American Democracy: Flaws Across the Pond | History Today


This program examines the search for balance between the original Constitution and the need to interpret and adjust it to meet the needs of changing times. It explains the original Jeffersonian-Madisonian debate, the concept of checks and balances, and the stringent procedures for amending the Constitution.

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Of course, there will be limits on what citizens must accept from ademocratic assembly. And these limits, on the egalitarian account, mustbe understood as deriving from the fundamental value of equality. So,one might think that public equality also requires protection ofliberal rights and perhaps even the provision of an economicminimum.


Chapter 13 - The Rise of Mass Democracy | CourseNotes

Chapter 13 - The Rise of Mass Democracy

Normative democratic theory deals with the moral foundations ofdemocracy and democratic institutions. It is distinct from descriptiveand explanatory democratic theory. It does not offer in the firstinstance a scientific study of those societies that are calleddemocratic. It aims to provide an account of when and why democracy ismorally desirable as well as moral principles for guiding the design ofdemocratic institutions. Of course, normative democratic theory isinherently interdisciplinary and must call on the results of politicalscience, sociology and economics in order to give this kind of concreteguidance.


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The conception of democracy as grounded in public equality providessome reason to think that democratic equality must have somepre-eminence over other kinds of equality. The idea is that publicequality is the most important form of equality and that democracy, aswell as some other principles such as liberal rights, are uniquerealizations of public equality. The other forms of equality in play insubstantive disputes about law and policy are ones about which peoplecan have reasonable disagreements (within limits specified by theprinciple of public equality). So the principle of public equalityrequires that one treat others publicly as equals and democracy isnecessary to doing this. Since public equality has precedence overother forms of equality, citizens have obligations to abide by thedemocratic process even if their favored conceptions of equality arepassed by in the decision making process.

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Another approach to the question of the authority of democracy assertsthat failing to obey the decisions of a democratic assembly amounts totreating one's fellow citizens as inferiors (Christiano 2004,284-287). And this approach establishes the authority of democracy byclaiming that the inequality involved in failing to obey thedemocratic assembly is the most important form of inequality. It ismore important to treat persons as equals in political decision makingon this account than it is to treat them as equals in the economicsphere. The idea is that citizens will disagree on how to treat eachother as equals in the areas of substantive law and policy. It is thepurpose of democracy to make decisions when these disagreementsarise. Democracy realizes a kind of equality among persons that allcan share allegiance to even when they disagree about many mattersrelating to substantive law and policy. Since democracy realizesequality in a highly public manner and publicity is a great andegalitarian value, the equality realized by democracy trumps otherkinds of equality.

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But here is a worry about this kind of approach. It seems either topresuppose that decisions will have unanimous support or it requires anumber of substantive conditions on self-determination, whichconditions do a lot of the work of generating obligations todemocracy. For instance, if a decision must be made by majority rule,one strategy for reconciling this with self-determination is to saythat a self-determining person must accept the legitimacy of majorityrule when there is disagreement. This may be because theself-determining person must accept the fundamental importance ofequality and majority rule is essential to equality undercircumstances of disagreement. So if one argues that one cannot beself-determining unless one accepts equality then one might be able toargue that the self-determining person must accept the results ofmajority rule. But this argument seems to make the authority ofdemocracy depend primarily on the importance of equality. And one mustwonder about the importance of the idea of self-determination to theaccount.