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Berghahn Books

Conceptual History and Politics: Is the Concept of Democracy Essentially Contested?


Author(s): Oliver Hidalgo
Source: Contributions to the History of Concepts, Vol. 4, No. 2 (2008), pp. 176-201
Published by: Berghahn Books
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Contributions

i RIL L

to the History of Concepts

4 (2008)

176-201

www.brill.nl/chco

History and Politics:


Conceptual
Is the Concept
of Democracy
Contested?
Essentially

Oliver Hidalgo
Institut fiir Politikwissenschaft

der Universitat

Regensburg

Abstract
This

article

different

because
are

popular

ideas

theory

and

reveals

usage

to speak

to its ability

its semantic

field.

unequivocal

definition

and

contradictions

quality

vs. quantity,

the synchronicity

of democracy

of it from

are suffused

practice

history
of all due

that no

aporias,

finally,

and

to subsume

These

vs. equality,

political
Thus,

normative

the

is possible

similarities

perspective.

to
that

Moreover,

liberty

between

empirical

times
shows

it contains.

in present-day

an external

with

from Ancient
of democracy

under

representation,

and,

ubiquitous

it impossible

is most

realities

paradoxes,
vs.

sovereignty

The

and

of the concept

vs. collective,

similarities.

cratic

historical

of democracy

the conceptual

of the concept

of the significant

individual

makes

success

evolution

historical

of the concept

to the author,

According

the overwhelming
very

the history

surveys

the present.

and

dis

language

both

demo

elements.

Keywords
democracy,

conceptual

history,

conceptual

politics,

normative

theory

The concept of democracy has been associated at different points in history


with some very opposing ideas: while the ancients used the term dripoKpaxta
to identify the effective rule of the many or even of the whole people
(despite the fact only a minority were considered citizens and the popula
tion was constricted to a small area), modern thinkers employ it in order
to

refer

rulers

to

as

a society

a means

to

in

which

guarantee

are

people
freedom,

able

to

elect

and

and

equality,

the

control
pursuit

their
of self

interest for all individuals.1

There are also countless other forms of govern

" For a
comprehensive

analysis

of ancient

(1995),

and Josiah Ober

(1980),

Fritz Gschnitzer

Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008

and

modern

democracies

and Charles

Hedrick
DOI:

see Moses

I. Finley

(1996).

10.1163/187465608X363463

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O. Hidalgo

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

/ Contributions

176-201

177

merit which adopt patterns, (sub-) types, and varieties of decision-making


processes that have also been labelled democratic, making it hard to keep
orientation.

This

myriad

tions and qualifications.


that

are liberal

prominence
or

even

or socially
such

direct

or representative,

oriented.

More

as participatory,

alternatives

to

leads

concept

a spate

of distinc

Most traditionally, one can speak of democracies

or republican,

market

tarian,

of the

usage

like

other

recently,

deliberative

and

skewed

demarchy,

consensual

or majori

variants

grassroots
and

democracy

acquired

democracies,
non-partisan

democracy. Finally, considering how democracies have evolved worldwide,


even the possibility of a specific Islamic transformation of democracy or of
a socialist
of the

and

anarchist

brand

in the

concept

of democratization

the

expand

might

scope

future.

If a typology is plausible (a difficult task as it is, since nowadays the basic


traits

of a direct

within

the

representative

referenda

-initiatives,

democracy

and

system

the

and

take

recalls

sometimes

people

not

place
han

only

dle legislative but certain executive and judicial powers as well), we cannot
avoid the suspicion that the "government of the people, by the people, and
for the people" (Abraham Lincoln) might just as well mean "everyone and
everything."2
than

Rather

to a mood

succumbing

of dismay,

we

must

take

into

con

sideration W. B. Gallie's classical statement that democracy - like justice or


is
yet

arts

one

another

those

among

contested

"essentially

concepts"

which lack unique standards of definition.3 Furthermore (and fortunately)


the

contest
not

concept,
that
to

seems

must
assess

made

what

whether

concern

the concept

be

all

to

of democracy

is whether

is the

there

best

is to

to which

perception
negative:
ysis

conceptual

of concrete

of

the

might

At first glance,
(here

semantics,

origins,

then

the question
and

arguments

criteria

of democracy

concept

a juxtaposition

or

of competing

deeper problem, namely, the


in

help

there

understood

of the

interpretation

Obviously

is to accept

history

the

to find

implies a second,

history

historical

itself.4

it is possible

done

conceptual

of democracy.

foremost

interpretation

be

versions. This approach


extent

first and

can

a normative

acquiring
only

as the
derivations

be an answer
and

description
and

alterations

in the
anal
of

8 Giovanni

Sartori (1992),
11.
3> See Walter B. Gallie
(1956).
4) See some considerations
concerning
(1974)

and Rainer

Forst (2003),

normative

concepts

presented

by Stephen

50-52.

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Lukes

O. Hidalgo

178

/ Contributions

concepts)

apparently

therefore

a normative

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)


to the

belongs
notion

empirical

in social

paradigm

of democracy

not

(and

176-201

sciences,5

a reflection

only

of

the social and moral impact of democratic ideas and values) can only be
informed by political philosophy. However, simply considering what the
entire range of the history of political ideas is able to offer would be much
too

simple.

ceed

to

the

analyze

framework
the

for the

an abstract

must

and

contexts

conceptual

It is therefore
of ideas

that

if it remains

must

They

also

make

an

effort

ceptual history of democracy


conceptual
"best

politics7

of the

the

the
after

history

bound

to norma

with an additional

extent

to which

the

con

might function as a basis for any kind of


on

depending

interpretation"

to clarify

pro

provide

conceptual

closely

tive theories. This presents the political philosophers


task.

thus

of democracy

theory

to separate

possible
even

and

importance

of a normative

development

history

the

acknowledge

historical

turn.6

linguistic

from

we

Instead,

whether

are

they

able

of democracy.

concept

to extrapolate

the

first I would

However,

like to discuss, briefly, democracy as a historical concept, before showing


that

conceptual

tion

that

history

reflects

the

1. The Concept
As

leads
and

aporias

to the

of a normative

necessity

contradictions

concep

of democracy.

of Democracy

it is well-known,

word

also

ancient

Greece
means

(which

"5r|poKpaxia"

is the
the

by the

The

of democracy.8

birthplace

"rule

was

people")

invented

by the Athenians in order to define their political system after 462/461


B.C., particularly after Ephialtes put in place the proposals of Cleisthenes
in 508/507 B.C, disempowering the aristocratic Areopagand turning most
5)

Through

intends

his writings on Quentin

theory.
6) Arno Waschkuhn
7)

"Conceptual

(1998),

politics"

in contrast

Sumerian

of Reinhard

both the method


of sociologist

31, as well as the analogy

(2006),

politics

of Max Weber,

argue that the historical

City and the first republics

racies avant la lettre which

Koselleck,
critique

Kari Palonen
of normative

(2002)
political

part 3.

to their own conceptions

For the conceptual


8) Some authors

and Reinhart

into a subversive

is my translation

by which he wants to characterize

Mehring

Skinner

to turn the history of concepts

Mehring's

or historian

to Hermann

Liibbe's

origins of democracy

and Reinhart

of concepts.

see also Kari Palonen

of ancient

of Begriffspolitik

concept

of Carl Schmitt

concept

Koselleck

See Reinhard
of Ideenpolitik.

(2005).
can be found already in the

India but these examples

are at best democ

makes them irrelevant for this article.

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O. Hidalgo
of the

important

by male
dom

decisions

political
At

citizens.9

and

as an

in return.

After

the

all

equality

the other

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

/ Contributions

citizens
and

equal,10
the

to the

the

time,

being

henceforth

second

each

by birth

they

fifth century,

179

exclusively

of democracy

by ruling

of the

half

constituted

assembly

first principles
free

176-201

were

one

free

would

accept

to be

accepted

ruled

also

democracy

meant

that officials were to be controlled by fixed laws and by the people's vote
- as stated

and

in Pericles'

funeral

oration

which

survived

thanks

to Thucy

dides that citizens would be ensured the right to live on their own behalf
without

educated

being

The

and

first historian

Herodotus.
of

tyranny

the

state

the concept

we

Nevertheless,

by the

guarded

to mention

must

Peisistratides12

retrace

and

the

and

its public

of SquoKpcmw

at least

its origins

Athenian

Sea

norms."

was

obviously
to

back

Union13

the

when

the

nobles' position was weakened while that of the citizens - the 8t|po<; - was
also

8ri|roKpana

shows

(ehvopta,

concept

the

Moreover,

strengthened.

the

of law

replacement

iaovopfa)

derivation

etymological

an

by

of
as

(nomos)
on

emphasis

the

word

constitutional

power,

that

is

arche

((tovapyia, oXtyapyta) and kratia (hripoKpaxta), respectively.14


These

shifts

show

evidence

that

the

of democracy

concept

was

above

all

an attempt to identify political reality in ancient Athens. Today one can


hardly call democratic the political system in Attica, which included slav
ery and excluded
to

describe

and

it much

makes

versely

all women

people
Rather

than

be

to contextualize

no
(who

surprise

associated

Xenophon

city of Athens,

91 Kurt A. Raaflaub
n) Werner
12) Michael

Conze

Meier

with
hoped

chaos
for an

to lament

(1995),
32-38;

In this

but

wind

of moral

Bleicken

and (1301a),

828.
Kinzl

(1995).

36ff.

(1983).

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Plato

Socrates,
in

the

authority

(1995).

28-32.

it is

light,

also

and

eras.

should

them

of change
order

by the

and
one

among

anarchy),

andjochen

singular

rule

contexts

Greeks.

aristocratic
the loss

Jochen Martin

and Konrad

(1995),

and

very

of democracy,

Greece

in order

of the

political

ancient

ancient

5-7 and 24; (1291b),

et al. (1972),

However,

other

of the
in

the

development

standards

claims

thinkers

them

(1995),

Stahl (1987)

13) Kurt A. Raaflaub


14) Christian

the

many

(1280a),

with

of 8r|poKpaxia

concept

to the

contemporary

leading

10) See Aristotle

led

compare

democracy

others

and

the

conditions.

that

hardly

applying

that

to adopt

political

circumstances

in Athens

able

easier

present-day

complex

and foreigners from citizenship. This con

180

O. Hidalgo

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

/ Contributions

and to call for the rule of the best (aptaxot),


by their

were

Nevertheless,

they

arrangement

compatible

famously
city;
ens

ment

and

and

became
its Sea

than

an

after

the

of ttoXtxeta

the only

an

Later

form

the

mixed

of Greek

Romans

aristocratic

monarchic,

of constitution

deemed

and

to be

of the

between

between
the

Ath

a "good"

emphasis

and

oligarchy

of govern

quality

constitution

subsequently

outside

Athens

on

as a system,

law

and

Their concept of respublico. -

democratic

the

Socrates
laws

between

an

to have influenced

democracy

a new

put

Athens.

democratic

between

including democracy only as a supplement.


model

in

(oyAoc;).15

to accept

reconciliation

amalgam

The

participation.16

conceivable

Union.17

as

as a compromise

therefore

the people's

connecting

the

distinction

interesting

mob

a readiness

reality

to break

the

many,

form of democracy, which is supposed

conception

democracy

of the

democratic

to Athens
made

rule

or of the ones distinguished

of developing

capable
with

Plato

Sparta;

and a "bad"

of the

rather

returned

Xenophon

Aristotle's

also

to die

preferred

and

instead

(xt|tf|i)

bravery

176-201

best

elements18

insurance

against

was

instability,

from Polybius to Machiavelli.


After the fall of the republic and the rise of the Roman Empire the con
cept

of democracy

was

circumstances.
"common

democracy

director,"19

Cassius

a monarchy,
was
15)

of
Dio

to

Early supporters

the

be

to new

no

that

Platonic
longer

of democracy

real

but

but merely did emphasize

could

best
only

ruler
exist
one's

("Doing

democratic.20

a conflict between

and
under

own")

Ultimately,

and Pericles, who linked justice

the unity of the city against the menace

and iso

citizens and nobles

of oligarchy

and tyranny.

the political and moral concept of aristocracy


- as Thucidides
and Aristotle did
democracy or

Conze

and Christian

161 In Aristotle a
pure democracy
His concept

of political

like Pindar and Plato innovated

in order to pit the rttle of the best against


later - to distinguish good from bad oligarchies.
see Werner

the

man,

of justice

aristocratic

like Herodotus

one

democracy

formula

nomia to the rule of the 8r||io<;, still did not envisage


At first nobles

as a result

assessment

under

world,

stressed
the

whereby

supposed

submitted

Aelius Aristides called the Imperium romanum a

While

of politeia

understood

Meier

For the conceptual

history of aristocracy

(1972).

is described

as degenerated

rule of the poor (1279b

as the good form of democracy

5-10).

or also as free constitu

tion was shared by Isocrates (IV, 125; ep. VI, 11) and Demosthenes
(I, 5; VI, 21; XV, 20).
17)
and Alexander Demandt
316-23
(1995), viii and ix.
Wolfgang Schuller (1995),
18) por jPg
in Rome, see John North (1994).
strong elements of popular participation
19) Aelius Aristides
Klein (1981),
60.
See
also
Richard
131f.
XXVI,
(1981),
20) Cassius
Demandt
Dio (1961),
LVI, 43.4. and VI, 23.5. See also Alexander
(1995),
213.

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O. Hidalgo
neither

/ Contributions

Aristides

nor

of democracy

concept

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

Dio

wanted

still

carried

to

renounce

the

The situation only changed during the European


of

predominance
democracy

over

religion
useless.

evidently

all

few thinkers revived the concept


bert

of Admont,

tered

it through

the

Marsilius
their

contemporary

not

and

of the

life

made

the

thirteenth

Nicole

of Aristotle21

reception

by the

rise

of contract

era.

reference

to

that

century

Italian

who

Oresme

and

started

cities.22

But

which

theory,

encoun

the

rise

of Prot

Church (accom
the

epitomized

new

forms

rationalism in politics) could not immediately change the association


the

of democracy

concept

with

The

antiquity.

and

is born

and

more,

since

even

on

be said

concept

the

reign

the sovereignty

for

of the

Rousseau

though

his

the

that

argument

democratic.

Meanwhile,
against

of represen
every

man

Rousseau

representation.

idea that democracy means nothing


themselves
too

something
and

argues

of

with the idea

in favour

of the people

over

people

the Reformation

Hobbes

to be

they shared the unchanged

Obviously
image

can

equal

vice-versa,

than

Thomas

democracy

against

free and

insisted,

else

people.

ruling

tation

Hence

of

of representation,

especially, was for a long time considered to be incompatible


of the

it to describe

using

even

estantism and the diminishing authority of the Catholic


panied

the

Christian

Middle Ages, when the

the

until

of the

notably, St. Thomas of Aquinas, Engel

of Padua

politics

of

aspects

It was

value

legitimizing

in the first centuries

181

176-201

nice

to

for

be

Enlightenment

Hobbes

a terrible

actualized.23

Further

the concept

of democ

racy was sporadically used to identify some specific elements of the mixed
constitution in England (Blackstone, De Tolme, John Adams), of the
republican

constitutions

of Switzerland

and

its cantons,

of the Netherlands,

21) Hie

work of Aristotle was unknown in the West from the fifth century all
philosophical
the way to the late twelfth century.
221 See Claire R. Sherman
Karl Ubl (2000),
(1995),
240-52;
134ff., R.W. Dyson (2003),
203-05
23) "A

and 246-50.
prendre le terme dans la rigueur de l'acception,

cratic, et il n'en existera jamais

[...]

il n'a jamais

S'il y avait un peuple

existe de veritable

de dieux, il se gouvernerait

demo
demo

Un gouvernement
si parfait ne convient pas a des hommes." Translation:
"In
its most rigorous sense, there has never been a true democracy, such a
will
never
exist
thing

cratiquement.
[...]

If a people

of god existed, it would

ment is not appropriate

1969), III, 4.

for mankind."

govern itself democratically.


Jean-Jacques

Rousseau,

Du

Such a perfect govern


contrat social,

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(1959

182

and

of some

also

cism

concerning

until

the

the

realization

of the

that

fact

of the state

the

predominated

Aristotelian

very
use

scepti

to the

was

description

in the works

as, for example,

system,

still

also

concept's

176-201

(Aristotelian)

democracy

Indeed,

century.
restricted

government

the

Nevertheless,

of a "pure"

eighteenth
thinkers

many
and

cities.24

German
the

end

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

/ Contributions

O. Hidalgo

of Johan

nes Althusius, John Henry Alsted, Thomas Hobbes, William Temple, John
Locke, Samuel von Pufendorf, Christian Wolff, Charles de Montesquieu,
the Encyclopaedic (De Jaucourt), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Christoph Martin
Wieland
This
not

and August von Schlozer.


context

historical
a chord

strike

was

republic

the

during

still

the

most

the

why

explains

French

Revolution.

used

widely

would

of democracy

concept

its

During
In

concept.25

this

first

stage,

the

works

sense,

of the Abbe Sieyes are instrumental in proving that only the republic was
assumed

direct

rule
there

ever,

to include

of the
was

a modern

whereas

government,26

and

people

a significant

of the Jacobins

only

the

in the

as well

economy
was

still

of citizens.

virtu

by the

served

market

democracy

increase

uttered

democracy

concerning
reign

able

to be

resentative

number

associated

few

to confirm

later,

years

of positive
but

revolutionaries,2'

the
how

statements

eventually

towards

scepticism

as a rep
with

the

democracy,

discrediting the concept for another few decades, especially in England


and in Germany. This is how in Kant's Zurn Ewigen Frieden (1795) a
of Rousseau's

complement

Contrat

in which

social

forma

democracy
well

remains

Rene

Louis

and

25) Therefore

Martin

d'Argenson's

with

associated

as of representation

24> See for


example

and

aristocracy,

(monarchy,

imperii

the

Luther's

the

rule

address

Considerations

an

democracy)

absence

distinc

important

and despotism)

tion between the forma regiminis (republicanism

of checks

can
and

be

and the

found

balances

as

of law.28

on February

(1764),

7th

1539

(WA

IV:

4324),

and

8ff., 61f., 70ff., and 103.

the concept of democratic did not play any role during the French debate
214.
concerning the suffrage universe/in 1790. See Robert R. Palmer (1953),
26)
Jean Roels (1969).
27> See for instance
Robespierre's address on February 5th 1794 when he made no substan
324ff.
tial distinction between democracy and republic. Charles Vellay (1908),
28) Before
the
Sieyes and Kant, the Federalists argued in favour of the republic and against
In
the
United
lead
to
executive
that
States,
"ancient" idea of a democratic
despotism.
might
the concept

of democracy
-

Democracy,

after 1828

See

H.

Gustav

Blanke

had
despite

(1956),

a rather pejorative
the sympathies
43ff.

Supposedly,

image

at least until

sporadically
the reason

voiced

the Jacksonian

by Thomas

Jefferson.

for this is that democracy

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/ Contributions

O. Hidalgo
Two

complementary
start

could

racy

overcoming

of

and,

the

and

second,

its triumphant

to happen

between

of the

was

183

of democ

the

historical

representation

the classification

of a particular

possibly

was
and

democracy

the

176-201

the concept

of them

beyond

concept

description

d'Argenson

before

First

advance.

antagonism

extension
to the

Marquis

had

things

the

government

The

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

form

author

who

of state

of society

as well.

and

prepared

antic

ipated both innovations in the middle of the eighteenth century. In his


Considerations sur le gouvernement (1764) he distinguished between a fausse
and a legitime democracy, the first one being anarchic and revolutionary,
the

second

its "true"
between

amalgam
became

and

focussed
he

Tocqueville30

the

already

in France

democratic

of democracy

d'Argenson

on

and

by elected

represented

being

concept

because

possible

order

version,
the

social
was

About

system.

stressed

one
the

with
the

decisive

representation

and

constitutional

hundred

years

before

progres

de

French

mon

historical
role

The

deputies.29

political

the state

neglected

concerned

also

and

of the

la

archy in repressing European feudalism and the privileges of the nobles


and in allowing the rise of civil society and social equality.31
royalist view on democracy

D'Argenson's
soon

after

the

French

Revolution

when

became

Thomas

politically efficient

Paine's

answer

to Edmund

Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) in The Rights of Man


(1791)
began to dissolve the idea that democracy and representative
must

government

remain

contradictio

in

In

adjecto?2

this

same

vein,

the distinction between the forma regiminis and the forma imperii, as it
was

expressed

by

Kant,

shifted

towards

the

that

interpretation

rather

than the republic, democracy

might be the forthcoming aim of history,

whether

Guizot)

became

in France

identified

(Constant,

or

in Germany

with the terreur of the Jacobins.

See William

Gorres).

(Schlegel,

Corbett's

History of the

American Jacobins Commonly Denominated


Democrates (1796).
29) Rene Louis
7f. A similar yet not so strict distinction
(1764),
d'Argenson

can be found

in the Deutsche Encyclopiidie from 1783.


30) The Considerations started
circulating

Palmer

in France after the 1730's.

See R.R.

1953:

205.
311 Rene Louis
32) Cf.
Zum

Dolf

d'Argenson
Sternberger
Frieden

(1764),

Ewigen
following
(1792) - insist on the compatibility

Johann Gottlieb

Fichte (1965a),

Kant himself confirmed

135ff.
Therefore

(1980).

Campe's
between

160; (1965b),

Fichte's
Zweitem

and

Schlegel's

receptions

a representative

democracy

and a republic.

431ff. and Friedrich Schlegel

this view in his Metaphysik

of Kant's

Versuch deutscher Sprachbereicherung

der Sitten (1797).

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(1966),

See

12-17.

184

As

O. Hidalgo
this

a few

and

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)


Aristotle's

occurred,

development

of one,
chy

/ Contributions

and

or many

most

receded

democracy

notably

into

the

the

criterion

quantitative
the

176-201

between

opposition
Later

background.

in the

rule

monar

nineteenth

century (and particularly after the 1848 Revolution) the question was not
longer if democracy was within the historic horizon, but simply what kind
of democracy lied ahead in the future: free or despotic, liberal or socialist,
monarchic

or republican,

a "democratic"

elitist,
All

dictatorship.

fact that

the

modern

society

and

queville,
changed

into
the
and

Sorel,
observe

normative
social

Pareto.

how

region,
liberal

strongly

racy is dominant
more

Europe
have

been

and

in

prevalent

(despite

democracy

as a constitutional

practice

Portugal,

gave

some
and

Italy,

rise

Western

to a host

and

social

order,
and

of empirical

Lipset).

describe,
inance

analyze,
of the

promoting

these

trait
and

forecast

formal-empirical

the

that

opinion

theories

have

democratic

processes

of democracy

as a polit

is the

and

of

the

during

Carl J. Friedrich,

common

in the social

paradigm
concepts

in

in

success

theories

twentieth century (Weber, Schumpeter, Popper, Downs,


Dahl,

democ

interruptions

additionally,

formal

for its

governments

and

epoch-defining
and,

country,

(and in Eastern

parliamentary

Spain).

to

remained

Europe

hesitations
The

to

able

out

If presidential

tradition.

Europe

Dewey)

each

stood

in Continental

ill-fated

Toc

tailored

is also

in

brand

today in North and South America

recently),

for

(Jefferson,

one

century,

Anglo-American

countries

to the

it, as for Nietzsche,

distinctively

to the republican

Germany,

ical

develop

the

other

connected

due

concepts

or to overcome

nineteenth

systems
While

France

aspects,

more

the

even

a synonym

theories

normative-empirical)

in

democratic
continent.

and

democratic

of democracy

Starting

available
become

increasingly

that

or perhaps

Mill, Proudhon,34 Marx, Mosca,

(or

reality

became

options

had

and

culture,33

von Stein, Lincoln,

organize

these

of democracy

concept

or anarchic,

grass-rooted

politics.

sciences

attempt
The
succeeded
upon

resting

to

dom
in

norms

and ideals lacking systematic reference to political reality were generally

33) In this
respect, the fundamental
heritage

occurred

identification

during

break between

the nineteenth

of democracy

century

with Protestant

means

most of all a peaceful

of democracy

(Constant,

Bluntschli).

equality

have been reflected in the use of the concept.


34) In
and Proudhon it is also possible
Tocqueville
democracy

the concept

handling

and Contract

to find the Kantian


of political

and its ancient


Since

Theory

(von

then the
Rotteck)

insight that modern

and social

conflicts

the former Kriegergesellschaft.

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beyond

O. Hidalgo

undermined
tive

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

176-201

185

by empirical definitions.35 Nevertheless, there are still effec

normative

of democracy,

concepts

for example,

emphasizing,

or its bond to human rights (Habermas).

(Rawls)
lesser

/ Contributions

known

of

conceptions

be

democracy

justice

Neither should other


such

ignored,

as

those

that

criticize the lack of people's participation in contemporary liberal democ


racies (Barber, Bellah, Putnam) or that underscore its inevitable decline
due to the belief that democratic levelling is the conditio sine qua non of
totalitarianism (Lefort, Arendt). Furthermore, it is possible to find theories
that

combine

aspects

rather

empirical

other

that

concepts

empirical

also

2.

for example.
of

by

that

given

not

the

form

of democracy

risks

in the

and

Aporias,

context

that

today
and

reflections

world

political

inevitable

is an

as

quasi-normative
and

institutions

normative

best

social

It seems

democratic

critical

and

Paradoxes,

to formulate

renewed

only

its chances

used

as well

conceptions36

of a new

and

variety

empirical

are

construction

modernity,

reality

accompanied

the

and

that

concepts

inform

as

such

order,

of normative

on

the

is

concept

of dispute

object

the

societies

but

of globalization.

Contradictions

of Democracy

If we are to judge according to the large amount of different social and


political

named

systems

"democracies"

them

(among

the

democratic

peo

ple's republics of Korea, Laos and Algeria, the democratic republics of


Congo and East Timor, the people's republics of China and Bangladesh,
the democratic socialist republic of Sri Lanka, and the Islamic republics of
Iran

Pakistan,
would

call

and

itself

"anti-democratic"

value

legitimizing

there

Afghanistan),

is no

Since

today.

of democracy

is such

doubt

that

no
the

any

in the world

country

twentieth

country

the

century,

will

be

quick

to

call itself "democratic" in the sense that the ruler allegedly draws his legiti
macy from the people, regardless of the existence of individual rights, free
and

elections,
ingly,

the

the

political

countries

with

not

means

draw
of

35) Mostafa
36) Giovanni

attention

their

Rejai

is not

longest

the United Kingdom

Confederation,
do

power
the

to

official

(1967),

their

name,

under

control.
-

traditions

institutions

socialist

countries

and
in

31.

Sartori (1992),

Arno Waschkuhn

Interest
the

Swiss

and the United States of America -

democratic
whereas

people's

democratic

(1998).

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society
particular

by

186

O. Hidalgo

/ Contributions

renounce

seldom

or have

of republic

concepts

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)


such

renounced

and

a reference.

in order

monarchy

176-201

While

to define

the

a state

use

of the

a political

and

system demand the visibility of political institutions that have traditionally


been

associated

ently

is not

be

with

bound

to such

by hard

supported
whereas

phous;

of which

and

Whereas

the

hard

concept

call

democracy

first two

evolved

amor

as a republic

around

themselves

must

remains

a constitution
has

appar

concepts

of democracy

struggle
to

entitled

term

the

to identify

protracted

are

countries

strictures.

so

of the

employment

evidence,

it is not

a fierce

monarchy,

the

them,

or

the question

democracies.

Prior

to

1990, this issue was disputed between liberal and socialist regimes, nowa
the

days

same

to

be

the

between

happening

so-called

(with their offshoots in Latin America,

democracies
Eastern

seems

and

Europe)

from

systems

political

other

Western

India, Japan, and


of the

parts

world,

espe

cially in the Middle East and Asia.


In view of the above, this brief analysis might raise the suspicion that the
of the concept

abuse
ever,

the

conceptual

tions

are

inherent

that
ing

This

goes

are liable

to continuous

mutating

values

concepts
the

itself.

is a danger.

ideologists

shows

of democracy

history

reflect

they

and

parties,

to the concept

all political
since

by dictators,

and

that

different

collections

of a plurality
makes

it

and

chronic

to

impossible

diachronic

time,
and

dimensions

meanings,

that

of meanings?7

of a society.

but

it also

all

associations,

by

many

of which

Not

historical

boundaries

contains

thesis

of mean
only

concepts are always

is, formed
the

demarcate

in terms

change

does democracy fit the general insight that (political)


which

interpreta

the general

beyond

norms

How

reality

between
and

invite

syn

contradictory
us

to adapt

its

semantics to different historical entities. Below one finds a list of five of the
most
cussed

(1)
should
people

at length

over

remains

37) Reinhart
38) A
good
the concept

simply

Koselleck

Jean-Antoine

of democracy,

which

are

not

dis

article:

below.39

many

(1978),

In

this

respect,

the

sovereignty

of order,

the huge list of relevant aporias and paradoxes


in Paul B. Clarke and Joe Foweraker:

pertaining

for democracy

as a special

29.

can be found

et al. (2003).

Laponce

of the

form

a metaphor

concerning

of democracy
Dahl

aporias38

is obviously against the natural idea that the few above


the

overview

also in Robert
39)

in this

Democracy
rule

and

paradoxes

important

(1991).

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(2001),

or

complete

although

With

achieve.

the

rulers,

the

remains

mately
guish

between

While

every

Thus

order

to avoid
such

and

conflicts,

and

only

anarchy,
and

The

pluralism.

and

democratic

the

is impossible

to

the

of

dismissal
into

theories

ulti

of democracy.41

democracy

and

hierarchy

horizontal

provides

institutional

opposition,

difference,

political

try to distin

necessary

balances,

187

representation

dimensions

guarantees

176-201

converted

vertical

the

as checks

and

democracy

modern

system

government

of control

elements

between

horizontal

subjects

is supposedly

democracy

unsolved.40

and

elections,

government,

contradiction

the

in

verticality

ized

representative
of

rulers

between

identity

concept

but

practice

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

/ Contributions

O. Hidalgo

between

however,

power

coming from above and legitimacy coming from below as underlined by


thinkers

such

as

Alexis

de

Tocqueville,

and

Ferrero,42

Guglielmo

Max

Weber's is not specifically democratic.


With

(2)

to the

respect

democratic

there

processes,

decision-making

is

a general competition between the principles of quality and quantity.


Although some new models of radical democracy (Barber, Lummis) deny
this

and

antagonism

intensity
how

strive

of participatory

to achieve

to widen
moments,

or at least

good

the
the

of democracy

scope

seems

problem

choices.

political

acceptable

as well

to be

as the

determining

The

vote

of the

majority might be seen as an indicator of the quality of a decision (or of a


politician) but what will happen, however, if the majority is wrong about
decisive
tasks

or

fundamental

of democratic

ffence

questions?43
will

theory

always

one

ocratic decision-making.

Should

it be bound

human

Radical

theorists

rights

ff ans
racy

Kelsen
itself.

a divine

stressed
This

and

democratic
and

led

was

(or

in

demagogues

Zolo

of border

a new

paradox.

to educate

the

Kelsen

decisions,

411 Giovanni

any
into

kind

necessary

quality

democracies
40) Danielo

that

also

legislator

quantity

ties

or religion?

volonte
declared

order

to

is actually

an act

(1998)

and Guiseppe

Sartori (1992),

prevent

of betrayal.44

most

important
for dem

necessarily

While

and

voting

violate

Rousseau

the people

Therefore,

volonte

de

from

Hattich

in

tous)

par

destroying

if democracy

is to be

(2006).

137f.

42) See Alexis


Ferrero (1944),
481.
333 and Guglielmo
(1954),
deToqueville
43) Bernd
and Claus Offe (1984).
Guggenberger
4'" Hans Kelsen
237. The paradox is also known as the Toleranzproblem
(2006),
racy. Manfred

that

to conciliate

for anti-democratic
majority

and
democ

claimed

in order
the

or by

Rousseau

Jean-Jacques

will

the

the

the boundaries

by the constitution

like

generate
that

Duso

of

be locating

(1965).

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of democ

188

/ Contributions

O. Hidalgo

protected
aries

its own

against

and

values

located

human

racy

and

long

as a contradiction

measures

rights

(3)

we

dangers
beyond

from

in practice

eventually
even

the same

source

some

bound

that

agree

democ
As

(Habermas).45
to anti-democratic

appeal

for democracy.46

option

two

upon

the

176-201

accept

if we

is possible

a plausible

rests

Democracy

must

democracy

come

might

remains

always

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

fundamental

that

principles

are

often

following colliding trajectories: liberty and equality.47 When Goethe said:


and

"Legislators
same

time

absolute

are

revolutionaries

either

be

only

promise

achieved

as

camp
the

the

concerning
to challenge

needs

and

possible

itself
the

Hence

can

Right
extent

democracy

of freedom.48

principle

Left

between

controversy

a debate

of

be

persuasively

that

described
neither

although

they

between

struggle

a free society

On the other hand, the

equality,

given

the
that

indicating

since

by repression

at

liberty

he was

will necessarily display differences and inequalities.


classical

and

equality

or mountebanks,"

psychopaths

could

equality

who

show

for

respect

democratic

parties

all over the world is usually a quest for the right balance between liberty
and equality. In this respect, the liberal ideal combining social hierarchy
and political equality (Rawls) is one possible orientation among many.
than

to the

in addition

Moreover,

there

others,

undefined

is the

of what

question

one,

negative

us the

giving

or a defined

of happiness,

that

problem

kind

become

of freedom

our

securing

more

equal
an

is preferred:

to start

opportunity

one

positive

will

some

our

own

pursuit
in mak

participation

ing the laws we have to obey. The former type is supported by liberals like
Barber

jamin
like

Kant

reflection
of the

and

Constant

Benjamin

and

and

that

liberty

and

subjects

perennial

Rousseau.
attempted
and

equality

of democratic

persists in one of Habermas'

affirms that the "Verfassungswirklichkeit


Widerspruch

the latter

Berlin,

Jean-Jacques

Habermas,

upon

45) This
aporia

Isaiah

zur Idee der Demokratie."

by democrats
there

And

are

other

to combine

both

the

between

tension

as Ben

such

thinkers,
In sum,

aspects.
them

is one

theory.

earlier contributions
des biirgerlichen

An advanced

(1973),

Rechtsstaates"

discussion

about

316,

in which

he

was "seit je her in


the possible

anton

state can be found in Werner Kagi (1973).


ymy between democracy and the constitutional
46> For this see also Derrida's
112
"la
democratic
a venir." Jacques Derrida (2002),
of
figure
157.
47) See the famous

first chapter

of Tocqueville's

Democracy

Show a More Ardent and Enduring

Democratic

Nations

meditation

on the topic is offered in Ralf Dahrendorf

48) Norberto

Bobbio

in America

Love of Equality

Vol. 2, book

2 Why

than of Liberty. A

(1963).

(1994).

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O. Hidalgo
Modern

(4)

/ Contributions

ancient

world

interest,"19

also

democracy

between

plex relationship

marks

even

a new

individuals

concerns

private

capable

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

terms

189

of the

and the collective. While

were

of turning

in

epoch

176-201

subordinated

strictly
into

slavery

to

a moral

com

in the

the

public
the

imperative,50

modern age has set itself apart by the protection of individual rights and of
the

of opinions,

pluralism

ern

democracies

homogeneity
more

than

some

require
in order

ambitions.
of

degree

to conserve

a crowd

just

and

aims,

public

political

of people.

The

Nevertheless,

mod

and

social

spiritedness
and

unity

represent

something

to bind

democratic

of how

question

even

individuals together is another problem for which several tentative solu


tions

have

been

such

attempts

state

and

offered.
under

the

several
race

nation,

as well

Theory

(partially
and

as

have

history

antagonistic)

ethnicity,

witnessed
such

concepts
and

religious

several

cultural

as

the

traditions,

rationality, ethical categories like justice, tolerance or solidarity, the civil


communication,

society,
consumer
seems

needs.
to

be

techniques
However,

not

precondition

for the

there

but

some

Furthermore,

a necessary
and

last

and,

a danger

economical

degree

of

for the

functionality

coexistence

peaceful

is always

least,

striving

success

and
also

homogeneity

of democratic

of majorities
in

that

social

and

to

minorities.51
political

forge

unity

and to solve essential social and political conflicts, the exact opposite might
be achieved through the elimination of a sense of indefiniteness and divi
sion

that

private
constant

49)

is inherent

and

to democracy.52

public

for democratic

challenge

Although

some ancient

the individual's

position

equality, Socrates

authors

schools

citizenship),

one should

also made

human

neither a theoretical

nor a practical

with modern

the prospect

Stoicism,

separation

that the aims

higher than the public need.


50) Alexander Demandt
(1993),
511 Herrmann Heller
(1971).
52) Claude Lefort
(1990).

between

represents

and Epicureanism

(Vittorio
and

Hosle

purposes

for a kind of world

only becomes

Hence

the individual
(1997),

emphasized

way of life, and the

called

of the individual

between

strengthening

for example,

of an apolitical

life after the first civil revolutions.

individualism

claims

ethical innovations

and Alcidamas,

not forget that the concept

able with a singular

a balance

striking
collective

important

like Antiphon

(sophists

of Cynicism,

was difficult to believe

and

theory.

and Aristotle considered

philosophical

comparable

Therefore,

individual

interests,

in Antiquity

identifi
there is

and his community

36fF.). For the ancients

of one single

man

could

51.

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be deemed

it

O. Hidalgo

190

The

(5)
ment

/ Contributions

of the concept

dislocation

to a form

of democratic

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

of society

also

institutions

of democracy

leads

of moral,

larities. As indicated by Montesquieu


talities,
political
why

and

habits,

with

systems

has

democracy

what

democratic

them

from

viding

intellectual

societies

each

other.

cogent
But

once

as a result

again,

that

those

continues

to other
ress.

Thus

rate

key

we

however,

mately,

are

that

aspects

not

must

can

be

the

as

not

on

societies

one

must

be

eventually

able

participation
and

theory

system

solved.54

Given

solutions

can

and

leadership

will

have

the

diversity

hardly

be

will

to deal

persist

with,

of societies

universal.

This

even
and

movement

individuals

approach

cannot
this

that

incorpo

societies.
or

Ulti
not

the

and collectiv

each

also

prog

mind

might

whether

as problems

cultures,

in

keep

say

if they

always
equality.

generations)53

to certain
to

and

have

of democracy

application of the concept is justified.


The tensions between liberty and equality, individualism
ism,

answers,

In particular,

or that

differently
familiar

longer,

provisional

the extension

foreigners,

necessarily

of pro

of democratic

next

might

no

Yet there

and

evolve

reasons

to explain

task

or

yet,

and

distinguish

the

marginal

so forth.

overreach

as discussions

two

what

with

only

once

alleged

are

social

as a permanent

interpreted

and

all

of democracy.

dynamics
be

other

that

is still,

there

women,

people,

evaluating

is a process

what

dissimi

it is able

well

theory

incorporated

(children,

groups

when

democracy

also

to criticize

in the present

social

democratic

special

progressively

willing

concept:

respect

can

there

as

determine

of the

the poor

slaves,

been
This

even

of democracy

of inclusion
groups:

to

own.

common

heterogeneity

the particular men


endow

Thus

of govern

cultural

of nations

in

leaves

in this

democracy.

the history

This

criteria

of their

have

and

social,

a ubiquitous

such

a form

of the

and Tocqueville,

manners

a character

become

from

to understanding

as a result

176-201

democratic
ultimately

also

suggests

means
that

be
that
the

empirical variety of democratic political formations demands the acknowl


edgement that defining "what a democracy is" is a normative decision
reflecting different tentative solutions to the paradoxes of democracy. The
types

of policies

that

are

eventually

pursued

are

inevitably

a consequence

of this previous normative decision.

53) See for instance


54)

J. Roland

Bobbio

Pennock

(1988)

and Dryzek

(2000).

(1979).

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3.

Conceptual

and

History

The

numerous

contradictions,

racy

mean

the

that

that

adjectives

increasing

differentiation

attribute
and

used

adjectives

and

paradoxes,
is rarely

aporias

restricting

qualified
by

meaning
Examples

stretching.55

of democracy

concept

democ

it is often

or normative

conceptual

the

to

proper

in isolation,

used

a descriptive

to qualify

191

176-201

Politics

Conceptual

concept

by special

of such

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

/ Contributions

O. Hidalgo

are

"authori

tarian," "neopatrimonial," "military-dominated," "parliamentary," "presi


dential," "federal," "guarded," "electoral," "protected," "illiberal," "restrictive,"
"tutelary,"

and

"one-party,"

or

"elitist";

also

"Western,"

"modern,"

"plebi

scitarian," "representative," "pluralistic," "socialistic," "liberal," and "delib


In

erative."56
the

noun

system
ies

this

reveals

it is important

respect,
the

intention

is in fact a democracy,
elections,

since
a

referenda,

to understand

to ensure

that

it displays

constitution,

the

that

referred

at least

one

usage

of

society,

or

of its many

civil

parties,

the

state,

rights,

prox
market

economy or also the pluralism of opinions and lifestyles. Meanwhile,


adjective

serves

adoption

of certain democratic practices. This is also why descriptive and

normative

the

purpose

democracy

in

this

just

that

the

in fact different

actors

or

rejection

the

For

construction.

conceptual

or

"authoritarian,"

"military-dominated,"
means

either

emphasizing

interfere

perspectives

example,

of

the

play

"parliamentary"
roles the
powerful

military, the (elected) political leader or the parliament. Most importantly,


the adoption of these adjectives normatively indicates whether the described
is more

subject

democratic

or less

tarian,", "neopatrimonial,"
"illiberal,"
mental

"restrictive,"

are

dealing

Hence
norm

with

in all of these
whose

cases

the concept
demands

551 David

Collier

56) David

and Steven Levitsky

Collier

& Steven

Giovanni

Sartori

(1970);

Levitsky

David

not mean that the adjective

"guarded," "protected,"

the concept

admitting

adjective.

are

always

detri

of a "parliamentary,"

rather

of democracy
an

confirms

the fact we

different

subtypes.57

itself

remains

a positive
it is hardly

Consequently,

(1997).
(1997)

Collier

Juan Linz (1978)

can more easily deteriorate

albeit

"authori

adjectives

or "defect"

democracy

democracies,

devaluation

Steven Levitsky (1997).


571 While the studies of

whereas

or "electoral"

true

the

example,

"one-party,"

of democracy

"federal,"

"presidential,"

For

"military-dominated,"

"tutelary,"

to the quality

so.

and Hubertus

and (1994)

into an authoritarian
"presidential"

Buchstein

and James E. Mahon

(1993);

48. See also

(2006),
David

Collier

suggest that a presidential

regime than a parliamentary

has an anti-democratic

connotation.

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and

democracy

one, this does

O. Hidalgo

192

that

surprising
mize

states,

the

about

the

other

value

between

and

above?

and

a descriptive

legiti

organizations

or even

propositions,

to

serves

international

mentioned

adjectives

176-201

democratic

adjective

national

actions,

the

of a conflict

product

use

institutions,

techniques,

what

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

semantic

societies,

or to support
But

/ Contributions

human

Are

traits.

they

a normative

the

also

perspective?

Indeed they are. This becomes evident if the five aporias or contradictions
of the

of democracy

concept

are

considered:

popular

vs.

sovereignty

repre

sentation, quality vs. quantity, liberty vs. equality, individual vs. collective,
and, finally, the synchronicity between similarities and dissimilarities. In
to demonstrate

order
tives

that

this

cannot

decrease

or

antagonistic

be

increase

I shall

argument,
or

immediately
in

the

subtypes

democracy

that

stress

all

those

associated

unequivocally

of

quality

of democracy

that

out

point

can

be

one

side

only

adjec

with

the

rearranged

as

of a paradox

(or perhaps of several paradoxes). According to this criterion, the following


of concepts

pairs

direct

(or

vs.

radical)

the

and

time,

economy,

ideology,

with

dealing

issues

space

of government,

seem

to be

decision-making,

relevant:

democracy

representative

elitist vs. deliberative58 (or participatory) democracy


liberal vs. republican democracy
pluralistic (or market) vs. social democracy
ancient

All
tion

modern

vs.
vs.

Western

of these

democracy

non-Western

constructions

conceptual

democracies.

of existing

as well.

perspective

democracy59

This

occurs

of democracy

lar dimension

might

However,

they

include

is valued

level

a normative
that

(in

a particu

in each

or negatively

positively

descrip

empirical

include

always

at a theoretical

both

an

case)

and at a practical level (through the observation of democratic institutions


and habits that reflect a normatively constituted political culture). There
fore

direct

modern

or republican

social

or

also

58) For the


concept

of deliberative

and Robert Talisse

(2005).

the

591 Of
course, this list is incomplete
vs. majoritarian

democracy

the ancient

emphasize

or liberal

of representative

forms

republican,

democracy

forms

known

democracy,
and could

democracy,
of

be enhanced

(1989);

democracy

Jon Elster (1998);

with oppositions

vs. competitive

against

deliberative,

non-Western

see Joshua Cohen

or also consociational

heritage

whereas

democracy.

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like consensus

/ Contributions

O. Hidalgo
stress

the

eral,

collective

pluralistic

underline

freedom

vice

type

the

against
and

more

Western
against

and

versa;

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)


individualistic

the

while

ancient

and

and

modern

elitist

and

republican

193

of elitist,

concepts

Liberal

democracy.
equality,

176-201

lib

democracy

deliberative
are

democracy

sub

associated

with opposing notions of freedom, pluralistic and social democracy sug


gest a different concept of equality. Finally elitist, representative, and lib
eral democracy stand for the quality of democratic decision-making,
whereas

deliberative,

and

direct,

republican

democracy

the

emphasize

quantity of people participating.


In

this

tions

the

respect

of conceptual

evident

cross

relations

constructions

show

between

at least

the

two

different

opposi

first,

things:

that

one

adjective is hardly enough in order to produce an in-depth characterization


of

a democratic

and,

system,

that

second,

different

democratic

systems

have both similarities and dissimilarities (aporia no. 5) whereby the crucial
question is whether these dissimilarities include not only different norma
tive

decisions

choices

to

pertaining

ancient democracy
into

rights

the

concerning

aspects

would

today

to

diminish

which included

account

inherent

aporias
that

but

democracy
For

democracy.

also

example,

slavery and did not take individual


be

hardly

as a sound

deemed

democracy.

Likewise this can apply to the adjectives used to describe the decline of
radical

forms

of democracy

into

a tyranny

of the majority,

of social

democ

racy into socialism, or the serious lack of democratic legitimacy in liberal,


elitist

or representative

course

how

ferent

societies

between

and

regimes60
that

nothing

habits,

and

racies

might

that
with

we
our

empirical
racy

cultures.

From

civilization
else

but
So

practices.

are

be

almost

never

norms.
and

becomes

or Islamic

might

Western

means

concepts

of democracy

seem

the
even

and
Yet,

dominated

although

we

our

result

describing
evaluations

prove

perspective

accentuated

of view,

must

always
that
relative

in spatial

the

not

or totali

forget

of global

must

concept

comparisons.

For this difference, see Juan Linz (2000).

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the

democracy
values,
democ

keep
in

interaction
to the

that

decisions,

evaluating
the

of dif

proximity

of non-Western
we

is of

problem

existence

authoritarian

of normative

for Westerners,
but

difficult
of the

view

the appreciation

impossible

normative
more

has

point

democracies
obvious.

quite

most

in view

a Western

the long-term

simply
These

the

Ffowever,

systems.

Asian

existing

tarian
fact

to treat

in

mind

accordance
between
of democ

the

O. Hidalgo

194

But

what

Hitherto
are

that

does

we

not

made

/ Contributions

all of this

have

only

been

serve

mean

or

how

conceptual
different
to

attempts

societies

to strengthen

of a democratic

for the

discussing

descriptions

by democratic

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

but

are

or

system,

to

stress

the

efficacy,

either

constructions
decisions

normative

normative

the functionality,

of democracy?

history
conceptual

grasp

also

176-201

decisions
or simply

themselves
the

or

homogeneity

legitimacy

plurality,

the

position of individuals or of the collective, the role of cultural identity and


so on. Thus the role conceptual history plays in this whole game is firstand
foremost

to

reveal

the

conceptual

of

politics

This

democracy.

us

brings

back to the initial question of whether conceptual history might help us to


arrive

at a normative

It is now

of democracy.

perception

to answer

possible

that this is indeed the only possible perception since the contradictions
and

inherent

aporias

kind

to

of democracy

not

the

is an

the

allows

Conceptual

of the

use

itself

feature

essential

of democracy

concept

other.61

of democracy

concept

contention

the

over

is essentially
democratic

to subsume

concept

also

history

that

of the

require

that

it is

Rather

contested.
moment

different

quite

one

choosing
shows

and

historical

is what
realities

under its semantic field.


An additional
unveils

the

question that arises is whether conceptual

issues

and

that

categories

inform

normative

democracy or whether it is also a form of conceptual


Mehring

argued,

some

noting

surprising

history simply
of

perspectives

politics. As Reinhard

methodological

between

analogies

Reinhart Koselleck and Carl Schmitt, in the writing of a history of (politi


cal) ideas there seems to be a kind of blending of Begrijfssoziologie, Begriffs
geschichte, and Begrijfspolitik into each other.62Although conceptual history
should

try to

reveal

the

concepts

to exert

political

tic

it almost

goes

uses,

6,1 Here

I have in mind

power,

Max

analysis of cultural life or [...]


vidual

realities" or precisely

an "objective"
Weber

point

assumed)

of conceptual

strategies

and
saying

Weber's

statement

social phenomena"

on "normative

the

first what democracy

"should"

mean.

And

history

may

also

scientific

but only knowledge

on "indi

ideas".

See Max

Weber

by separating
which

(Peirce),

(Niklas

of seman

that there is no "truly objective

it matters little if social phenomena


communication

of

potential

purposes

conceptual

of view turns out to be possibly

or of social

the

politics,
polemic

that

without

as facts are merely a result of our interpretation


(Habermas)

also

depending

(1991),

49 and 61f. So

facts and norms

might be called

(like

or even treated

interest"
of our "realization-leading
- in
any case, we must decide

Luhmann)

by all means

this sort of definition

normative process which I call conceptual politics.


621 Reinhard
Mehring (2006).

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is part of a

O. Hidalgo
a claim

include

/ Contributions

for the

normative

however,

importantly

ducted

it must

to the

according

methods

not

176-201

of particular

prevalence

which concept

perhaps already by deciding


Most

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)

195

conceptions

might be worth analyzing.

be forgotten

of conceptual

that

history

the

con

analysis
the

require

use

of

concepts per se, almost all of which might be "political,"63 which means
that

these

which

concepts

means
not

cepts

only

become

might

that

contain

they

have

a history

but

possible
tinction

between

In
the

yet it is impossible
semantic
includes
ics

is more

concept

absolute
than

the

and

make

as

history

con

all,

con

"leading

and by formulating "prerequisites of


it may
the

be

to make

possible

normative

fundamental

normative

evident
much

captures

words,

analytic

also

way

After

a clear

dis

of concepts

application

to act only as an observer of history and of changing

Even

uses.66
an

other

a normative-political

for polemics.64

potential
they

cepts of the historical movement"


futures."65

in

charged

the

approach.

when
more

it comes
than

of

critique

one

As
to

normative

discussed

above,

democracy.

In

of the

four

concepts
this

this

dynam
the

sense,

fundamental

criteria

of

the Lexikon der Geschichtlicben Grundbegriffe,b7which describes the seman


tics

in toto -

of modernity

ceptual

democratization.

of democracy,

history

which

requires

It also
the

that

signifies

consideration

the

of the

con
most

diverse spatial and temporal perspectives in order to become intelligible,


cannot

release

itself

from

modern

claim

democracy's

to

be

the

exclusive

form and method capable of generating legitimacy. Therefore the concep


tual

4.

history

of democracy

is also

part

of democratic

history.

Conclusion

In his posthumously published book, Begriffsgeschichte.Studien zur Seman


tik und Pragmatik der politischen und sozialen Sprache (2006), Koselleck
emphasized

that

"the

historian

does

research

on

concepts,

in which

social

63) HorstGiinther
102.
(1978),
64) See Reinhart Koselleck
87fF.; (1972), XXf.; (1979).
(1967),
65) Reinhart Koselleck
327ff.
XVII, (2000),
(1972),
66) See Reinhard
41. Hence the author's aim is also to extract a practical
Mehring (2006),
from Koselleck's studies focussing on a subversive
proposition
critique of modernity whose
semantics

and concepts

are analyzed

46.
only with superficial objectivity (2006),
the
other
three
criteria
are
According
"temporalization"
(Verzeitigung),
icization" and "ideologization"
of all modern concepts. See Reinhart Koselleck (1972),

671

to Koselleck,

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"polit
46.

O. Hidalgo

196

and

political

tions

and

torical
to

/ Contributions

are

processes

even

the

understand

recorded

conceptual

of perceptions

and

veritable

over

persisting

."68 Hence

centuries

transformations

to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)


the

of

course

historians

genera

research

the

of semantics

receptions

of concepts

meaning

176-201

and

make

to

his

in order
sure

their

usage remains critical and historically informed.


In

the

case

specific

semantic

of democracy,

because

change

it is even

the concept's

more

inherent

to analyze

important

contradictions

and

aporias

require a special type of conceptual history. Paradoxically, the fact that


democracy is necessarily an "unfinished journey" (John Dunn) is what
be

might
status

the

best

within

that

guarantee

The

semantics.

political

the

maintains

concept
fact

that

the

its

hegemonic

of democracy

concept

is still in use in scientific discourse as well as in everyday language is far


from

"an

being

determination
success.

of the concept

The
to

seems

in the

exception

eternal

have

seems

question

been

of language."69

history
to be

the most
the

concerning

translated

into

the

for its

constitution

political
about

question

under

reason

important

best

the

Rather,

the

best

kind

of

democracy. Therefore the symbiosis between "social history" and "history


o ( linguistic

meaning"70

obviously

cerning a possible "post-democracy"


will be futile.
However,

conceptual

that

proves

debate

current

con

Ranciere, Crouch, Jorke)

(Guehenno,

also

history

the

that

suggests

is not

democracy

simply

label that could be used in order to legitimize any political or social system.
we

Although
into

cannot

the

structure

persuasion

used

is the

shows

in

the

impossible
tion

best
the

concept

must

This

crossed.

available

the

to escape

of the

a form

are
for

search

and

concept
and

problem
always
best

politics.

aporias

is much

also

inherent

that

become

to the

the

lack

over

the

concept

of standards
that

nor
points
it is

Nevertheless,
best

interpreta

that

of democracy

interpretation

history

different

boundaries

of

a strategy

reference

necessary

contest
the

than

conceptual

of democracy
the

it is embedded

in which

democracy

establish

It is less

more

What

agendas.

interpretation

for the

of conceptual

tradictions

political

of the

because

politics,

democracy

advance

framework

search

conceptual

of concepts,
to

decisions

mative

escape

cannot

be

is ultimately
than

the

us

from

prevent

con
for

mulating a valid single idea of democracy. Instead, we must always keep in


681 Reinhart

Koselleck

365.

(2006),

691 Hubertus

Buchstein

70> Karlheinz

Stierle (1978),

(2006),

48.

184.

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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

mind

O. Hidalgo

/ Contributions

the

sides

that

should

many

Rene Louis

Aristides,

P. Aelius.

Aristotle.

1994.

today"71

de. 1764.

each

definition

a preliminary,

political

197

of "what
decision.

Politik. Reinbek:

Works, 2 Vol. Leiden:

Brill.

Rohwolt.
Uber die Teilhabe

Starke Demokratie.

1994.

de la France. Amsterdam.

sur legouvernement

Considerations

The Complete

1981.

Barber, Benjamin.

merely

176-201

References

5. Bibliographical
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mean

democracy

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Hamburg:

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Berlin, Isaiah.

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Gustav

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Die Zukunfi

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Rechts und Links.

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