Lecture 1: The Meaning Vs Definition of Democracy

Are the terms ‘meaning’ and ‘definition’ the same? Probably not. Meaning-simplifies the reality into words so that we can share the understanding. Definition-means a formal statement of the meaning of a word/concept on basis of selected criteria like; nature, scope, origin, structure, procedure, or the degree of distinctness from other known objects, images, processes, or concepts. In this sense, the meaning of democracy and the definition of democracy are two different things. The meaning aims at bringing a shared understanding of the concept, but the definition aims at elevating certain criteria that can help us tell the meaning into ‘a meaning’
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Meaning Vs Definition of Democracy Concept usually have one root meanings, but the so called ‘other meanings’ are delivered from the root meaning through Collocation-E.g...., democracy is liberty Connotation-E.g..., democracy as privatization Context-E.g., democracy as public ownership and equality in communist societies The meaning of the reality denotes the reality, but the definition can be based on collocative, contextual, or connotative experiences of how we know the reality. Thus, as students of Political Science we need to be careful when working with definitions. We should go beyond and try to understand why somebody defines a concept as s/he defines it.
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Meaning of Democracy
Democracy etymologically comes from a Greek Language ‘demos Kratos’. “Demos" means "People" while "Kratos" mean "Power." Altogether, they mean "Power to the people,”. It basically denotes rule by the people or a system in which people have the power to rule. It is a ruling system in which power and authority is vested in the hands of the people or people participate in ruling (participating in making collective decisions that affect them). There is a great intellectual consensus that democracy is about the idea that people must rule themselves (participate in decisions that affect their own life).
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Meaning of Democracy
There is agreement that people can rule themselves through participation. Thus, the meaning of democracy is clear. However there is no agreement on the definition (what is democracy across societies and times), since there has been no agreement on three basic questions; Who are the people? How and to what extent can the people rule? What does it mean by participating? And how should participation be effectively exercised.

1. 2. 3.

NOTE: Our debates and discussions in this course shall surround on these three questions and how they affect the theory and practice of democracy across the history and the traditions.
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Defining Democracy
There are more than 550 known definitions of democracy. Not possible for us to cover all of them, but at least few popular definitions shall be reviewed here. However, the definitions can be commonly classified as they look at democracy as: 1. A process-Robert Dahl, Schumpeter 2. Procedure3. Institutional arrangements e.g.. Multipartysm. 4. Outcome 5. Ideology 6. Beliefs 7. A style of ruling Each of the above ways of looking at democracy has its strength and weaknesses (examine some of these definitions).

R.S. Damian, The Meaning Vs Definition of Democracy


Definitions of Democracy
Larry Diamond (1990) defines democracy as a “system of government that meets three essential conditions: meaningful and extensive competition among individuals and groups (especially political parties) for all effective positions of government power, at regular intervals and excluding the use of force; a highly inclusive level of political participation in the selection of leaders and policies, at least through regular and fair elections, such that no major (adult) social group is excluded; and a level of civil and political liberties - freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom to from and join organizations - sufficient to ensure the integrity of political competition and participation
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Definitions of Democracy…….

Schumpeter (1947): system ‘for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the peoples’ vote (see pp.269) Samuel Huntington (1991), Democracy is a system where the most powerful collective decision makers are selected through fair, honest, and periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all the adult population is eligible to vote.
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Definitions of Democracy……………..

David Beetham (1993), democracy is mode of decision-making about collectively binding rules and policies over which the people exercise control, and the most democratic arrangement to be that where all members of the collective enjoy effective equal rights to take part in such decision making directly one, that is to say, which realizes to the greatest conceivable degree the principles of popular control and equality in its exercise (pp.55).

R.S. Damian, The Meaning Vs Definition of Democracy


Definitions of Democracy

Adam Przeworski (1991) “a system in which parties lose elections.” There must be political parties; divisions of interests, values and opinions; competition; organized by rules; and there are winners and losers.

R.S. Damian, The Meaning Vs Definition of Democracy


Definitions of Democracy Continues
Yash Tandon (1979) argues that democracy is not just an idea. To him, democracy is a material question. It concerns the lives of people in their daily struggles for material existence (pp. 1) Chachage (2001), Looks at democracy has always existed as a historical mode of politics that is based on respect of peoples' rights as individuals and as communities rather than putting inordinate emphasis on Multipartism and period electioneering. Democracy is a social project that is based on the question of people's rights and democracy with a sense of social and political determinism rather than economic determinism. Kiondo (1997), Democracy entails culture and beliefs among the people.
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Definitions of Democracy Continue
Robert Dahl (1989), democracy as a decision making

system where each person in a political community is entitled to have his/her interests given equal consideration in binding collective decisions (not necessarily that all people are equally satisfied by the collective decision). He uses the term polyarchy to describe societies in which there exists a certain set of institutions and procedures which are perceived as leading to such democracy. A polyarchy should practice regular occurrence of free and open elections which are used to select representatives who then manage all or most of the public policy of the society.
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Dahl (1989)

To live together in an association, then, people need a process for arriving at governmental decisions: a political process.

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Definitions of Democracy Continues
Anthony Downs (1957), Democracy is a political system in which two or more parties compete in periodic elections for control of the governing apparatus; the party (or coalition of parties) winning the majority of votes gains control of the governing apparatus until the next election; the loosing parties never attempt to prevent the winners from taking office, nor do winners use the powers of office to vitiate the ability of losers to compete in the next election; And all sane, law abiding adults who are governed are citizens and every adult has one and only one vote in each election.

R.S. Damian, The Meaning Vs Definition of Democracy


What Democracy is….and What it is not
Schmitter and Karl (1991), argue that apart from Schumpeter’s competitiveness, democracy must have the following qualifications. Firstly, citizens must be able to influence public policy between elections; secondly, properly elected governments must be able to exercise power without control by unelected officials; and third, the polity must be self-governing.
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