On Democracy (II)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
The big picture of current notions of democracy has broader contours than the distinction between normative and empirical theories. Most compilers opt for normative approaches. Among these, two important thinkers stand out: Jürgen Habermas and Benjamín Barber. In both cases the concept of democracy is defined as self-government that is embedded in leftist thinking.
This is followed by two contributions by neoliberalism: that of Giovanni Sartori and that of James M. Buchanan leading to issues related to the link between public choice and democracy. Finally, Anne Philips shows how the debate goes beyond the opposition between deliberative and neo-liberal tendencies, although there are in fact many more contributions, such as those of Norberto Bobbio, Anthony Downs and Alain Touraine, just to mention a few.
All this is a very difficult task because the aim is to look, not at the normative debate on the principles and foundations of democracy, but at the problems that affect actual democracies. There are many brilliant thinkers, like Robert Dahl, Will Kymelicka, David Held and Giovanni Sartori, who have studied the relationship between democracy and capitalism and have created a whole treatise on the fundamental notions of the new democracies.
After reading these great authors one understands why democracy is an idea and a genuine form of government that is as great as it is problematic, because as Sartori said “a poorly understood democracy is an ineffective democracy.”