🦋 Beyond words: rescuing the democratic ideal

Beyond words

A word does not a democracy make. The concept of democracy is based on a clear and essential ideal that we can use to distinguish between political systems in the real world: the rule of the people.

Democracy as a human right

But operationalisations and practical implementations of democracy in the real world do not change the meaning of the concept itself, or the ideal we strive towards, notwithstanding Joseph Schumpeter’s elitist argument to that effect. Any political concept will have diverse manifestations in the real world. That does not rob them of their essential meaning.

A very real ideal

This is by no means an empty or abstract ideal. Of course it has, is and will always be, realised to varying degrees in real-world communities. But it is still an important yardstick by which we can judge a political system.

Unequal ‘democracies’

In this light, Gagnon’s butterflies are useful. They help us understand the myriad ways in which the ideal of democracy has manifested itself in the real world in different cultures and contexts, and how we might implement it in new and exciting ways. As Eva Krick points out, organising the butterflies into coherent narratives about different forms of democracy are necessary next steps in Gagnon’s project. These steps could enlighten us all about the diversity of democracies in the real world.



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The Science of Democracy

The Science of Democracy

Republished essays, in chronological order, from The Loop’s short essay series on the “science of democracy”