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Strong Leaders and Representative Democracy

“Each Representative may be considered in two capacities; in his capacity of Representative, in which he has the exercise of power over others, and in his capacity of Member of the Community, in which others have the exercise of power over him” (Utilitarian Philosopher James Mill)1

Andrew Heywood2 states that representative democracy is a ‘limited and indirect form of democracy that is based on the selection of those who will rule on behalf of the people’. The defining characteristics of limited and indirect clearly shows the nature of representative democracy that recognizes the impossibility of all citizens being involved in every decision making process, and the necessity of the election of representatives of the people to government. In fact, the representatives are elected by the people to act in their interest, thus the representative retain the exercise of decision-making power over others. To exercise this power, political leaders have to demonstrate good practice in comprehensive steering and capacity generation. They have to guarantee the accountability of the decisions in accordance with the rule of law. Therefore, the role of strong political leaders is seen as an inevitable and necessary part of representative democracy. This essay analyzes the relationship between strong leaders and representative democracy by exploring the conceptualizations of the role of leaders in various political ideas related to representative democracy. In Considerations on Representative Government3, John Stuart Mill highlights the
1 Mill, J. (2004) 'Essay on Government' in Blaug, R. & Schwarzmantel, J. (eds.) Democracy: A Reader, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, p. 155, Originally written 1819-1823 2 Heywood, A. (2002) Politics, 2nd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan 3 Mill, J.S. (1951) 'Considerations on Representative Government' in Acton, H. (ed.) Utilitarianism, Liberty and Representative Government, Dent, London, p. 175- 195

weaknesses of the ancient Greek idea of the polis. According to Mill, there are obvious geographical and physical limits to the place and time of open meeting as well as the problems posed by coordination and regulation in a densely populated country. Therefore, the notion of self-government of government by open meeting and any form of classical or direct democracy could not be sustained in modern society. He then recommends a representative democratic system along with freedom of speech, the press and assembly, that has distinct advantages of providing the mechanism whereby central powers can be watched and controlled as well as establishing a forum (parliament) to act as a watchdog of liberty and center of reason and debate through electoral competition, leadership qualities with intellect for the maximum benefit at all.

For Mill, the 'ideally best polity' in modern conditions comprises a representative democratic system in which 'people exercise through deputies periodically elected by themselves the ultimate controlling power.
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He believes that representative democracy could combine

accountability with professionalism and expertise and both democracy and skilled governments are the conditions that complement each other. He argues in favor of skilled governments and political leadership. However, in his book of Liberty, he also argues in favor of the use of a utilitarianist doctrine in a democracy in which a political leader’s action is right only insofar as it is useful or directly benefits the majority.5

In contrast, In The Prince, the Italian political philosopher, Machiavelli contrarily argues in favor of a strong leader to govern a nation according to his own decisions and observations by using the example of a disease in society stating as
"(…) by recognising from afar the diseases that are spreading in the state (which is a gift given
4 Mill (1951) p. 228 5 Mill, J.S. (1982) On Liberty, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books

only to a prudent ruler), they can be cured quickly; but when they are not recognized and are left to grow to the extent that everyone recognizes them, there is no longer any cure." 6

For Machiavelli, 'necessity' is the most concept for him and he uses it to determine military might in foreign policy as well as strong leaders in governments. In his book of the Discourses, Machiavelli states the twofold role virtuous individuals play in political culture. The first function of virtuous men is to inspire and beget virtue in others, and citizen virtue as well as military virtue is vital in protecting the republic from internal as well as external dangers, thus individual leadership is necessary in some particular affairs. The second function of virtuous men is to prevent corruption. All peoples tend to become corrupt in time due to the gradual loss of fear and respect for the law, thus a founding father figure is needed to perform “excessive and notable” executions to refresh people’s memories.7

Similarly, in his writings of The Utility of the union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection, American Philosopher, James Madison argues in favor of the role of leaders. He states that public views could be refined and enlarged through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.8 He also believes that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves. For Madison, the representative government could overcome the excesses of pure democracy because elected few are likely to be competent and have a capability for the interests of the people and the government ought to be led by the best men.
6 Machiavelli, N. (1987[1532]) 'The Prince' in Bondanella, J. & Musa, M. (eds) The Italian Renaissance Reader, New York, Penguin Books 7 Machiavelli, N.(1983) The Discourses, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books 8 Madison, J. (1987[1788]) 'The utility of the union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection', The Federalist Papers, No. 10, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, p. 126

The role of leaders are further broadened in Schumpeter's advocacy of 'leadership democracy' or 'competitive elitism' which states as an 'institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will'9 His theory of democracy highlights the five conditions for the satisfactory working of democracy such as 1. The calibre of politicians must be high. 2. Competition between rival leaders must take place within a relatively restricted range of political questions, bounded by consensus on the overall direction of national policy, on what constitutes a reasonable parliamentary programme and on general constitutional matters 3. A well-trained independent bureaucracy of 'good- standing and tradition' must exist to aid politicians on all aspects of policy formulation and administration 4. There must be a culture capable of tolerating differences of opinion 5. There must be 'democratic self-control', i.e. broad agreement about the undesirability of, for instance, voters and politicians confusing their respective roles, excessive criticism of governments on all issues, and unpredictable and violent behavior.10

He believes that democracy will function well if the above conditions are present. In his modern democratic doctrine, he more emphasized the existence of a group of political leaders who are competent to make political decisions as the bulk of the population is uninvolved, uninterested and unable to think about the stuff of politics due to the remoteness from most people's lives. He obviously held an elite view of the role of leaders in society and democracy by claiming that the will of the people is not genuine as it is manufactured by the propaganda
9 Schumpeter, J. (1976) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, London, Allen and Unwin, p. 250 10 Schumpeter, p. 296

of the leaders and parties and the elected government is not the government by the people, instead, it is the government approved by the people. Clearly, he redefines representative democracy as a mere leadership competition and broadened the role of strong leaders.

Sartori also confirmed the leadership function of the ‘superior’ few. He stated that democracies have to reckon with ‘minorities who count for much and lead, and with majorities who do not count for much and follow’11. In his view, the main task of democratic leaders was to defend democracy against itself, or rather against its own excessive tendencies toward the ‘perfectionistic’ pursuit of the democratic ideal and demagogic mass manipulation. Leaders were the necessary stabilizers of a potentially unstable system, thus, this is why adequate leadership is vital to democracy,’ he states by adding that eminent leadership was most necessary when pressure from below was.

In his book of In Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, Robert Dahl distinguished political regimes by two axes - the degree of political competition and the degree of political participation. For Dahl, the axis of political competition was rooted from monopolistic regimes in which power is concentrated in the hands of a narrow elite to pluralist regimes in which power is dispersed among groups and institutions while the axis of political participation was referred by the proportion of the population that is entitled to participate in a more or less equal plane.12 The higher the proportion of the population that plays a part in decision making the more inclusion of the regime type and the lower that proportion, the more exclusionary the regime type. Dahl argues in favor of the role of leaders in his theory of polyarchy in which the identification of democracy with a set of institutionalized procedures for selecting leaders among competing elites.
11 Sartori, G. (1987) The Theory of Democracy Revisited, Chatham, N.J. Chatham House 12 Dahl, R. (1971) Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Moreover, in his leader democracy theory,

Körösényi states the role of leaders in

representative democracy. He states that the political process itself is generated by the rivalry of political leaders who are initiators and persuaders. In his view, citizens vote first of all for candidates or parties in elections, thus democracy is feasible either as a selection of rulers or as a means of giving consent to (or retrieving from) the rule of the office-holders. Therefore, democracy works, instead of self-rule, as an egalitarian version of representative government13 where leader rules. For Körösényi, leaders provide public policy programs and not by citizens or by the people. Leaders can be seen as the rulers and citizens can only participate at most in the selection of rulers.

By using the accountability theory of representation in which the role of elections is to provide an ex post evaluation of the government’s record, e.g. not the expression of citizens’ will on policy-issues to be carried out in the future, but making the rulers accountable for their policy record in the past and for the impact of the public policy, Körösényi argues that the criteria of this accountability theory could be met if asymmetry between leaders and citizens does not turn to be an extreme. Thus his leader democracy firmly states that strong leaders are required as part of the representative government for making effective decisions.

Essentially, democracy is the rule of the common people in classical conceptualization. However, in practice, it is a balanced product of some level of strong leadership and some level of political participation. In terms of representative democracy, participation in political life is defined by voting, involvement in local administration and jury service. On another
13 Körösényi, A. (2007) 'Political Leadership: Between Guardianship and Classical Democracy', Paper presented at 4th ECPR General Conference, Pisa (6-8 September, 2007) http://www.essex.ac.uk/ecpr/events/generalconference/pisa/papers/PP1100.pdf (assessed on 3rd Decmber, 2009)

spectrum, strong political leaders are also required to retain the exercise of decision-making power over others for the interests of the people. Thus strong leaders may said to be inevitable and necessary part of representative democracy in a modern democratic society.

Khin Ma Ma Myo (2009)

References
Dahl, R. (1971) Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Körösényi, A. (2007) 'Political Leadership: Between Guardianship and Classical Democracy', Paper presented at 4th ECPR General Conference, Pisa (6-8 September, 2007) Heywood, A. (2002) Politics, 2nd edition, New York, Palgrave Macmillan Machiavelli, N.(1983) The Discourses, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Machiavelli, N. (1987[1532]) 'The Prince' in Bondanella, J. & Musa, M. (eds) The Italian Renaissance Reader, New York, Penguin Books Madison, J. (1987[1788]) 'The utility of the union as a safeguard against domestic faction and insurrection', The Federalist Papers, No. 10, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Mill, J.S. (1982) On Liberty, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Mill, J.S. (1951) 'Considerations on Representative Government' in Acton, H. (ed.) Utilitarianism, Liberty and Representative Government, Dent, London Mill, J. (2004[1819-1823]) 'Essay on Government' in Blaug, R. & Schwarzmantel, J. (eds.) Democracy: A Reader, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press Sartori, G. (1987) The Theory of Democracy Revisited, Chatham, N.J. Chatham House Schumpeter, J. (1976) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, London, Allen and Unwin