Robert A. Dahl on Democracy

Hits: 141

The American political theorist and Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University, Robert A. Dahl (1917−2014) left in his immense scientific writing opus considerable remarks on democracy. Here, I would like to summarize his theoretical approaches to democracy.

Historical development of democracy

According to him, democracy was created there, where existed the best conditions for its development. R. A. Dahl assumes, that this happened already in the time when people lived in a system of tribal bonds. He thinks, that democracy was the standard and universal form of the government in prehistoric society. Later, democracy was replaced by other political systems and forms as monarchy, aristocracy, despotism, or oligarchy.

Athens and Rome

However, he considered the first and the most significant milestone of the formation of new political ideas and institutional period of ancient Greece and the Roman Republic. He was writing that then came to a new concept of the possible political system, where people have rights not just to govern themselves, but also to own all resources and institutions, they need to do that. This period, Robert A. Dahl called the „First Transformation“.

Greece (Hellas/Ellada) was not politically united national state, as we know it in modern times. It was rather composed of many independent, sovereign city-states (polis). One of the most important city-states in Greece was Athens with its internal political democracy that was the most significant among all Greek democracies (followed, however, with the extreme external policy of imperialism). Nevertheless, in the middle of the system of the Athenian democracy, there was a City Council, where all citizens (those inhabitants who possessed the citizenship rights) could participate. The City Council voted several most important state officials while the rest of the officials (magistrates) were elected by a drawing system.

The Romans called their state as the Res Publica (public affairs). At first, just aristocrats and patricians could rule the state (aristocratic republic), but during state progress, after several conflicts and after the great amount of effort, the ordinary people (plebs) managed to be involved in the governmental structure through their political representatives called plebeian tribunes, with their veto right.

Despite all the enlightened of the Greek and the Romans rulers, R. A. Dahl thinks, that both forms of democracy of that time had one focal shortage as both systems did not allow the „vassals“ to participate in the governance. In other words, neither in the Roman state nor in ancient Greece, the democracy did not gain level, where the citizens (those who had political rights) outnumbered the „vassals“ (slaves and free people being no-citizens).

Both antique Greece and the Roman state have marked the first period of the historical development of democracy, which R. A. Dahl considered as important for the reason that the foundations of democratic theory and practice had their origins in Athens and Rome.  

The city-states of the medieval Appeninian Peninsula

The next period of democratization, according to R. A. Dahl, occurred in the 10th  and the 11th century in the city-states of North Italy. At first, the political influence was also just a domain of the families from the highest social classes (feudal aristocracy), but the people from the middle class claimed a right to participate in the public affairs (res publica) as well. However, before democracy could be fully developed there, it felled to aristocracy and despotism. He was clear that in ancient Greece and North Italy the process of democratization was great, but short in time and geographically very limited, which succumbed to internal disputes and external enemies.

The revolutions

For R. A. Dahl, the „Second Transformation“ of democracy is associated with the French and the American Revolutions (end of the 18th century). Because of these two revolutions, most of the countries of the modern world could establish a democratic system, based on the general elections, the system of highly organized political parties, and general suffrage for men (citizens). Despite the problems during the 20th century (WWI and WWII), most countries could hold the status of political democracy. Nevertheless, R. A. Dahl recognizes that the level of these democracies is far away from what judicious observer could consider as the pinnacle of political democracy because it is obvious, that in every democratic country, political influence is divided in a very unevenly way. The big difference between ancient and renaissance democracies is the growth of the area and the increase of population which live within it. He stressed that this transformation was a transformation from the city-state to the national state and that this type of democracy was associated with the representative form of government and idea of political equality which has become another source of democratic theory and practices for the coming decades.

The post-Cold War 1.0 period

The „Third Transformation“ started according to R. A. Dahl, at the end of the 20th century following the end of the Cold War 1.0. However, he saw in which historical problems democracy (of ex-East European countries) fell in this period of time and such remarks have been associated with his theory of polyarchy.

In general, R. A. Dahl’s vision of democracy is based on the analysis of the requirements of democracy (political order), the principles (criteria), and the current reality (polyarchy).

The basic requirements of democracy as a political system

Concerning this issue, R. A. Dahl includes two areas, the requirements of political order and the requirements of a democratic political order. For him, the requirement of political order was a general idea, unrespectable of the existence of democracy in the system. The precondition for the creation of political order is acceptance and compliance of the principles, which society created. How he was writing, the persons, who are collectively making binding decisions are forming the governance of society. This binding decision can be also called as government decisions or binding collective decisions.

The requirement of democratic political order is according to R. A. Dahl, the inner equality in rights. Nobody inside society should have any special advantages and claims of every member of the society of suitability of rules are equal. He was also speaking about personal autonomy, which is the assumption that everybody knows what is best for himself/herself, everybody knows, what is in his/her self-regard. This assumption says, that every member of society is a better judge of his own regards, that anybody else. The last requirement of democratic political order is, in fact, the principle of justice. He thinks, that valuable things in society should be not redistributed equally, but justly. To justify equality means in principle different parts from the whole, but everybody should have the same opportunity to gain some part.

Principles of the democratic process

According to Robert A. Dahl, if there are assumptions in the society, which are necessary for the creation of democratic political order, there have to exist also principles for decision-making process inside of political democratic order. The following criteria are ideal norms in every society, rules and procedures should be evaluated according to them. Procedures, which were created from these criteria are according to R. A. Dahl, democratic procedures and governments, which are enrolling them, we can call as democratic governments.

It can be considered such basic criteria as a warranty of equal access to the decision-making process:

  1. Effective participation or real participation. It means, that citizens should have during the procedure the same opportunity to claim their preferences, they should have the opportunity to ask questions and claim their opinion before the issue comes into force.
  1. Equal voting rights. It means, that in the decisive stage of the process should have a vote, or opinion of one citizen the same value as a vote, or opinion, of another citizen. During the census process, these opinions or votes should be considered as the same-valuable.
  1. Understanding based on information (enlightened understanding). Every citizen must have an adequate possibility to find out information about the discuses issue and about all of the possible solutions. Then it can be considered, which possibility would be best.
  1. The inspection of the program. Citizens (people with the citizen right) have the exclusive right to decide what actually matters, which affairs will be going through the democratic process, in which order and when they will be discuses.
  1. In society, there must be a function of the general voting law, which includes all adult members of society (except temporary visitors and people with demonstrable limitations) everyone should have ensured civil rights.

These five criteria divide the democratic process into several stages. If the first two principles are fulfilled, according to Dahl it is a procedurally democratic political process. As a fully democratic process, which is not focused on the people, he considers a process, that fulfilled understanding based on information, but without any concretization of what problems will be discussed.

A fully democratic process is a process, which fulfills all of those five criteria. Fulfilling all five criteria is very difficult. R. A. Dahl thought that it is obvious, that any of the political systems before has never fulfilled all of these criteria and probably it will not happen in the future as well. These criteria can be used as a standard by which can person compare alternative institutions and processes in order to assess their relative value.

Polyarchy (current reality)

R. A. Dahl, in his theory of democracy, is making a difference between the ideal, perfect democracy, and democracy, which can actually exist. He created a special name for non-conceptual, real democracy, he calls it polyarchy. Polyarchy is a type of non-perfect democracy, which fulfills some of the criteria of the democratic process, not all of them.

R. A. Dahl states, that polyarchy could be understood as a result of democratization and liberalization of political institution, as political order or political regime which is different from other democratic regimes, as a system of political control or as a set of political rights and institution, which are necessarily needed for the democratic process.

His definition of polyarchy from his paper Democracy and Its Critics is that polyarchy is a political order, where citizenship is spread on a big part of inhabitants and civil rights include an opportunity to be part of opposition and possibility to revoke high state officials by voting.

Nevertheless, according to R. A. Dahl, the state has to have seven institutions to be polyarchy:

  1. Elected government officials – Control of government decisions is in the hands of elected government officials.
  2. Free and fair elections – Government officials are elected in frequent and regular elections, which does not include any kind of pressure or coercion.
  3. General election law – (practically) All adult citizens can vote in elections.
  4. The right to apply for an office – (practically) All adults have the right to be elected to functions of the government.
  5. Freedom of speech – Citizens have the right to comment on government affairs and issues which are discussed.
  6. Access to alternative information – Citizens have the right to be informed from alternative sources of information.
  7. Freedom of association – Citizens have the opportunity to create interest groups, political parties, or associations.

These institutions are, according to him, real rights and they are necessary for democracy on a large scale.

Robert A. Dahl specifies, that all seven institutions are important but not sufficient for democracy. So it is not the truth, that when state-guaranteed all of them, the system has to work as democracy. None country has reach state, where it has elevated itself from polyarchy to level closer to full democracy. Nevertheless, R. A. Dahl claims, that polyarchy is currently the best possible government of all other alternatives because polyarchy provides a wide range of human rights and freedom. The author thinks, that polyarchy has many faults, but he claims, that polyarchy cannot attack or offend the majority of people by its policy.

As an ideal of democracy, R. A. Dahl considers direct democracy, but he proves, that an idea of direct democracy is unfeasible in these times. He does not see any eventuality how it would be possible to reach full, or at least major participation of people on state control. On this scale, people have to vote for their representatives, whom they trust. R. A. Dahl says that the most plausible is the institution of polyarchy. Although polyarchy does not exclude unrealized ideal forms, compared to other existing political systems, it seems very plausible. Particularly, if we would try to correlate polyarchy and barbarous or tyrannical regimes, polyarchy is much more „humane“ because polyarchy cannot use repression too much, because of election accountability.

R. A. Dahl identifies some problems, associated with polyarchy. One of them is political non-alignment, which is that even when people have the right to participate in public issues, they just do not do that.

Another problem he sees in polyarchy is associated with the scale of theoretical democracy. When the state has fewer citizens, they can better participate in public issues, but on the other hand, they are making decisions only in a small area and they do not have any influence of a great number of people who are living out of their scope. He is developing an idea, if there is any possibility, that we can create some units, where participation of citizens could be sufficiently big and simultaneously those units would have enough authority. He was wondering if there is a possibility of the existence of a relatively small, but still important territorial unit, where it would be possible to reach a satisfactory level of participation.


Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirović

www.global-politics.eu/sotirovic

sotirovic@global-politics.eu

© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2020

Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.

Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

Donate to Support Us

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics, and international relations.

READ MORE!
George H.W. Bush, the CIA and a Case of State-Sponsored Terrorism
"If the American people ever find out what we have done, they would chase us down the street and lynch us" George H.W. Bush, 1992 In early fall of 1976, after a Chilean government assassin had killed a Chilean dissident and an American woman with a car bomb in Washington, D.C., George H.W. Bush’s CIA leaked a false report clearing Chile’s military dictatorship and pointing the FBI in the wrong direction. The bogus CIA assessment, spread through Newsweek magazine and other U.S. media outlets, was planted despite CIA’s now admitted awareness at the time that Chile was participating in Operation Condor, a cross-border campaign ...
READ MORE
The 2016 Aleppo Massacre: Are Putin and Assad the Only “War Criminals”?
On Friday, October 5th, the U.S. Secretary of State – John Kerry calls for war crimes investigation of Russia’s and Assad governments for the destruction of the Syrian city of Aleppo. The western corporate mass media was a very quick, like, for instance, The New York Times, immediately and clearly to accuse the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of alleged war crimes in Syria – the same cliché used by the same propaganda machinery against the Serbs (Srebrenica case from 1995 or Kosovo War from 1999) during the bloody destruction of ex-Yugoslavia (by the U.S. ...
READ MORE
Bosnia-Herzegovina ISIS in the 1990s: A Short Documentary Movie by the SKY News
Video documentary movie on the first ISIS in Europe in the Islamic Caliphate of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1992-1995.This movie is made by the British SKY NEWS after the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.Similar documentary movies on the ISIS Bosnia-Herzegovina made by the Bosnian Serbs were never shown to the Western audience.The duration of the movie is 8 min. and 17 sec.In the movie are presented and future Al-Qaeda Mujahedeen holy fighters.From the movie is clear what was the real nature of the civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s.All copyrights reserved by the SKY NEWS.Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, ...
READ MORE
Croatian Book on Jasenovac Distorts Holocaust History
‘Radni logor Jasenovac’ (‘Jasenovac Labour Camp’), the latest work by Croatian author Igor Vukic on the Croatian World War II concentration camp Jasenovac, published by Naklada Pavicic this year, seems like it is inspired by the publications of established Holocaust deniers. Instead of studying all the available archival records, testimonies and other publications, Vukic avoids confronting the totality of known information on the Jasenovac concentration camp system, and instead cherry-picks and publishes only carefully selected data which supports his ideologically-motivated agenda – the fabrication that Jasenovac was merely a labour camp where no mass murders took place. The argumentation and evidence cited ...
READ MORE
Anti-Serbian Collaboration Between Tito’s Partisans and Pavelić’s Ustashi in World War II
Partisans and Ustashi together in Bosnia, 1942Article by Vladislav B. Sotirovic: “Anti-Serbian Collaboration Between Tito’s Partisans and Pavelić’s Ustashi in World War II”, Balkan Studies, Vol. 49, 2014 (2015), ISSN (print) 0005-4313, ISSN (online) 2241-1674, Thessaloniki, Greece, pp. 113−156© Vladislav B. Sotirović 2015Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.Authentic ...
READ MORE
Kosovo Albanian Jihadists Planned to Attack Venice’s Rialto Bridge
Italian police broke up an alleged jihadist cell in Venice who had celebrated last week’s terrorist attack in London and planned to blow up the city’s famous Rialto Bridge in the hope of killing hundreds of tourists. In a series of overnight raids, anti-terrorism police arrested three suspects, all of them Kosovars who were living in Italy. Fisnik Bekaj, 24, Dake Haziraj, 25, and Arian Babaj, 27, were allegedly admirers of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and were secretly recorded discussing how they were ready to die for the sake of jihad. A fourth person, an unnamed minor ...
READ MORE
Finland’s Nazi Past and the SS Martti Ahtisaari
At the time of the illegal NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 when Martti Ahtisaari was the President of Finland, his government sought to commemorate and to honor Finland’s Nazi SS volunteers from the Holocaust. This offers irrefutable evidence of Ahtisaari’s direct links for support of Nazism and Nazi revisionism. If Ahtisaari had bothered to check the decisions of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunals, he would have found that that court held that all Waffen SS troops were war criminals guilty of war crimes and guilty of committing crimes against humanity, namely the mass murder of Jews. Ahtisaari lacks even ...
READ MORE
Kiev Regime – A Western Frankenstein Creation
Russian President Vladimir Putin put it succinctly when he recently warned that prospects for peace in Ukraine were negligible as long as the current authorities in Kiev remain in power. Worse, given a new rash of provocations by the Kiev regime, the entire region is being threatened with conflict, and even all-out war.It seems clear – and criminally reprehensible – that the Kiev regime and its President Petro Poroshenko are intent on dragging the United States and the NATO military alliance into a war with Russia. The incendiary conduct of Ukrainian politicians and their military is that of a regime ...
READ MORE
** FILE ** President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast, in this May 1, 2003 file photo. Democratic congressional leaders on Tuesday, May 1, 2007 sent Iraq legislation setting timetables for U.S. troop withdrawals to President George W. Bush and a certain veto.  On the fourth anniversary of the president's "Mission Accomplished" speech, Senate Majority Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that Bush "has put our troops in the middle of a civil war. A change of course is needed."  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection & Pinterest. Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.  
READ MORE
Civilian Casualties of NATO’s War on Yugoslavia
From the onset of NATO’s aggression from March 24 to June 11, 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) flew over 35,000 combat missions over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Over 1,000 warplanes (among others F-15, F-16, F-117) and 206 helicopters were used in the air strikes. More than 20,000 laser or satellite-guided weapons were launched and over 79,000 tons of explosives were dropped, including 152 containers with 35,450 cluster bombs, thermo-visual and graphite bombs, which are prohibited under international conventions.1 The NATO forces justified the bombing of civilian targets as either “mistakes” or essential to the destruction of Milosevic and ...
READ MORE
Countries Destroyed by Hillary Clinton
In an email sent to his business partner and Democratic fundraiser Jeffrey Leeds, former Secretary of State Colin Powell wrote of Hillary Clinton, “Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris.” Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first term was an unmitigated disaster for many nations around the world. Neither the Donald Trump campaign nor the corporate media have adequately described how a number of countries around the world suffered horribly from Mrs. Clinton’s foreign policy decisions. Millions of people were adversely harmed by Clinton’s misguided policies and her “play-to-pay” operations involving favors in return for donations ...
READ MORE
NATO’s War Crimes: The Crime of Propaganda
The NATO military alliance is a world encompassing threat. It is now conducting various forms of hybrid warfare against Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most of Africa. They have destroyed directly or are largely responsible for the destruction of the socialist nations of the USSR, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and too many to name in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Destruction is the fate that each nation on earth can expect unless it pays homage and obeisance to these neo-feudal overlords who promise protection in return for national servitude, in return for the complete ...
READ MORE
Trump’s Win wasn’t Ideological?
CNN explained well “5 surprising lessons from Trump’s astonishing win”, and the historic crushing failure of traditional Presidential-year American politics, but it really boils down to one simple fact: In the battleground states, where most of the advertising dollars and get-out-the-vote money was being spent, the Trump organization made use of the Republican-Party organization in those portions of the campaign-operation that benefited from those established contacts and its tried-and-tested methods and techniques, but not in the portions of the campaign-operation that needed to be improved and to function better than in all prior U.S. Presidential elections. The simple fact is that ...
READ MORE
Conflicts among Churchgoers in Ukraine – Non-Peaceful Transfers to the OCU not Covered by Media and State
Interactive maps at several websites show that within three months there have been more than 500 voluntary transfers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate's (UOC-MP) parishes to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine recently created by Patriarch Bartholomew and president Poroshenko. The UOC-MP parishes total 12,000, so this is a significant value. However, according to the OHCHR Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine from 16 November 2018 to 15 February 2019, not all of these transfers were voluntary – in some cases they were undertaken by local authorities or far-right organizations, and those members of the UOC-MP ...
READ MORE
Behind the Project of a Greater Albania
When at the 1878 Berlin Congress Serbia and Montenegro had to become recognized as sovereign states, the Muslim Albanian representatives tried to initiate the same for their own national state or wider autonomy within the Ottoman Empire which they considered as their own national state.They founded the (First) Prizren League in Metochia (the western portion of contemporary Kosovo).[1] However, this Islamic initiative failed with Bismarck’s explicit rejection to speak about Albanian nationality as nonexistent at all in Europe at that time as they have been considered as the Turks. At the same time, the Albanian national movement Rilindja was initiated, ...
READ MORE
Trolling Russia
The edifice of the post-1991 world order is collapsing right before our eyes. President Putin’s decision to give a miss to the Auschwitz pilgrimage, right after his absence in Paris at Charlie festival, gave it the last shove. It was good clean fun to troll Russia, as long as she stayed the course. Not anymore. Russia broke the rules.Until now, Russia, like a country bumpkin in Eton, tried to belong. It attended the gathering of the grandees where it was shunned, paid its dues to European bodies that condemned it, patiently suffered ceaseless hectoring of the great powers and irritating baiting of the East European small-timers alike. But something broke there. The lad does ...
READ MORE
On the Origins of Proto-Croats and Proto-Serbs
Contemporary historiography and the Slavonic studies upon the question of the ethnolinguistic origin of the Croats and the Serbs more and more incline on the side of those authors who support the linguistic theory of the Indo-Sarmatian (the Iranian) origins of proto-Croats and proto-Serbs.The Indo-European Iranian originAccording to this contemporary explanation, Croats and Serbs were the people of the Iranian (the Sarmatian) origin, who migrated into the Balkans in the 7th century and subjected the Slavs there. However, in the course of time, they became totally slavicized (like proto-Turkic Bulgars who were settled on the Balkans between the Danube River ...
READ MORE
How Turkey Destroyed or Disposed of Its Historical Archives and Documents
For several decades, the Turkish government and its propagandists have been announcing that the state documents, particularly the Ottoman archives, are fully open and available to any researcher from around the world.What Turkish officials and their supporters do not say is that many documents of the Ottoman archives have been removed, destroyed, sold, or otherwise disposed of. In addition, some of the most sensitive archives are still closed to outsiders.Last month, Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut wrote a revealing article, “Turkey Uncensored: A History of Censorship and Bans,” published on the Philos Project website, regarding the status of Turkish archives and ...
READ MORE
The 2004 “March Pogrom” in Kosovo by Muslim Albanians
The 2004 “March Pogrom” in Kosovo: A book of photo evidence! (Making ISIL of a Greater Muslim Albania). Such books you will not find at any kind of the Western mass-media or university teaching programme's reading list.Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics, and international relations.Save
READ MORE
Italy’s Mediterranean Policy
Italy's geostrategic significanceItaly is in a position, looking from a geographical and geostrategic point of view, to play one of the most significant political roles in the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. Italy with Sicily is dividing the Mediterranean Sea into two parts: the eastern and the western. According to Sergio Romano, this geostrategic fact is giving to Italy a possibility to play the role of "the most important factor of naval balance of powers in the region".[1] For the Italian geopolitical significance, it is important fact, as well as, that the southern NATO’s headquarters is located in Italy what ...
READ MORE
George H.W. Bush, the CIA and a Case of State-Sponsored Terrorism
The 2016 Aleppo Massacre: Are Putin and Assad the Only “War Criminals”?
Bosnia-Herzegovina ISIS in the 1990s: A Short Documentary Movie by the SKY News
Croatian Book on Jasenovac Distorts Holocaust History
Anti-Serbian Collaboration Between Tito’s Partisans and Pavelić’s Ustashi in World War II
Kosovo Albanian Jihadists Planned to Attack Venice’s Rialto Bridge
Finland’s Nazi Past and the SS Martti Ahtisaari
Kiev Regime – A Western Frankenstein Creation
9/11: The Questions
Civilian Casualties of NATO’s War on Yugoslavia
Countries Destroyed by Hillary Clinton
NATO’s War Crimes: The Crime of Propaganda
Trump’s Win wasn’t Ideological?
Conflicts among Churchgoers in Ukraine – Non-Peaceful Transfers to the OCU not Covered by Media and State
Behind the Project of a Greater Albania
Trolling Russia
On the Origins of Proto-Croats and Proto-Serbs
How Turkey Destroyed or Disposed of Its Historical Archives and Documents
The 2004 “March Pogrom” in Kosovo by Muslim Albanians
Italy’s Mediterranean Policy

Leave a Reply