🦋 On different ways to intend democracy, and to study it

Connecting the different strands

In my understanding, Sartori might have been more upset about the absence of a fully-fledged theory of democracy. More specifically, I think his claim that the study of democracy was ‘largely single-issue minded’ and left us with ‘splendid fragments in splendid isolation’ had to do with the burgeoning developments of different strands of democratic thought. As great as they were, these strands struggled to connect with each other, and with past work. To Sartori, a mainstream view of democracy was no longer there, and he thought it imperative to rebuild it.

Conceptual plurality

Yet I don’t think the absence of a singular theory of democracy is a genuine problem. I believe it is beneficial to look at complex phenomena from a variety of viewpoints. At the time Sartori was writing, the idea of developing a single theory might have made more sense. Today, it is more problematic to think that way, as more and more thinkers are challenging the paradigmatic understanding of democracy.

Gagnon’s approach might be just as partial as others

Gagnon wants to create and study a mountain of data to learn from words what democracy means. I see his point. Someone acutely aware of the diverse conceptions characterising democracies might feel compelled to look for an encompassing understanding of democracy.

What Gagnon’s data mountain can do

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the developments Gagnon is pointing at. Indeed, I agree with him on the importance of capturing democratic words scattered around the world (granted that the most interesting ones might not be the ones expressed in the English language). I also believe there is great value in giving them a narrative. At the same time, I also like other current efforts to approach democratic theory. And I tend to prefer those developing narratives that are unashamedly limited and plural.



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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”