1998

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Published by: Felix de Jongh on Apr 20, 2013
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Robert A. Dahl – On Democracy (1998)Summary by Felix de JonghThis is a summary I started making intended for personal use only, but I figured a lot more peoplecould profit from it. The quality might not be up to par, as I haven't checked for any spelling errors.However, I am confident it is sufficiently clear.For any comments, questions or additions, please visit this link and comment there:http://felixdicit.com/?p=984Chapter 1: Do We Really Need A Guide (preface) (- not included)Part I. The BeginningChapter 2: Where and How did Democracy DevelopChapter 3: What Lies Ahead?Part II. Ideal DemocracyChapter 4: What Is Democracy?Chapter 5: Why Democracy?Chapter 6: Why Political Equality I: Intrinsic EqualityChapter 7: Why Political Equality II: Civic CompetencePart III. Actual DemocracyChapter 8: What Political Institutions Does Large-Scale Democracy RequireChapter 9: Varieties I: Democracy on Different ScalesChapter 10: Varieties II: ConstitutionsChapter 11: Varieties III: Parties and Electoral SystemsPart IV. Conditions Favorable and UnfavorableChapter 12: What Underlying Conditions Favor DemocracyChapter 13: Why Market-Capitalism Favors DemocracyChapter 14: Why Market-capitalism Harms DemocracyChapter 15: The Unfinished JourneyAppendix A (-not included)Appendix B (-not included)Appendix C (-not included)
 
Part I. The Beginning
Chapter 2: Where and How did Democracy Develop
(
 A Brief History
)
 page 7 - 25
The origins of democracy isn't continuous, after the fall of the Greek and Roman empires itdisappeared. Democracy wasn't invented 'once and for all', and it is hard to find out how much of it wasdiffused from its early sources and how much, if any, of it was independently invented in differenttimes and places.According to Dahl, some of the expansion of democracy – perhaps a good deal of it – can beaccounted for mainly by the diffusion of democratic ideas and practices, but diffusion can't provide thewhole explanation. It seems to have been invented more than once, and in more than one place. If theconditions for inventing democracy where favourable in one place at one time, why not in other placesand times? (p.9)He assumes democracy can be independently invented and reinvented whenever the appropriateconditions exist. A push toward democratic participation develops out of what we might call 'the logicof equality'. It might have been developed as far back as the hunter-gatherer era. When people settleddown, a certain hierarchy formed. Popular governments where replaced with monarchies, despotisms,aristocracies and oligarchies, all based on ranking or hierarchy. Then, around 500 B.C.E. In severalplaces, favourable conditions reappeared and small groups began developing governmental systemswith opportunities to participate in group decisions – primitive democracy. This happened three timesalong the mediterranean, some in northern Europe.THE MEDITERRANEANIn classical Greece and Rome, systems with substantial popular participation was firstestablished on a solid basis, so that they could endure for centuries. Greece was made up of hundreds ofindividual city-states. Athens was the most famous. In 507 B.C.E they adopted a system of populargovernment that lasted nearly two centuries, until it was conquered by Macedonia in 321 B.C.E.Demos (people) and Kratos (to rule) was probably coined by Athenians. It was a very complexsystem. The assembly was chosen through lottery, and they elected public officials, like Generals.These political institutions of Greek democracy, were ignored or rejected during the development ofmodern representative democracy.Romans called their system a republic, res (thing, affair) and publicus (public), so a 'business ofthe people'. Rights of participation was restricted to patricians, or aristocrats. After struggles, the plebsalso gained entry. Rights where restricted to men only, like the greeks and all democracies until thetwentieth century. Politics was restricted to theforum Romanum, for many too far to participate.Romans never adopted a representative government based on democratically elected representatives.The Roman Republic endured until 130 B.C.E, but was eradicated with the dictatorship ofJulius Caesar. After his assassination (44BCE), the republic became an empire ruled by its emperors.With that, popular rule vanished from southern Europe for nearly a thousand years.Around 1100CE popular rule reemerged in many cities in Northern Italy. Participation wasrestricted to members of upper-class families: nobles, large land owners, etc. In time, the newly rich,the smaller merchants and bankers, skilled craftsmen (united in guilds), footsoldiers, and the likebecame more dominant and started to organize themselves. They could threaten uprises, and as a resultgained the right to participate, and became called the popolo (the people). In cities like Venice andFlorence, these systems flourished as the middle ages came to a close, making place for theRenaissance. However, with the emergence of nation-states, these city-states couldn't defendthemselves and where subjugated by them, thus, nation-states ruled by kings once again eradicated
 
popular government. City-states became obsolete.NORTHERN EUROPEThe democratic systems named above missed the crucial characteristics of modernrepresentative government. They lacked an effective national government. Three basic politicalinstitutions where missing: A national parliament, composed of elected representatives, and popularchosen local governments that were ultimately subordinate to the national government.The combination of local and national government originated in Britain, Scandinavia, TheLowlands (Belgium, the Netherlands), Switzerland and various other northern locations. These started'bottom-up', beginning at local level, later uniting at regional and national level.The Vikings started organizing themselves in a 'Ting', assemblies at local level where theywould settle disputes, agree on new laws, appoint kings, change their religion (Christianity) from600CE to 1000CE. By 900CE these 'Ting' where held all over Scandinavia. The King had to swearfaithfullness to the laws approved by the Ting. Vikings couldn't have known of the democracies athousand year earlier, but they were equal. The Freemen though, Vikings also held slaves: enemiescaptured in battle or victims of raids.In the Netherlands and Flanders, rulers needed consent from wealthy citizens to tax theirpossessions. The rulers summoned meetings of representatives from the towns and most importantsocial classes. This established certain traditions, practices and ideas that strongly favoured thedevelopment of popular government.In Britain, parliament grew out of assemblies summoned periodically. By the eighteenthcentury, the king and parliament controlled each other. The House of Lords was in turn controlled bythe House of Commons. Laws enacted had to be interpreted by independent judges. This system ofchecks and balances was admired by Europeans and Americans alike. Montesquieu lauded the system,the founding fathers of the USA based their system on this without the role of a monarch, which in turnprovided a model for many other republics.DEMOCRATIZATION: ON THE WAY, BUT ONLY ON THE WAY.The elements for later democratic beliefs and institutions, favored by local conditions andopportunities in several areas of Europe were stimulated by the logic of equality to form localassemblies, in which free men could participate in governing, to an extent. The consent of thegoverned, initially on taxes, gradually grew into a claim about laws in general. When these assembliescovered a too large area, people needed representation provided by election. These elections needed tobe held on multiple levels, first local, than regional and national, or other intermediate levels. Thisprovided a base from which democratization could proceed, but it was only a promise: crucial pieceswere still missing.First, Inequality posed enormous obstacles to democracy: differences between rights, duties,influence, power of slaves and free men, landed and landless, master and servant, men and women, daylaborers and apprentices, etc. Even free men where inequal. Second, existing assemblies andparliaments were a long way from meeting minimal democratic standards, as they were no match forthe monarch. Representatives had only a partial saying in lawmaking. Third, representatives didn'trepresent the whole population i.e. men. In Great Britain (1832), only 5% had the right to vote. Fourth,democratic ideas weren't widely shared or well understood. Logic of equality was only effectiveamong a privileged few. Speech and Press freedom was seriously restricted, criticizing the King oftenforbidden. Political opposition lacked legitimacy and legality. Political parties were condemned asdangerous and undesirable. Elections corrupted by agents of the crown.Advance of democratic ideas and practices depended on the existence of favorable conditionsthat did not yet exist. These will be described in Part IV. Furthermore, democracy didn't proceed on anascending path to the present, with many ups and downs. Resistance movements, rebellions, civil wars

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