🦋 Rescuing an abandoned science: the lexicon of democracy

The study of democracy: a shambles

In 1950, Robert Morrison MacIver wrote that ‘there are few books to which we can turn… that seriously try to enlighten us about the nature of democracy’. It was from this need that two important books were published. These were Robert Dahl’s Preface to Democratic Theory and Henry Mayo’s Introduction to Democratic Theory.

‘Unshambling’ democracy

The most promising way of approaching the total texture of democracy is through words, and the publications in which they appear. ‘Representative democracy’, for example, appears in tens of thousands of publications; ‘Waldorf democracy’ in about four. We can find the meanings of democracy, and the practices they foster, within those publications.

So far, so arbitrary

Without this mountain of data, our answer to the question ‘What is democracy?’ is strictly tied to ourselves and what we personally know — which means our answers are arbitrary.

Democratic innovation

Basic research on the lexicon of democracy encourages democratic innovation. This could be lunar democracy’s requirement that we govern our largest satellite democratically. It might be Hélène Landemore’s theory of ‘open democracy’, which asks us to increase the ‘democraticity’ of all our institutions. The more words we know, the more democratic possibilities we have to work with.

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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”