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Robert A.

Dahl On Democracy (1998)

Summary by Felix de Jongh

This is a summary I started making intended for personal use only, but I figured a lot more people
could profit from it. The quality might not be up to par, as I haven't checked for any spelling errors.
However, I am confident it is sufficiently clear.

For any comments, questions or additions, please visit this link and comment there:

Chapter 1: Do We Really Need A Guide (preface) (- not included)

Part I. The Beginning

Chapter 2: Where and How did Democracy Develop
Chapter 3: What Lies Ahead?

Part II. Ideal Democracy

Chapter 4: What Is Democracy?
Chapter 5: Why Democracy?
Chapter 6: Why Political Equality I: Intrinsic Equality
Chapter 7: Why Political Equality II: Civic Competence

Part III. Actual Democracy

Chapter 8: What Political Institutions Does Large-Scale Democracy Require
Chapter 9: Varieties I: Democracy on Different Scales
Chapter 10: Varieties II: Constitutions
Chapter 11: Varieties III: Parties and Electoral Systems

Part IV. Conditions Favorable and Unfavorable

Chapter 12: What Underlying Conditions Favor Democracy
Chapter 13: Why Market-Capitalism Favors Democracy
Chapter 14: Why Market-capitalism Harms Democracy
Chapter 15: The Unfinished Journey

Appendix A (-not included)

Appendix B (-not included)
Appendix C (-not included)
Part I. The Beginning
Chapter 2: Where and How did Democracy Develop (A Brief History)
page 7 - 25

The origins of democracy isn't continuous, after the fall of the Greek and Roman empires it
disappeared. Democracy wasn't invented 'once and for all', and it is hard to find out how much of it was
diffused from its early sources and how much, if any, of it was independently invented in different
times and places.
According to Dahl, some of the expansion of democracy perhaps a good deal of it can be
accounted for mainly by the diffusion of democratic ideas and practices, but diffusion can't provide the
whole explanation. It seems to have been invented more than once, and in more than one place. If the
conditions for inventing democracy where favourable in one place at one time, why not in other places
and times? (p.9)
He assumes democracy can be independently invented and reinvented whenever the appropriate
conditions exist. A push toward democratic participation develops out of what we might call 'the logic
of equality'. It might have been developed as far back as the hunter-gatherer era. When people settled
down, a certain hierarchy formed. Popular governments where replaced with monarchies, despotisms,
aristocracies and oligarchies, all based on ranking or hierarchy. Then, around 500 B.C.E. In several
places, favourable conditions reappeared and small groups began developing governmental systems
with opportunities to participate in group decisions primitive democracy. This happened three times
along the mediterranean, some in northern Europe.

In classical Greece and Rome, systems with substantial popular participation was first
established on a solid basis, so that they could endure for centuries. Greece was made up of hundreds of
individual city-states. Athens was the most famous. In 507 B.C.E they adopted a system of popular
government that lasted nearly two centuries, until it was conquered by Macedonia in 321 B.C.E.
Demos (people) and Kratos (to rule) was probably coined by Athenians. It was a very complex
system. The assembly was chosen through lottery, and they elected public officials, like Generals.
These political institutions of Greek democracy, were ignored or rejected during the development of
modern representative democracy.
Romans called their system a republic, res (thing, affair) and publicus (public), so a 'business of
the people'. Rights of participation was restricted to patricians, or aristocrats. After struggles, the plebs
also gained entry. Rights where restricted to men only, like the greeks and all democracies until the
twentieth century. Politics was restricted to theforum Romanum, for many too far to participate.
Romans never adopted a representative government based on democratically elected representatives.
The Roman Republic endured until 130 B.C.E, but was eradicated with the dictatorship of
Julius Caesar. After his assassination (44BCE), the republic became an empire ruled by its emperors.
With that, popular rule vanished from southern Europe for nearly a thousand years.
Around 1100CE popular rule reemerged in many cities in Northern Italy. Participation was
restricted to members of upper-class families: nobles, large land owners, etc. In time, the newly rich,
the smaller merchants and bankers, skilled craftsmen (united in guilds), footsoldiers, and the like
became more dominant and started to organize themselves. They could threaten uprises, and as a result
gained the right to participate, and became called the popolo (the people). In cities like Venice and
Florence, these systems flourished as the middle ages came to a close, making place for the
Renaissance. However, with the emergence of nation-states, these city-states couldn't defend
themselves and where subjugated by them, thus, nation-states ruled by kings once again eradicated
popular government. City-states became obsolete.

The democratic systems named above missed the crucial characteristics of modern
representative government. They lacked an effective national government. Three basic political
institutions where missing: A national parliament, composed of elected representatives, and popular
chosen local governments that were ultimately subordinate to the national government.
The combination of local and national government originated in Britain, Scandinavia, The
Lowlands (Belgium, the Netherlands), Switzerland and various other northern locations. These started
'bottom-up', beginning at local level, later uniting at regional and national level.
The Vikings started organizing themselves in a 'Ting', assemblies at local level where they
would settle disputes, agree on new laws, appoint kings, change their religion (Christianity) from
600CE to 1000CE. By 900CE these 'Ting' where held all over Scandinavia. The King had to swear
faithfullness to the laws approved by the Ting. Vikings couldn't have known of the democracies a
thousand year earlier, but they were equal. The Freemen though, Vikings also held slaves: enemies
captured in battle or victims of raids.
In the Netherlands and Flanders, rulers needed consent from wealthy citizens to tax their
possessions. The rulers summoned meetings of representatives from the towns and most important
social classes. This established certain traditions, practices and ideas that strongly favoured the
development of popular government.
In Britain, parliament grew out of assemblies summoned periodically. By the eighteenth
century, the king and parliament controlled each other. The House of Lords was in turn controlled by
the House of Commons. Laws enacted had to be interpreted by independent judges. This system of
checks and balances was admired by Europeans and Americans alike. Montesquieu lauded the system,
the founding fathers of the USA based their system on this without the role of a monarch, which in turn
provided a model for many other republics.


The elements for later democratic beliefs and institutions, favored by local conditions and
opportunities in several areas of Europe were stimulated by the logic of equality to form local
assemblies, in which free men could participate in governing, to an extent. The consent of the
governed, initially on taxes, gradually grew into a claim about laws in general. When these assemblies
covered a too large area, people needed representation provided by election. These elections needed to
be held on multiple levels, first local, than regional and national, or other intermediate levels. This
provided a base from which democratization could proceed, but it was only a promise: crucial pieces
were still missing.
First, Inequality posed enormous obstacles to democracy: differences between rights, duties,
influence, power of slaves and free men, landed and landless, master and servant, men and women, day
laborers and apprentices, etc. Even free men where inequal. Second, existing assemblies and
parliaments were a long way from meeting minimal democratic standards, as they were no match for
the monarch. Representatives had only a partial saying in lawmaking. Third, representatives didn't
represent the whole population i.e. men. In Great Britain (1832), only 5% had the right to vote. Fourth,
democratic ideas weren't widely shared or well understood. Logic of equality was only effective
among a privileged few. Speech and Press freedom was seriously restricted, criticizing the King often
forbidden. Political opposition lacked legitimacy and legality. Political parties were condemned as
dangerous and undesirable. Elections corrupted by agents of the crown.
Advance of democratic ideas and practices depended on the existence of favorable conditions
that did not yet exist. These will be described in Part IV. Furthermore, democracy didn't proceed on an
ascending path to the present, with many ups and downs. Resistance movements, rebellions, civil wars
and revolutions. The rise of centralized monarchies reversed some of the earlier advances, though they
may have created some favourable conditions in the long run. Based on the rise and decline of
democracy, we cannot count on historical forces to insure that democracy will always advance or even
survive. Democracy is a bit chancy, but its chances also depend on what we do ourselves. People are
not victims of blind forces over which we have no control. With adequate understanding of what
democracy requires and the will to meet its requirements, we can act to preserve and to advance
democratic ideas and practices.

Chapter 3: What Lies Ahead?

Page 26 32

It is needed to make a distinction between democracy as an ideal, and as an actuality. Philosophers

have pondered on many moral and empirical judgements surrounding democracy as an ideal, and the
actual democracies.


We need to understand how the ideals and actualities are connected. Dahl will spell this out in
later chapters. A system of determining whether and to what extent a government is democratic, would
have to meet five criteria and a system meeting these five criteria is fully democratic. Four of these will
be described in chapter 4, and he will show in chapter 6 and 7 why the fifth is needed. Attaining a
perfect democratic system isn't possible due to the many limits imposed on us in the real world. The
system would provide us with standards against which we can compare the achievements and the
remaining imperfections of actual political systems and their institutions, and can guide us towards
solutions bringing us closer to the ideal.
The first question, 'why democracy', isn't concerned with why people support democracy. Some
people support democracy without ever knowing why. 'What political institutions are necessairy' is
concerned with the many differences in democracies due to size or scale of political units, such as
population, territory, or both. A small nation can acquire democracy without needing many institutions,
as opposed to for instance the US of A. Institutions for a small scale democracy can also prove
inadequate on a larger scale of a modern country. These variations will be described in Part III.
If even democratic countries are not fully democratic, how about non-democratic countries that
lack all or some of the institutions of modern democracy. How can they be made more democratic?
How could some countries become more democratic than others? What conditions favour the
development and stability of democratic institutions, and which conditions are likely to impede the
development and stability thereof? These questions will be somewhat answered in Part IV, but are by
no means free from uncertainty, but will provide a firmer starting point for seeking solutions.


By answering 'What is Democracy', judgements are based almost exclusively on our own
values. 'Why Democracy' is also dependent on values, but also on causal connections, limits and
possibilities in the real world the empirical judgements which relies more heavily on facts,
interpretations of evidence and purported facts. These however, are based upon our moral judgements
about the meaning and value of democracy. Empirical judgements are relevant and important to us,
because we care about democracy and its values.
Part II will consist of the exploration of ideals, goals and values, whereas Part III will be more
based upon empirical descriptions of democratic political institutions. In Part IV, favourable and
unfavourable conditions for democratic political institutions will be empirically described.
Part II. Ideal Democracy

Chapter 4: What is Democracy?

Page 35 43

Some goals cannot be attained by ourselves. However, by cooperating who share similar aims we
might. Thus, people might form an association to work together in attaining these goals. This
association needs a constitution, which will be written by a member who possesses some skill on the
matter. The contents of this constitution are voted upon democratically, as everyone is equal in the
association. If that person decides to look for examples of consitutions, he would find there are very
differing versions of constitutions. There seems to be no single 'democratic' institution.
The person decides to look for similarities that justifies their claim to being democratic. Are
some perhaps more democratic than others? What does democracy mean? However, the term is used in
a staggering number of ways. He decides to ignore the precedents, because his task is more specific: to
design a set of rules and principles (a constitution) that will determine how the association's decisions
are to be made, under one underlying principle: all members are to be treated as if they were equally
qualified in participating in the process of making decisions about the policies the association will
pursue. All members are to be considered as politically equal.


Dahl thinks there are five standards that an association has to meet in order to satisfy the
requirement that all the members are equally entitled to participate in the association's decisions about
its policies:

1. Effective participation. Before a policy is adopted by the association, all the members
must have equal and effective opportunities for making their views known to the other
members as to what the policy should be.
2. Voting Equality. When the moment arrives at which the decision aobut policy will
finally be made, every member myst have an equal and effective opportunity to vote,
and all votes must be counted as equal.
3. Enlightened Understanding. Within reasonable limits as to time, each member must
have equal and effective opportunities for learning about the relevant alternative policies
and their likely consequences.
4. Control of the Agenda. Members must have exclusive opportunity to decide how and, if
they choose, what matters are to be placed on the agenda. The democratic process
provided by the above three criteria is never closed. Policies of the association are
always open to change by the members, if they so choose.
5. Inclusion of Adults. Most adult permanent residents should have the full rights of
citizens that are implied by the first four criteria. (p.37-8)


Each of these criteria are necessairy if the members are to be treated equally in determining the
policies of the association. If some are given greater opportunities to express their view, their policy is
more likely to prevail. If votes aren't weighed equally, perhaps bound to their size, larger people could
adopt policies favourable for large people.
The third assumption was first put forth by Pericles in 431BCE: Our ordinary citizens, though
occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; [] and instead of looking
on discussion as a stumbling block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminary to any
wise action.
The final two assure that the first three aren't covertly ignored by some members.


This is not the answer to the question what is democracy, but merely a good start. It suggests
a good many more questions. For instance, are these criteria applicable to a full scale association, like a
government of a state?
We can. The primary focus of democratic ideas has long been the state. The institutions we
think of as characteristics of democracy are primarily developed as means for democratizing
government of states. However, no state has ever fully measered up to these criteria, nor is likely to.
The criteria provide serviceable standards for measuring the achievements and possibilities of
democratic association.
Is it realistic to think that an association could ever fully meet these criteria? Probably not. Are
they just utopian hopes? It only provides a measure, and can serve as guides for shaping and reshaping
institutions and constitutions alike.
If the criteria would serve as useful guides, are they all we need for designing democratic
political institutions? No. There are too many variables to an association which cannot be included.
If ones views are accepted without challenge, why should we believe that democracy is
desirable? And if not, why should we believe in political equallity? If we don't believe in equality, why
should we believe in democracy?

Chapter 5: Why Democracy?

Page 44-61

In this chapter, Dahl will refer to democracy as actual forms of government, not the ideal form.

Democracy produces desirable consequences (figure 5, p.45)

1. Avoiding tyranny
2. Essential rights
3. General freedom
4. Self determination
5. Moral autonomy
6. Human Development
7. Protecting essential personal interests
8. Political equality
In addition, modern democracies produce:
9. Peace-seeking
10. Prosperity

non-democratic regimes have often tried to justify their rule by invoking the ancient and persistant
claim that most people are just not competent to participate in governing a state, implying they need to
leave politics to the wise few (or just one). In one form or another the contest over government by the
one, the few, or the many still exists. Why should we believe democracy is most desirable? (see
summation above).
1. Democracy helps to prevent government by cruel and vicious autocrats. The most
fundamental problem in politics is to avoid autocratic rule, which they would use to serve their own
ends. The costs of despotal rule rival those of disease, famine and war. Examples he names are Stalin
(famine, prison camps), Hitler (WW2, Holocaust), Pol Pot ('self-inflicted' genocide). Popular
governments aren't free of blemishes, and often act unjustly or cruelly toward people outside their
borders. To prevent inflicted harm on persons within their borders, suffrage was extended during the
19th and 20th century, because people were then considered equal.
However, couldn't the majority inflict harm on the minority by what is called the tiranny of the
majority? This is not an easy answer, as every adopted law or policy is bound to inflict harm on some
people. The issue is whether in the long run a democratic process is likely to do less harm to the
fundamental rights and interests of its citizens than any nondemocratic alternative. Because democratic
governments have a better ability of blocking abusive autocratic rule, democracies meet this
requirement better than other forms of government.
2. Democracy guarantees its citizens a number of fundamental rights that nondemocratic
systems do not, and cannot, grant. Democracy is inherently a system of rights, they are the essential
building blocks of a democratic process. To meet certain standards, like effective participation, a citizen
needs the right to participate and a right to express their views. Nondemocratic systems don't offer
these rights, because if they do, they'd become democracies.
A promise of these rights (whether in writing, law or constitution) is not enough, they need to be
effectively enforced and available to citizens. If not, the democracy is merely a facade for
nondemocratic rule (Russia!). If and when many citizens fail to understand that democracy requires
certain fundamental rights or fail to support the institutions that protect those rights, their democracy is
in danger. This danger is reduced by a third benefit.
3. Democracy insures its citizens a broader range of personal freedom than any feasible
alternative to it. A belief in the desirability of democracy does not exist in isolation from other beliefs,
but is part of a cluster. Even if the state is abolished (many anarchist's goal), coercion of some persons
by other persons, groups or associations is likely, robbing the fruits of one's labour and in addition re-
creating a coercive state in order to secure their own domination.
4. Democracy helps people to protect their own fundamental interests. Basic human rights (I.e
survival, shelter, food, etc.) is desired by all. Their order may differ from person to person, and
democracy makes sure you have the opportunity to choose which goals are most important to you. As
J.S. Mill put it: of as universal truth and applicability as any general propositions which can be laid
down respecting human affairs is that the rights and interests of every or any person are secure from
being disregarded when the person is himself able, and habitually disposed, to stand up for them. []
Human beings are only secure from evil at the hands of others in proportion as they have the power of
being, and are, self-protecting.
Dahl agrees; even if included in the electorate, you can't be certain all your interests will be
adequately protected. But if excluded, you know for sure your interests will be harmed by neglect or
outright damage. Inclusion > Exclusion.
5. Only a democratic government can provide a maximum opportunity for persons to exercise the
freedom of self-determination-that is, to live under laws of their own choosing. Living a satisfactory life
can't be without others, but living with others means you can't always do what you like. What you
would like to do conflicts with what others would like to do. Being a member of a group, you have to
adjust to the rules or practices of the group. If you can't impose your wishes by force, you would have
to come to an agreement.
How can you be free to choose the laws of the state, but not be free to disobey them? If
everyone agrees unanimously on laws, there is no need for laws (perhaps to serve as reminder).
However, unanimity is mostly short lived, perfect consensus unattainable. In forming laws in a
democracy, it is possible to make your opinion known. If law is enacted, it is fact.
6. Only a democratic government can provide a maximum opportunity for exercising moral
responsibility. Exercising moral responsibility means adopting your moral principles and make
decisions that depend on these principles only after you have engaged in a thoughtful process of
reflection, deliberation, scrutiny and consideration of alternatives and their consequences. But how can
you be responsible for decisions that you cannot control? If the democratic process maximizes your
opportunity to live under laws of your own choosing then it also enables you to act as a morally
responsible person.
7. Democracy fosters human development more fully than any feasible alternative. This
assertion is highly plausible, but unproven. At birth, people have the potential of living morally
responsible. How much of that is developed depends on many circumstances and among those is the
nature of the political system that person is born under. Nondemocratic systems redus the scope within
which adults can act to protect their own interests, consider those of others, take responsibility for
important decisions and engage freely with others to come to an agreement. Democratic government is
not enough to insure that people develop these qualities, but it is essential.
8. Only a democratic government can foster a relatively high degree of political equality. Why
should we place a value on political equality? The answer is far from self-evident, and Dahl promises
to explain the desirability in the following two chapters and why it follows if we accept several
reasonable assumptions that probably most of do believe in.
9. Modern representative democracies do not fight wars with one another. This advantage was
largely unpredicted and unexpected, but evidence is overwhelming. Of 34 wars between 1945 and
1989, none occurred among democratic countries, neither has there been any preparation for one. They
did fight nondemocratic countries, imposed colonial rule and interfered in political life of other
countries (even weakening or overthrowing weak governments). Democratic citizens and leaders learn
the art of compromise. They see people from other democracies as less threatening, more like
themselves, more trustworthy. There is a predisposition to seek peace rather than war.
10. Countries with democratic governments tend to be more prosperous than countries with
nondemocratic governments. Explanation is partly found in the affinity between representative
government and a market economy, where markets are mostly unregulated, workers free to change
jobs, privately owned companies compete for sales and resources, and consumers can choose among
goods and services. All modern democratic governments have market economies and a country with a
market economy is more likely to be prosperous, ergo a modern democratic country is more likely to be
also rich.
Democratic countries foster the education of their people. Rule of law is more strongly
sustained, courts are more independent, property rights are more secure, contractual agreements more
effectively enforced and economic intervention by politicians is less likely. Furthermore, democracies
rely on communication, seeking and exchanging information is easier and less dangerous than in most
nondemocratic regimes. This creates a more hospitable environment in which to achieve the advantages
of market economies and economic growth. However, market economies also mean economic
inequality, which could mean a diminished political equality among the citizens.

Chapter 6: Why Political Equality (I)? Intrinsic Equality.

Page 62-68

Why should the rights necessary to a democratic process of governing be extended equally among


The American Declaration of Independence held equality among men as self-evident. Critics
dismissed these assertions as empty rhetoric. Calling it hypocrisy, as these rights where not extended to
women, slaves, free negroes and native Americans. Since then, inequality has diminished, but many
forms remain. Inequality, not equality, appears to be the natural condition of humankind.


Inequality can be in the ability to win a marathon, or in opportunity to vote, speak and
participate in governance. When we talk about political equality, we mean to express a moral
judgement about human beings, what we believe ought to be. We ought to treat all persons as if they
possess equal claims to life, liberty, happiness and other fundamental goods and interests. Dahl calls
this intrinsic equality. In order to apply this to the government of a state, a supplementary principle is
needed: In arriving at decisions, the government must give equal consideration to the good and
interests of every person bound by those decisions.


Ethical and religious grounds. For a great many people it is consistent with their most ethical
beliefs and principles (all created equally as God's children, yadayadayada). Most moral reasoning,
most systems of ethics, explicitly or implicitly assume some such principle.
The weakness of an alternative principle. Every general alternative is found to be implausible
and unconvincing. A claim to intrinsic superiority (i.e. I am more important than you) is buried in our
egotistical core, but why should we accept that claim from others? A group with enough power could
enforce their claim literally over your dead body. These claims have mostly been shrouded with a pre-
determination by a 'higher power'.
Prudence. Governments not only confer great benefits but can also inflict great harm. Prudence
dictates a cautious concern for the manner in which its unusual capacities will be employed. It is safer
to insist that your interests will be given equal consideration with those of others, in fear of revolt and
Acceptability. A process that guarantees equal consideration for all is more likely to secure the
assent of others whose cooperation you need to achieve your ends.

Chapter 7: Why Political Equality (II)? Civic Competence

Page 69-80

We are not necessarily bound to endorse democracy as the best process for governing a state.


The claim that government should be turned over to experts deeply committed to rule for the
general good and superior to others in their knowledge of the means to achieve it Guardians, as Plato
called them has always been the major rival of democratic ideas. They deny that ordinary people are
competent to govern themselves. They imply that 'Guardians' are superior in their knowledge of the
general good and how to achieve it. There are some faults to the argument for Guardianship.
To delegate certain subordinate decisions to experts is not equivalent to ceding final control
over major decisions. Personal decisions made by individuals are not equivalent to decisions made and
enforced by the government of a state. To govern a state well, requires much more than strictly
scientific knowledge (eds: high modernism), governing relies on ethical judgements as well. And to
govern a state well takes more than just knowledge; you also need incorruptability to keep pursuing the
public good. Like Ben Franklin said: There are two passions which have a powerful influence on the
affairs of men. These are ambition and avarice, the love of power and the love of money. Lastly, to
desing a utopia is one thing, to bring it about is quite another.
If we reject the case of Guardianship, we conclude: Among adults no persons are so definitely
better qualified than others to govern that they should be entrusted with complete and final authority
over the government of state. On most matters we believe adults should be allowed to judge what is
best for his or own good or interests. We sometimes reject the presumption for persons of adult age
who are judged to lack a normal capacity to look out for themselves. The question is, are most adults
competent enough to participate in governing the state.


If you are deprived of an equal voice in the government of a state, the chances are quite high
that your interests will not be given the same attention as the interests of those who do have a voice. If
you have no voice, who will defend your interests or that of your group? No one will adequately
protect them, as history has shown.
J.S. Mill asked: Does parliament, or almost any of the members composing it, ever for an
instant look at any question with the eyes of a workingman? When a subject arises in which the
laborers as such have an interest, is it regarded from any point of view but that of employers of labor?
People sometimes misjudge their own interests, but the preponderant weight of human
experience informs us that no group of adults can safely grant to others the power to govern over them.
Dahl concludes: Full inclusion. The citizen body in democratically governed state must include all
persons subject to the laws of that state except transients and persons proved to be incapable of caring
for themselves.

Rejecting guardianship and adopting political equality as an ideal still leaves some difficult
questions. Don't citizens and government officials need help from experts? Yes they do. Their
specialized knowledge is undeniably important for the funtioning of democratic governments. Public
policy is often complex that no government could make satisfactory decisions without help from
If citizens are to be competent, won't they need political and social institutions to help make
them so? Yes, opportunities to gain enlightened understanding of public matters are a requirement of
democracy. The majority of citizens might still make mistakes, which is why advocates of democracy
stress the importance of education.
What if the institutions for developing competent citizens are weak, and they don't know
enough to protect their own values and interests? We have adopted intrinsic equality, which we applied
to the government of state. We rejected Guardianship, but accepted full inclusion. Therefore, if the
institutions for civic education are weak, only one solution remains: they must be strengthened. Perhaps
the institutions created in the 19th and 20th century are nog longer adequate. If so, we need to create new
ones to supplement the old ones.


We have barely peeked into the remaining half: the basic institutions that are necessairy for
advancing the goal of democracy, and the conditions (social, economic, and others) that favour
development and maintenance of the democratic political institutions. We'll explore these in the
following chapters, where we turn from goals to actualities.
PART III Actual Democracies

Chapter 8: What Political Institutions Does Large-Scale Democracy Require?

Page 83-99

Main question of this chapter: what does it mean to say that a country is governed democratically? A
few thing to keep in mind: this means large-scale democracies (not committees), every actual
democracy has fallen short of the criteria described in part II, and finally we should be aware that in
ordinary language we use the word 'democracy' to refer both to a goal or ideal and to an actuality that is
only a partial attainment of the goal.


How can we determine what institutions are necessairy for large-scale democracy? We might
examine the history of countries that changed their institutions in response to demands for a broader
popular inclusion (eds: after 1848, for example). Alternatively, we could examine countries which are
described as democratic. Third, we could reflect on a specific country, or groups of countries, or a
hypothetical country, in order to imagine what political institutions would be required in order to
achieve democratic goals. All three methods converge on the same set of institutions, which are the
minimal requirements for a democratic country.


1. Elected officals. Control over government decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in
officials elected by citizens. Thus, modern, large-scale democratic governments are
2. Free, fair and frequent elections. Elected officials are chosen in frequent and fairly conducted
elections in which coercion is comparatively uncommon.
3. Freedom of expression. Citizens have a right to express themselves without danger of severe
punishment on political matters broadly defined, including criticism of officials, the
government, the regime, the socioeconomic order and the prevailing ideology.
4. Access to alternative sources of information. Citizens have a right o seek out alternative and
independent sources of information from other citizens, experts, newspapers, magazines, books,
telecommunications, etc. These alternative sources must not be under the influence of the
government or any political group, and protected by law.
5. Associational autonomy. To achieve their various rights, including those requred for the
effective operation of democratic political institutions, citizens also have a right to form
relatively independent associations or organizations, including independent political parties and
interest groups.
6. Inclusive citizenship. No adult permanently residing in the country and subject to its laws can be
denied the rights that are abailable to others and are necessairy to the five political institutions
just listed.


These do not ordinarily arrive in a country all at once, the last two are distinctly latecomers.
Until the 20th century, universal suffrage was denied in both theory and practice of democratic and
republican government. Time of arrival and sequence in which they have been introduced have varied
tremendously. In older democracies, elections came first (England 13 th century, US 17th.) During the
19th century, the first five of the basic democratic institutions (as observed by de Tocqueville in the US)
were consolidated in more than a dozen other countries, yet everywhere the sixth institution was
missing. Universal suffrage at the time did not include women, or african-americans. It was not until
the 20th century that in both theory and practice democracy came to require that rights to engage in
political life must be extended.
These six institutions constitute not only a new type of political system but a new kind of
popular government, a 'democracy' that had never existed. This modern form is sometimes called
polyarchal democracy (poly=many, archal=rule, ergo 'rule of the many'). It came about in response to
demands for inclusion and participation. However, are some of these institutions no more than past
products of historical struggles?


Why do we only speak of large-scale democracies? Because small-scale, like committees, don't
need a lot of democracy. A presiding speaker may be enough for it to run democratic. So what do the
institutions bring to the table?

Political institutions of polyarchal democracy Satisfy the following democratic criteria:

Elected representatives Effective participation
Control of the Agenda
Free, fair and frequent elections Voting Equality
Control of the Agenda
Freedom of Expression Effective participation
enlightened understanding
control of the agenda
Alternative information Effective participation
enlightened understanding
control of the agenda
Associational autonomy Effective participation
enlightened understanding
control of the agenda
Inclusive citizenship Full inclusion


How can citizens participate effectively when the N becomes too numerous or widely dispersed
geographically for them to participate in conveniently in making laws by assembling in one place? Or,
how can citizens control the agenda of government decisions?
Democracy meant town-hall meetings, and representative democracy was a contradiction in
terminology. However, the arrival of the nation-state meant that the small state disappeared, due to
military superiority of the nation-state. Representation was necessairy.


If equality in voting is to be implemented, elections must be free and fair, free of reprisal and all
votes counted equal. If citizens are to retain final control over the agenda, you can't elect someone for a
20-year term, thus elections have to be frequent. Free and fair is disputed, First-Past-The-Post or
Proportional Representation? In terms of frequency, anything over 5 years is too long, however, annual
would be too short. Among democracies, these terms vary in length.
Participation is not free if one can't express themselves freely, and they must be able to hear
what others have to say. Civic competence relies on opportunities to express, learn from others, engage
in debates, read, hear, question experts, etc. Citizens would lose their influence to control the agenda if
they are not competent.


How can citizens aquire the knowledge they need in order to understand the issues if the
government controls all the important sources of information (or any other single group)? Controlling
the agenda would be impossible, if they don't know what is currently on there if government doesn't tell


If a large republic requires that representatives be elected, then how are elections to be
contested? An organization or party gives a group an electoral advantage, they are inevitable. They are
also a source of civic education and enlightenment.


see conclusion of the last chapter

Just as we need strategies for bringing about a transition to democracy in nondemocratic countries and
for consolidating democratic institutions in newly democratized countries, so in the older democratic
countries we need to consider whether and how to move beyond our existing level of democracy.

CHAPTER 9: Varieties I. Democracy on Different Scales

page 100-118


authoritarian regimes often claim that theirs is really a special type of democracy. Lenin claimed
a proletarian democracy is a million times more democratic than any bourgeois democracy. Why
should we accept those claims? We are entitled to judge a country to be a democracy only if it
possesses all of the political institutions that are necessary to democracy. Does this mean that
democratic criteria can be satisfied only by the full set of political institutions of polyarchal
democracy? Not necessairily:
- The institutions of polyarchal democracy are necessairy for democratizing the government of
the state in a large-scale system, specifically a country. But they might be unnecessairy or downright
unsuitable for democracy in smaller units.
- The insitutions of polyarchal democracy vary a great deal and in important ways
- Because the institutions are necessary does not imply they are sufficient for democracy.


If the political institutions required for democracy must include elected representatives, does
that mean the Athenian democracy wasn't? By saying that, you would say the plane by the Wright-
brothers isn't a plane because it doesn't resemble any modern aeroplanes.
Modern democracy has two things the Greeks didn't have: inclusion, and the election of
representatives with the authority to enact laws (they'd leave it to fate). They created a town-meeting
democracy, but did not invent representative democracy as we understand it today.


Advocates of assembly democracy who know their history are aware that as a democratic
device, representation has a shady past. It was a device used by monarchs could lay their hands on
precious revenues. In origin, representation was not democratic. Critics also state that in a small
political unit assembly democracy allows citizens opportunities to engage in the process of governing
themselves, which representative government in a large unit can't provide.
Given these advantages, why was the older understanding of democracy reconfigured in order
to accommodate a political institution that was nondemocratic in its origins?


History provides part of the answer. Democratic reformers saw no need to discard existing
representative systems, they simply believed broadening the electoral base could form a truly
representative body that would serve democratic purposes. The broadening process eventually led to a
representative government based on an inclusive demos. Why didn't they opt for a direct democracy?
Because they concluded it was too large to democratize.


Population-size and geographical size have consequences. Reformers don't want their countries
to fall apart into hundreds of mini-states. Back in the day, they didn't have the means of communication
we now have where we can 'meet' electronically. Athenian democracy had on its height 60.000 citizens,
which led people at the time to believe that Athens had a polis to big for a assembly democracy to
function. Assembly democracy has some severe problems:
- opportunities for participation rapidly diminishes with the size of the citizen body.
- although many more can participate by listening to speakers, the maximum number of
participants in a single meeting who are likely to be able to express themselves in speech is very
small, probably <100
- These fully participant members become, in effect, representatives of the others, except in
- Thus, even in a unit governed by assembly democracy, a kind of de facto representative
system is likely to exist.
- Yet nothing insures that the fully participating members are representative of the rest.
- To provide a satisfactory system for selecting representatives, citizens may reasonably prefer
to elect their representatives in free and fair elections.


Representatives can't offer enough time to listen to all citizens they represent. Small-scale or
Large-scale, each has their own clear advantages, however they also have inexorable limits on civic
participation that apply with cruel indifference to both. The law of time and numbers: the more citizens
a democratic unit contains, the less that citizens can participate directly in government decisions and
the more that they must delegate authority to others.


If our goal is to establish a democratic system of government that provides maximum
opportunities for citizens to participate in political decisions, then the advantage clearly lies with
assembly democracy in a small-scale system. But if our goal is to provide maximum scope to deal
effectively with the problems of greatest concern to citizens, the advantage will often lie with a unit so
large a representative system will be neccesary.


Political systems don't necessairily realize their possibilities. Town meetings are not paragons of
participatory democracy. When citizens know the issues on the agenda are trivial, they often choose to
stay at home. Controversial issues bring them out. Town meetings are not dominated by educated and
affluent persons, rather strong bliefs and a determination to have a say are sometimes monopolized by a
single socioeconomic group.


The achilles-heel of a small state is its military weakness. Athenians couldn't preserve their
independence. The last city-state republic (Venice) fell to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797 without much of
a struggle. It would take a cataclysmic event to eradicate the current nation-states for small-scale
democracies to emerge, but even then it only takes the cooperation of a few to dominate the others,
therefore recreating large-scale states, for which they would have to reinvent representative democracy.


The dark side of representative government: citizens often delegate enormous discretionairy
authority over decisions of extraordinary importance. Not only to their representatives, but also
administrators, bureaucrats, civil servants, judges, etc. Attached to the institutions aimed at
strengthening democracy comes a certain nondemocratic process: bargaining among political and
bureaucratic elites.
The bargaining takes place within limits set through democratic institutions and processes, but
these are often broad, the popular participation and control are not always as strong, and the elites are
very discrete, hiding their dealings from the public.


Won't national governments simply become more like local governments (much like Athens
under Macedon, or Venice under Napoleon) that are subordinate to democratic international
governments? The challenge is not to halt internationalization, but to democratize the organisations it
comes with.
The EU is a good example, formally it has all democratic institutions needed, but it still has a
gigantic democratic deficit. Limits for bargaining are set by what negotiators can get others to agree to
and by considering the likely consequences for national and international markets. Bargaining,
hierarchy and markets determine the outcomes.
Political leaders would have to create political institutions that would provide citizens with
opportunities for political participation, influence and control roughly equivalent in effectiveness to
those already existing in democratic countries, and citizens need to be as muched concerned and
informed with the issues as they are on national level.
How the representatives of a hypothetical international citizen body would be distributed is
another problem. No system of representation could give equal weight to the vote of each citizen and
yet prevent small countries from being steadily outvoted.
It seems unlikely all crucial requirements for the democratization of international organisations
will be met. International decisions will be made by the elites via bargaining by no means


No matter how small a country is, it needs a rich array of independent associations and
organisations a pluralistic civil society. Democratic principles suggest some questions we might ask
about the government of any association:
- In arriving at decisions, does the government of the association insure equal consideration to the good
and interest of every person bound by these decisions?
- Are any of the members of the association so definetly better qualified than others to govern that they
should be entrusted with the final authority?
- If the members are political equals, should the government of the association not meer democratic

Chapter 10: Varieties II. Constitutions.

Page 119-129

Do differences in constitutions matter? No, yes, and maybe. Dahl will focus in this chapter on the
constitutional experience of older democracies (eds: i.e. mostly western countries, except Costa Rica).
Variations among them are sufficient to provide an idea of the range of possibilities. However,
constitutional arrangements of new democracies aren't less important, they are crucial in the succes of

Dahl distinguishes between written and unwritten. An unwritten constitution is a result of a
highly unusual historical circumstances in GB, New Zealand and Israel. Written constitutions have
become standard. A Bill of Rights is not universal, but is now common practice. Social and Economic
rights is uncommon in older democracies, however in newer democracies (since WW2) they are
Some states are federal, other unitary. Federal states are the result of special historic
circumstances. Unicameral or Bicameral legislature. Typically dominated by bicameralism, however,
Israel never had a second chamber, and the Scandinavian countries have abolished their upper houses.
Judicial Review refers to the practice of a supreme court reviewing national legislature on
constitutional grounds. Can judges rule laws enacted by national parliament unconstitutional? This is
not the case in half the democratic countries.
Tenure of judges for life or limited term? In the US, judges have life tenure. Advantage being
that it ensures greater independence from political pressures. However, their judgements may reflect
older ideologies, employing judicial review to impede reforms. Most countries have limited tenure
since WW2.
Referenda? More than half of the countries have had at least one, however, the US has not.
Switzerland has the most frequent. Presidential or Parliamentary? In a presidential system, chief
executive is elected independently of the legislature. Classic example: US. Other end of the spectrum
(parliamentary): GB. Presidential system invented by the US, in admiration of GB's separation of
powers. Instead of a monarch, they opted for citizens to rule. Electoral system? How precise are seats
allocated in national legislature in proportion to preferences of voters? If a party gets 30% of the votes,
will it get 30% of the seats?
Are some of these variations better, making a democracy more democratic? How are we to
appraise the relative desirability of different constitutions? We need some criteria...


Constitutions matter in to a democracy in a matter of ways. Stability is helped by a constitution
by providing a standard for democratic political institutions. A constitution can protect fundamental
rights for the majority and minorities alike. It provides neutrality among the country's citizens, having
insured fundamental rights and duties it ensures the process of making laws is designed not to favour or
penalize the views or legitimate interests of any (group of) citizen.
Accountability is provided by the design, to enable citizens to hold politicians accountable for
their decisions, actions and conduct within a reasonable time interval. Fair representation is subject of
controversy, it is based upon informed consensus and effective government. A constitution might help
leaders develop informed consensus on laws and policies, by creating opportunities and incentives for
leaders to engage in negotiations, accomodation and coalition building that would facilitate diverse
interests. This works however negative on the effectiveness of government, as it takes more time to
react to sudden changes in society.
Constitutions also help make competent decisions, effective government is no substitute for
wise government. Constitutions help make government transparent and comprehensible so that citizins
can see what their government is up to and hold them accountable. Resiliency is created because a
system should adapt to novel situations. Legitimacy can also be obtained by maintaining a monarch as
head of state, but subjecting it to the requirements of polyarchy.


Do these differences really matter? To research this you need to look at former democracies,
which returned to an authoritarian system. If there are highly unfavorable circumstances it is
improbable that democracy could be preserved, which no constitution can save. However, if the
circumstances are neither favourable or unfavourable, the design of the constititution might matter.

Chapter 11: Varieties III. Parties and Electoral Systems

page 130-141

A political landscape is mostly shaped by its electoral system and political parties, and they exist in a
wide variety.

No electoral system can satisfy all criteria, which is why they differ so much. There are trade-
offs. Proportional Representation (PR) are designed to send an equal amount of politicians in relation
to % of votes to a chamber. In First-past-the-post (FPTP) a single candidate is chosen from each
district, which could result in 60% of seats for a certain party, while it only has 50% of votes. This
because party support might not be spread evenly across a country. FPTP relies on an uneven spread, if
20% of the people evenly spread across a country support a certain party, it wouldn't get any seats if
another parties has 30%. If regional differences decline, the distortion grows.
This FPTP system is not abolished, partly due to tradition. In order of fairness to minorities,
judges sometimes draw districts (=gerrymandering) so they can get represented by one of their own,
forming a majority (eds: Compton yo). There remains a lot of hostility towards PR in the US.
The tendency of FPTP to amplify legislative majority of the winning party has two desirable
consequences. It handicaps third parties, producing a two party system. This places less of a burden on
citizens by simplifying the vote. PR advocates would say it impairs freedom of choice. It also makes
sure there's an effective government because of the amplification of the winning party, making it harder
for losers to form a potent coalition. PR has produced so many conflicting parties, majority coalitions
are mostly unstable and difficult to form.


The task of writing a constitution is difficult and complex, which requires a country's best
talents, yet requires the assent and consent of the governed. Dahl mentions five possible combinations
of electoral systems and chief executives.
The continental European option: parliamentary government with PR elections.
The British (Westminster) option: parliamentary government with FPTP elections.
The US option: presidential government with FPTP elections.
The Latin American option: Presidential government with PR elections
The mixed option: other combinations. France has both an elected president, and a prime
minister dependent on the parliament, elected by a modified FPTP with a second round in which any
candidate with more than 12.5% of the votes in the first election can compete. In Germany, half the
members of the bundestag are chosen in FPTP, other half in PR. The Swiss have plural executive of 7
counsillors elected by parliament for a tenure of 4 years.


Most of the basic problems of a country cannot be solved by constitutional design if the
circumstances are strictly unfavorable. Maintaining fundamental democratic stability is not the only
relevant criterion for a good constitution. All constitutional arrangements have some disadvantages,
none satisfy all reasonable criteria.
PART IV: Conditions Favourable and Unfavourable

Chapter 12: What Underlying Conditions Favour Democracy?

Page 145-165

We face two questions: How can we account for the establishement of democratic institutions in so
many countries in so many parts of the world, and how can we explain its failure? A full answer is
impossible, two interrelated sets of factors are undoubtedly of crucial importance.


during the 20th century, the main alternatives lost out in competition with democracy. They
(monarchy, open oligarchy, hereditary aristocracy) fatally declined in legitimacy and ideological
strength. Though replaced by nondemocratic alternatives (fascism, nazism) they flourished briefly due
to their defeat in WW2. Military dictatorships, mainly in latin America, fell due to economic,
diplomatic and military (Argentina) failures. The main democratic antagonist (USSR) collapsed due to
internal decay and external pressures.
A final victory for democracy has not been achieved, nor was it close, see China. Middle eastern
countries are still not democratic as well as some countries who reverted back to nondemocratic
regimes as conditions were not favourable. These conditions were:
Essential conditions for democracy
1. Control of military and police by elected officials.
2. Democratic beliefs and political culture.
3. No strong foreign control hostile to democracy
Favourable conditions for democracy:
4. A modern market economy and society
5. Weak subcultural pluralism

democratic institutions are less likely to develop in a country subject to intervention by another
country hostile to democratic government in that country. For instance, Soviet intervention prevented
Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary to gain democracy despite favourable conditions. Pre-existing,
dating far back before WW2. The US, as well, has a history of intervening in Latin America,
overthrowing democratically elected governments to protect their economic interests in the region, for
instance in Guatamala in 1954. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US started supporting
development of democratic institutions in eastern Europe.


Unless the military and police forces are under the full control of democratically elected
officials, democratic political institutions are unlikely to develop or endure. The most dangerous
internal threat to democracy comes from leaders who have access to the means of physical coercion:
military and police. Military and police leaders must defer power to democratic officials. In central and
Latin America, of the 47 governments, 2/3rd gained power by means other than free and fair elections,
most often by a military coup. In contrast, Costa Rica has been a beacon of democracy since 1950. In
1950, Costa Rica eliminated the threat of a military coup by abolishing the military all together.


Democratic politcal institutions are more likely to develop and endure in a country that is
culturally fairly homogenous and less likely in a country with sharply differentiated and conflicting
subcultures. Cultural conflicts can erupt in the political arena, and they typically do: over religion,
language, or even dress-codes in schools. Issues like these pose a special problem for democracy.
Cultural problems are often viewed as matters of principle from deep religious convictions, cultural
preservation or group survival. They view them too crucial to allow for compromise, nonnegotiable. A
peaceful democratic process requires negotiation, conciliation and compromise. In older democracies,
they have managed to avoid severe cultural conflicts. Even if these differences exist, they have allowed
more negotiable differences (i.e. economic issues).
There are some exceptions. Cultural differences have been significant in the US, Switzerland,
Belgium, Netherlands and Canada. How have democratic institutions been able to survive in these
Assimilation. The American solution, British colonists encountered new waves of settlers from
Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany, etc. By 1910, 20% of the population wasn't born in the US. They
assimilated, their dominant political loyalty and identity becoming American. This was mainly
voluntary or enforced by social mechanisms (such as 'shame') that minimized the need for coercion by
the state. However, African Americans and Native Americans needed to be coerced to assimilate, if not
this was followed by exclusion. This resulted in an irrepressible conflict; the Civil War.
Deciding by consensus. Distintive and potentially conflicting subcultures have existed in
Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Each created political arrangements that required unanimity
or broad consensus for decisions made by cabinet and parliament. The principle of majority rule
yielded to a principle of unanimity. Consensual systems like these cannot be created or will not work
succesfully except under very special conditions. These include a talent for conciliation; high tolerance
for compromise; trustworthy leaders capable of negotiating sufficient solutions; a consensus on basic
goals and values; a national identity that discourages demands for separation and a commitment to
democratic procedures that exclude violent and revolutionary means. These are uncommon conditions,
and may collapse under the pressure of acute cultural conflict (like in Lebanon, 1958).
Electoral Systems. Cultural differences often get out of hand because they are fueled by
politicians competing for support (eds: Kenia 2012, Ivory Coast 2010). Politicians may deliberately
fashion appeals to members of their cultural group and therby fan latent animosities into hatreds that
culminate in cultural cleansing. To avoid this, electoral sytems could be designed to change
incentives of politicians as to make conciliation more profitable than conflict. For instance, no
candidates could be elected with the support of only a single group, they would need to gain votes from
several major cultural groups. This needs to be included early in the process of democratization.
Separation. When cultural cleavages are too deep to be overcome by any of the previous
solutions, the final solution may be for cultural groups to separate themselves into different political
units within which they possess enough autonomy to maintain their identity and achieve their main
political goals (eds: Sudan, Montenegro, Kosovo). The Swiss solution has two requirements: citizens in
different subcultures must be already separated along territorial lines, and second the citizens must have
a national identity and common goals and values to sustain a federal union. In Canada, french-
canadians want independence, however their territory isn't sufficient territorially devided.


Sooner or later virtually all countries encounter fairly deep crises political, economic,
ideological, military or international. If a democratic system is to endure it must be able to survive
these challenges, as it will have an increased risk of being overturned by authoritarian leaders.
Survivors are what we now call the 'older democracies'.
The prospects for stable democracy in a country are improved if its citizens and leaders strongly
support democratic ideas, values and practices. A democratic political culture would help to form
citizens who believe that democracy and political equality are desirable. A substantial majority of
citizens must prefer democracy and its political institutions to any nondemocratic alternative and
support democratic leaders who uphold democracy.


Historically, the development of democratic beliefs and a democratic culture has been closely
associated with what might loosely be called a market economy, it is a highly favourable condition for
democratic institutions to consolidate. This is however a love/hate relationship, as there are constant


The 20th century turned out to be the 'Century of Democratic Triumph'. That triumph should be
viewed with caution. In many countries the basic political institutions are weak or defective. It is
reasonable to wonder whether democratic successes will be sustained in the twenty-first century. The
answer depend on how well democratic countries meet their challenges. One of these arises directly
from the contradictory consequences of market-capitalism, We'll see why in the next two chapters.

Chapter 13: Why Market-Capitalism favours Democracy

page 166-172

Democracy and market-capitalism have a love/hate-relationship. Dahl will state 5 conclusions, of

which 2 will be offered in this chapter.
1. Polyarchal democracy has endured only in countries with a pre-dominantly market-capitalist
economy; and it has never endured in a country with a predominantly nonmarket economy. This also
applies pretty well to popular governments developed in the city-states of Greece, Rome and medieval
Italy and the evolving representative institutions of northern Europe. It has never endured in nonmarket
economies... but why?
2. This strict relation exists because certain basic features of market-capitalism make it
favorable for democratic institutions. Conversely, some basic features of a predominantly nonmarket
economy make it harmful to democratic prospects. Long run market-capitalism has typically led to
economic growth, and economic growth is favourable to democracy by cutting poverty and improving
living standards it helps to reduce social and political conflicts. If conflicts do arise, they can be solved
with the results of growth (i.e. money) to make a mutually satisfactory settlement.
Market-capitalism is also favourable due to its social and political consequences. It creates a
large middle-class who seek for education, rule of law, participation, etc. A nonmarket economy can
exist in a simple economy, with few resources or decisions. But in order to avoid chaos in more
complex societies, a substitute for the coordination and control provided by its markets are necessary.
The only feasible one is the government. To allocate al scarce resources, government needs a detailed
central plan and thus officials making it, carrying it out, and enforcing it. This is vulnerable to
corruption, and no state has proven to be up to the task. Central planning consedes all monetairy
resources to the government, inviting them to consolidate their power with that money, thus
destabilizing democracy.

Economic growth is however not unique to democratic countries, however, there seems to be
correlation between the two. Central planning has only been efficiently managed as wartime
governments, like GB and US in WWI and II, in which cases the allocation of resources had a clear
goal and were widely supported by its citizens.

Chapter 14: Why Market-Capitalism Harms Democracy

page 173-179

3. Democracy and market-capitalism are locked in a persistant conflict in which each modifies and
limits the other. Market-capitalism in Britain by 1840 had not only won in economic theory, but also in
politics, laws, ideas, philosophy and ideology. However, where people have a voice, a complete victory
cannot endure. It brought gains for some, but harm to others. Due to the extention of suffrage, by 1887
every male could vote (in GB). People who got harmed by market-capitalism sought protection from
political leaders, and opponents of laissez-faire grew by focussing on the plight of the working classes.
Market-capitalism without government regulation was impossible in a democratic country for two
First, the basic institutions of market-capitalism themselves require extensive government
intervention and regulation. Competitive markets, ownership of economic entitites, enforcing contracts,
preventing monopolies, etc., depend on laws, policies, orders and other government action. Second,
without government intervention and regulation a market economy inevitably inflicts harm on some
persons and they will demand government intervention. Economic actors give little meaning to 'the
greater good', rather ignoring it for self gain. However, if some get harmed, others see gains to their
benefits. How are we to judge what is desirable?
These are not just economic questions, but also moral and political. Citizens searching for
answers will inevitably gravitate towards the easiest accessible candidate for intervening, the
government of state. The outcome of this intervention depends on the relative political strength of the
antagonists (eds: corporations).

4. Because market-capitalism inevitably creates inequalities, it limits the democratic potential of

polyarchal democracy by generating inequalities in the distribution of political resources. Because of
these inequalities in resources, some citizens gain significantly more influence than others over the
government's policies, decisions and actions. As a result, citizens are not equal, seriously violating
moral foundation of democracy.

5. Market-capitalism greatly favours the development of democracy up to the level of polyarchal

democracy. But because of its adverse consequences for political equality, it is unfavorable to the
development of democracy beyond the level of polyarchy.

Chapter 15: The Unfinished Journey

page 180-188

Dahl thinks the future is too uncertain to provide firm answers as to what lies ahead. However, he
believes that certain problems democratic countries now face will remain or even intensify. In this
chapter, he'll provide a brief sketch of several challenges facing democracy. He'll stick to older
democracies, because he believes newer democracies will eventually face the same challenges.


Market-capitalism is unlikely to be displaced. There is not much confidence in finding and
introducing a non-market system that would be more favourable to democracy and political equality
and yet efficient enough in producing goods and services among citizens. However, if corporations will
continue to exist in their current managerial despotism-like state, creating inequality due to inequal
profits and gains leading to inequality in political resources, is much less certain. Tensions between
democratic goals and market-capitalism will probably continue indefinetely.

Internationalization is likely to expand the domain of decisions made by political and
bureaucratic elites at the expense of democratic controls. The challenge posed is to make sure that the
costs to democracy are fully taken into account when decision-making is shifted to international levels
and to strengthen accountability. Whether and how to accomplish this is far from clear, according to


There have been two developments contributing to an increase in cultural diversity. First, some
citizens who experienced discrimination joined others like themselves in movements of cultural
identity aimed at preserving their rights and interests. Second, cultural diversity was magnified by an
increased number of immigrants easily distinguishable from the dominant population. Both legal and
illegal immigration will indefinetely contribute to a significant increase in cultural diversity.


Citizens receive formal education to insure literacy. Political understanding is further
augmented by the availability of relevant information. The amount of information needed is diminished
by political parties; the direction of the party is most often an extension of its past meaning voters have
less need to understand every important public issue. Due to party competition, politicians know they
will be held accountable for carrying out campaign promises and party programs. On top of that,
changes are often made step by step, not giant leaps, in order to avoid chaos. If changes are needed,
they can modify existing policy. Over time these gradual steps can produce profound changes and
occur peacefully and gain public support so they tend to endure.
Three interrelated developments seem to render the standard solution seriously deficient.
Changes in scale due to internationalization, actions that significantly affect the lives of citizens are
made over larger areas. A rise in complexity means it becomes more difficuly to understand public
affairs, outstripping the gains of higher education. Changes in Communication like telephone, TV,
radio, etc., information has become increasingly accessible to the public on even the most complex of
issues. This may however not lead to higher competence.
It is therefore essential that democratic countries improve the capacities of their citizens to
engage intelligently in political life. Older institutions need to be enhanced, drawing creatively from
new techniques and technologies of the 21st century.

If the older democracies confront and overcome their challenges in the 21 st century, they might just
transform themselves, at long last, into truly advanced democracies. The succes of the advanced
democracies would then provide a beacon for all, throughout the world, who believe in democracy.