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8.1 Introduction

8.2 Democracy: Ancient and Modern

8.3 Democracy in the Modern World: Ideas and Institutions

8.4 Explaining Democracy and Democratization

8.5 Democracy and its Critics

8.6 Contemporary Challenges to Democracy

8.6.1 Development

8.6.2 Diversity

8.6.3 Gender

8.6.4 Globalization

8.7 Summary

8.8 Exercises


This Unit will make a survey of different forms of democracy historically, theoretically as well as geographically. The attempt will also be to give a range of criticisms which have been offered to the notion of democracy and democratization process. Even as it has become the most dominant principle of modern political system, democracy is still fraught with many new and contemporary challenges. A brief survey of such challenges is made towards the end of this Unit.

Most discussions of the history of democracy tend to begin with an invocation to its origins in ancient Greece. In the next section, we briefly consider the question of whether democracy in the modern world bears any similarity with democracy in ancient Greece.

Democracy has been, and continues to remain, one of the most contested concepts in the political vocabulary of the modern world. It means many different things to different people, but the fact that all manner of political regimes have sought to appropriate the label ‘democracy’ to legitimise themselves, clearly shows that it carries a positive normative connotation. Rather like justice and freedom, then, democracy is widely perceived to be a good thing, and a desirable attribute for a polity to possess. However, the task of determining which democracies are truly worthy of the name, or of distinguishing between polities in terms of the extent of democracy they have achieved, is a difficult if not impossible one. There are no universal standards to which we can appeal to decide such questions, so that ultimately, any person’s judgement or evaluation of particular democracies is necessarily predicated on the way in which s/he understands the democratic ideal.

If judging contemporary democracies is so fraught with difficulty, the task of describing the evolution of democracy in the modern world is no less contentious. Historians disagree
about the origins of modern democratic ideas, as also about the emergence of democratic

institutions. Thus, for some, the French Declaration of the Rights of Man was an early statement of democratic principles, while for others it was a manifesto of the bourgeois class which, though opposed to hierarchy based on nobility, was neither egalitarian nor democratic. Similarly, while John Locke is for some the first significant theorist of liberal- democratic ideas, for others he is at best a theorist of constitutional government (and at worst an unabashed advocate of private property rights). On this interpretation, it is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with his faith in the direct participation of the citizens in the making of laws, who is the premier philosopher of democracy.
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In 1992, 2500 years of democracy were enthusiastically celebrated all over the world. This was an unusual celebration for two reasons. Firstly, while anniversaries of statesmen, revolutions and the founding of nations are quite commonly celebrated, no other political ideal has ever been celebrated in this way. Secondly, democracy in the modern world is quite different from democracy as it was practised in ancient Greece 2500 years ago. The democratic ideas and practices with which we are here concerned are emphatically modern, but it would be useful to briefly note the chief features of democracy in the city-state of Athens (widely considered to be the most stable, enduring and model form of democracy in Greece) in ancient times.

Appropriately, the word democracy itself is of Greek origin. The Greek word demokratia is a combination of the words demos (meaning the people) and kratos (meaning power or rule). Thus, the one common principle underlying democracy in both the ancient and modern worlds is the idea of rule by the people, whether directly - through personal participation - or indirectly, through elected representatives. The important difference, of course, is in the way in which ‘the people’ were defined. In the ancient Greek polity, the ‘demos’ was rather restrictively defined, and notably excluded three main categories of persons: the slaves, women, and metics (the foreigners who lived and worked in the city-state). This meant that barely a quarter of the total population were members of the citizen body. Nevertheless, it is notable that the direct participation of a 40,000 strong citizen body was no mean achievement. The actual career of Athenian democracy was fairly troubled, as aristocrats, generals and demagogues made periodic attempts to control power. Their contempt for the poor - described as ‘the mob’ or ‘the rabble’ - finds echoes in the modern world, where democracy was achieved through struggle, and against considerable odds. Indeed, the struggle for democracy everywhere and throughout history, has been simultaneously a struggle against political inequality based on, and justified by, inequalities of birth and wealth.

At its best, however, Athenian democracy conveys an impressive picture of direct participation by citizens in the assembly which deliberated and took decisions on all policy matters, and met on as many as 300 days in the year. Citizens also participated directly in government, as they were chosen by lot to serve in official administrative and judicial positions.


The story of democracy in the modern world is not merely the story of the evolution of democratic institutions in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. An understanding of modern democracy is not possible without an account of the social and political ideas, as well as of the patterns of material development in the economic
and productive spheres of the societies in which modern democracy took birth. As one 17

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of the ‘characteristic institutions of modernity’, democracy was the result of complex and intertwined processes of ideological, social and economic change. In Britain, this change was signalled by the Industrial Revolution that began in the middle of the eighteenth century, while in France and America it was launched by the political revolutions in the last quarter of that same century.

Britain is conventionally regarded as the first modern democracy because, in the aftermath of the Civil War (1640-1649), royal absolutism was brought to an end, and powers were transferred from the crown to the two Houses of Parliament, of which one, the House of Commons, was an elected chamber. Though the franchise continued to be highly restricted - based on ownership of property - control of the executive had effectively passed to a loose coalition of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, such that political conflict was henceforth peacefully conducted between competing elites. It was only in the nineteenth century that the expansion of the suffrage took place, beginning with the enfranchisement of the upper middle classes in the Reform Act of 1832. This was followed by the gradual extension of the franchise to the working classes, largely as a response to the pressure of political struggles by the working-class and radical movements like Chartism. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and three Reform Acts later, about two-thirds of the male population stood enfranchised. It was, however, not until 1929 that women secured the right to vote, and universal adult suffrage was only fully achieved in 1948, when plural voting was abolished in favour of the principle of one-person one-vote.

As in Britain, so also in France, the achievement of universal adult suffrage was not completed until 1946. The rather more radical tradition of democracy in France was inaugurated by the French Revolution of 1789, with its stirring call of Liberty-Equality- Fraternity. The principle of popular sovereignty was crucial to the deliberations of the National Assembly. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen proclaimed the following individual rights as the natural and imprescriptible entitlements not merely of French citizens, but of ‘mankind’ at large: among others, the rights of personal liberty, freedom of thought and religion, security of property and political equality. Though the Revolution proclaimed an end to both the feudal economy and two centuries of royal absolutist rule, republican democracy in France suffered many reverses. The revolutionary constitution of 1791 established something akin to universal male suffrage (though the philosopher Condorcet and some others advocated the extension of the franchise to women, this was seen as quite contrary to public opinion), and even the property requirement for the right to vote was low enough to exclude only domestic servants, vagrants and beggars. Thus, four million male citizens won the right to vote in
1791, but four years later, more restrictive property requirements were introduced, bringing down the number of voters to just 100,000 prosperous taxpayers. Universal male suffrage was reintroduced only after the revolution of 1848.

In the United States of America, too, the advance of democracy in the aftermath of the Civil War was restricted to white men, and the enfranchisement of women, as also of indigenous and black people was not achieved until the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the Declaration of Independence (1776) was the document that simultaneously effected the legal creation of the United States of America, and that of democracy in that country. Though slavery continued to be practised until the mid-nineteenth century, the American Revolution did give the modern world its first democratic government and society. Hereditary power - of monarchy and aristocracy alike - were overthrown as republican government, in which all citizens were at least notionally equal, was put in place. An important institutional mechanism of the separation of powers between the three branches of government - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - was also effected, making it difficult for any one branch to exercise arbitrary or untrammelled power.

The ideological importance of these early - albeit limited - victories of democracy cannot be underestimated. It has been argued that the foundations of democratic ideas had been prepared by the implicit egalitarianism of the Reformation. Though the Reformation was often - as in Britain and Germany, for instance - carried through by absolute monarchical power, Protestantism nevertheless had the long-term effect of creating religious minorities, and therefore providing the grounds for doctrines of religious toleration to be articulated. The idea that God spoke directly to individuals, without the mediation of priests, also made possible and legitimate the questioning of political authority. The political ideas of the Levellers, John Locke and Tom Paine, and documents like the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), and the American Declaration of Independence (1776), expressed the important ideas and principles that have underpinned democracy in the modern world.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissole the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of natur and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to sufer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies, and such is now the necessity which constraints them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having, in direct object, the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States....

(American Declaration of Independence, 1776).

These writings and documents are also often seen as charters of liberalism, and liberalism was indeed an important handmaiden of democracy at this time. This is why it is not surprising that the beginnings of democratic theory are distinguished by a strong emphasis on the concept of liberty, rather than the concept of equality with which it later came to be identified. As their name indicates, the Levellers in seventeenth century England advanced a radical conception of popular sovereignty and civil liberties. Interrogating property ownership as the basis for political rights, they advocated a nearly universal male suffrage, though - echoing ancient Athens - servants and criminals, apart from women, were to be excluded.

John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government (1681) is an important source-book of classical liberal ideas. In this work, Locke presents an account of a hypothetical
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state of nature, governed by a Law of Nature, which mandates that no individual ought to harm another in life, health, liberty or possessions. The natural equality of men - stemming not from any equality of endowment in terms of virtue or excellence, but from the fact that they are all equally creatures of God - gives them the equal right to freedom. Though this state of nature is governed by a Law of Nature that endorses these rights, there is no agency to administer and enforce this law. Therefore, to prevent others from invading their rights or to exact retribution for such invasions, men will enforce the law as they interpret it. In a state of nature that is largely characterised by peace and mutual assistance, the absence of such an agency contains endless possibilities for conflict, and these are the chief inconveniences of the state of nature, which is therefore transcended through a social contract. This social contract, founded in the consent of every individual, is the basis of legitimate government. Civil law must now conform to the eternal rule that is natural law, and hence the purpose of political society and of government is the preservation of the life, liberty and property of individuals (and Locke accordingly supplements this account with a defence of private property). If the government fails to discharge the purposes for which it was created, the people have the right to resist and replace it. It is this statement of the core principles of classical liberalism - individualism, popular sovereignty and limited government - that provided the foundation for liberal democracy.

These principles were also celebrated in the American Declaration of Independence (1776), which followed Locke in describing as natural and inalienable the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (the last widely interpreted as an euphemism for property). The continued exclusion of slaves and women from the category of those who possessed such rights is only one example of the contradiction between the universalism of liberal principles and the selectivity of liberal practices.

The French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789) reflected the republican spirit of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in idealizing citizenship by presenting individuals as public- spirited members of a community. For Rousseau, however, representative government simply was not good enough, and the only form of free government was direct democracy in which citizens would participate directly. Of course, Rousseau was aware that gross inequalities of wealth as well as large political communities were obstacles to popular sovereignty, while liberty, welfare and public education in the context of a small city- state provided the ideal conditions for democracy.


Though liberal ideas found institutional embodiment in democracy, democracy was not simply the result of a fruitful exchange between political ideas and political institutions, confined to the domain of political action. We cannot understand the birth of democracy in Europe without some reference to the important material transformations that were taking place in these societies. Industrial capitalism created new social classes which questioned the stranglehold of the older elites, whose power was based entirely in the ownership of land, and demanded a share in political power. Gradually, the middle and working classes also became more vocal and assertive in claiming rights of political participation. States also, over prolonged period of time, engaged in military conflict with each other. These wars required higher levels of technology, the deployment of the industrial power generated in the society, and more intensive resource (in terms of extraction of taxes) and social mobilization by the state. All this gave to modern states a greater centrality in the life of their citizens than they had previously enjoyed. This centrality of the state naturally resulted in greater pressures for controlling the state and

sharing in the power and the resources that it commanded. The pressures for democratization were surely facilitated by these developments, as they were by the greater literacy, and new forms of communication and transport that made political organisation possible for groups that had, in the past, been ruled, without actually participating in ruling.

Some historians have suggested that these processes of democratization took place in the course of ‘the long nineteenth century’, the period from 1760 to 1919, beginning with the Industrial Revolution and ending with the First World War. At the inception of this period, there were no democracies, but by its end most Western states had some form of liberal democracy in operation. In Western societies, capitalist industrialization is widely believed to have been a powerful impetus to democratization. However, outside of the west, social theorists have many different explanations for the varied routes through which democratization occurs, in what sorts of historical circumstances, at what levels of material development, and so on. They have tended to search for such historical patterns to explain the nature and even durability of democracy in specific contexts, as also the past and future relationship between democracy and development.

Some scholars, like Barrington Moore, have sought to explain democratization in terms of long-term processes of historical change, especially the changing structures of power. Why, Moore asked, did England and France move towards liberal-democracy, while Japan and Germany turned to fascism, Russia and China to communism, and India proceeded in an altogether different direction. His answer was that the route to liberal democracy generally lies in a common pattern of changing relationships between peasants, lords, the urban bourgeoisie and the state. The signposts on this journey include the following: the investment of the agricultural surplus in industrial growth; a turn towards commercial agriculture and therefore greater freedom for the peasantry; a balance of power between the state and the landed aristocracy; a dynamic bourgeoisie with its own economic base leading a revolutionary break from the past; and so on.

Other scholars, also searching for a structural explanation for democratization, have argued that processes of democratization are powerfully shaped by class power, state power and transnational power. They emphasise the changing dynamics of class power in relation to the structure and form of state power, and the context of both these in transnational power, taking many diverse forms such as imperialism or economic/military dependence.

Patterns of economic development thus effect significant changes in the nature of class forces and class divisions, and both these interact with the state and political institutions to redefine society and politics. In addition, the nature of civil society, the political culture of a society, and international factors (ranging from aid to war) are also helpful in accounting for patterns of democratization. On the whole, while comparative studies can provide some illumination, it is futile beyond a point to search for a single explanation that can account for the emergence (or not) of democracy in any given country at any point in the history of the last two centuries. There is tremendous variation, across both time and space, in the forms of democracy that have evolved in different parts of the world, and no one explanation - however comprehensive - can explain them all.

This is why, though the evolution of democracy in Europe and the United States through the nineteenth century is generally treated as the exemplar of democratization, the experience of post-colonial democratization in Latin America and Asia, and of post- Communist democratization in Eastern Europe, has raised questions about the conditions under which democratic institutions take root in some countries but not in others. This is also why it is difficult to establish uniform standards for judging or comparing the nature and extent of democracy as found in the different states which claim or have
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historically claimed the label of democracy. The ‘real world of democracy’, as the political theorist C.B. MacPherson famously called it, has been populated by many variants of democracy: from bourgeois democracy to socialist and even communist versions, each of which has insisted that its form of democracy is the truest and most genuine. The eagerness with which the title of democracy is claimed points, in fact, to the unparalleled legitimacy that this form of government has come to enjoy in the modern world.

As a corollary, it is important to note that it has now come to be recognized that the link between liberalism and democracy is not a necessary one. Liberal-democracy may be seen as a historically specific form of democracy, based on a culturally specific theory of individuation. It combines liberalism as a theory of the state with democracy as a form of government. As such, for societies which attach greater significance to the community than to the individual, the democratic part of liberal-democracy (such as free elections and freedom of speech) is more universalizable than its liberal component. It has, thus, become possible today to speak not only of different paths to democracy, but also of different ways of being democratic, or even being ‘differently democratic’.

Despite these limitations, it is true that the twentieth century saw an unparalleled extension of democracy in terms of both its inclusiveness as well as its spatial expansion. Beginning with the extension of the suffrage to women in the older western democracies, and ending with the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, democracy in the twentieth century surely became more inclusive. The provenance of democracy also increased in spatial terms, as - following decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s - it was eagerly adopted by most of the new nations of Asia and Africa. Many of these new laboratories of democracy did not manage to sustain it, and in the 1990s the process of democratization met new challenges in post-Communist Eastern Europe.

It is clear, then, that the history of democracy has by no means been an uninterrupted, smooth or even process. It has been marked by successes and reversals within particular democratic societies, but it has also varied across countries and continents. At all times, it is important to keep in mind the interaction between ideas and institutions mentioned earlier. This is also true of the arguments of the critics of democracy.


Democracy has had its fair share of critics and even enemies in the modern world, no less than in ancient Greece. If the Athenians of the ancient world feared democracy as potential monocracy, the 19th century English political philosopher John Stuart Mill expressed his fear of the tyranny of the majority, which he equated with ignorance and a lack of education. Mill’s anxiety was that democracy would mean the dominance of mediocre public opinion, elbowing out dissent and creative ideas. Nevertheless, Mill significantly improved upon his intellectual inheritance of Utilitarianism by his impassioned defence of liberty and by his insistence on various welfare measures for the working classes. This gives him a special position in the liberal tradition, as the forerunner of social-democracy and the principles of the welfare-state.

The socialist critique of democracy has its origins in the writings of Karl Marx whose attitude to democracy was somewhat ambivalent. Even as he viewed bourgeois democracy as inherently flawed, on account of its class character, Marx nevertheless endorsed the battle for democracy as an important stepping-stone on the journey of the proletariat towards revolutionary change. In the Soviet Union, however, democracy was characterised as a handmaiden of capitalism, which could not be used to realise,
through peaceful means, the ascendancy of the working class.

Among the most important critics of democracy were the elite theorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, whose ideas struck a sympathetic chord in Mussolini’s fascist politics. For Mosca, all talk of democracy was ideological hogwash, because the reality was that, throughout history, society had always been divided between elites - a minority of the population which had taken the major decisions in society- and the mass of the people. The dominant minority, the ruling class, was beyond the control of the majority or the mass, which the elite theorists viewed as atomized, ignorant, politically incompetent and incapable of concerted dynamic political action. In the mid-twentieth century, this argument was taken forward in the ‘realist’ account of Joseph Schumpeter who said that the classical, eighteenth century definition of democracy (as an institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions by making the people decide issues through the election of legislators to carry out their will) was flawed because the people were ignorant, irrational and apathetic, and therefore the principle of popular sovereignty was meaningless. In a democracy, said Schumpeter, there must be recognition of the vital fact of leadership. The role of the people should be restricted to choosing their rulers through competitive elections, and thereafter leaving them to govern. This redefinition changed the purpose and the essence of democracy from that of vesting decision-making power in the electorate, to that of merely selecting representatives. The normative force of the democratic ideal was thus undermined.

Nevertheless, the equalising thrust of democratic institutions appears to have persisted. At least some of the anxieties of nineteenth century observers, that democracy would have an alarming impact in terms of revising social rankings and undercutting the power of hereditary elites, proved to be true. At the same time, however, democracy proved to have a certain power of containment of social divisions, to the extent that it provided peaceful avenues of political competition and prevented social inequalities from acquiring an explosive or violent form.


Among the important challenges to democracy at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the following may be identified :

1) Development

2) Diversity

3) Gender

4) Globalization

8.6.1 Development

Though many scholars have tried to establish a correlation between democracy and development, by exploring the extent to which democracy furthers or inhibits development, there is no conclusive evidence regarding the relationship between these. The slow pace of development in India is sometimes attributed to its adoption of democracy, while the developmental successes of the East Asian economies are attributed to their lack of democracy. However, the comparative studies undertaken by scholars present mixed results and do not conclusively establish either that democracy inhibits development or that it facilitates it. Background historical conditions, the nature of economy and society, significantly affect developmental outcomes. Logically, to the extent that people have the right to make claims upon the state and to insist that the state be responsive to their needs, democracy is potentially a
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powerful weapon against poverty and deprivation. If the poor in developing democratic societies have failed to use this weapon effectively, this should be blamed not on democracy per se, but attributed to the concentration of economic and social power that predisposes the state to act in ways that are biased in favour of dominant classes and social forces.

Further, conventional notions of development (equated with economic growth) are today being fundamentally challenged and questioned, most famously in the human development perspective of noted economist Amartya Sen. Sen has drawn attention to the importance of providing people with economic entitlements and social opportunity structures, so that they may enlarge their human capabilities and enhance their ability to determine their own life-plans. So defined, development should make political participation more meaningful, even as democracy provides channels through which people can press their claims for development upon the state.

8.6.2 Diversity

Till the middle of the 20th century, classical democratic theory was ambivalent on the question of cultural diversity. The first significant challenge of pluralism in a liberal polity was the civil rights movement in the United States. More recently, immigrant populations in Europe, as well as indigenous people in Australia, Canada and the United States, have demanded cultural recognition and community rights. These claims have pointed to an important gap in democratic theory which makes a virtue of its commitment to individual equality, but remains blind to diversity, and so does not sufficiently respect cultural plurality. This can mean that minority groups, defined in terms of their distinctive cultural or racial or ethnic identity, will suffer. Individual members of such groups may be formally entitled to equal rights in the polity, but social prejudice and lack of equal opportunity may render them less than equal. In such circumstances, the neutrality of democratic theory becomes a problem, as it prevents special consideration from being given to those citizens whose formal equality is undermined by the disadvantages and prejudices that they are subject to by virtue of their cultural identity. Hence, the state must move beyond mere tolerance, which is essentially a negative value, to affirm the value of multiculturalism.

This challenge has also been difficult to accommodate because classical democratic theory has envisaged the individual, and the individual alone, as the legitimate bearer or subject of rights. Within such theory, it has been near-impossible to conceive of groups as the bearers of rights. In recent years, the communitarian critics of liberalism have argued that individuals are not the autonomous pre-social creatures that liberal theory makes them out to be. Rather, they are formed and constituted by the traditions and communities in which they are located. Hence, minorities must be given group rights in order that their cultures may be protected from assimilation by the dominant culture.

8.6.3 Gender

It is notable that, even in Europe, the home of liberal-democratic theory, the granting of the suffrage to women has been a slow process. Switzerland gave women the right to vote as recently as 1971. Even today, women in Kuwait do not possess this right. In many countries where they do possess democratic political rights, women continue to lack political and economic power. In 1993, it was estimated that women owned only
1 percent of the world’s property and earned 10 percent of world income. Women
account for barely 4 percent of the heads of state across the world, and 5 percent of cabinet ministers/national policy-makers. In national legislatures, they accounted for just 10 percent.

Early feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft had invoked essentially liberal notions of equality and universal individual rights to buttress the claim of women to equal rights of citizenship. Today, almost a century after female suffrage was first granted, it is clear that franchise alone had a limited potential to transform women’s lives, leading ‘second-wave’ feminists to question the apparent gender-neutrality of the liberal conception of the individual citizen.

There are two important aspects of the feminist challenge to democracy. Firstly, feminist arguments have pointed to the male-centred character of democratic theory and institutions. The customary division between the private and the public realm, feminists argue, tends to relegate women to the private sphere characterized by subordination to patriarchal power and lack of freedom, while democracy is restricted to the essentially male-oriented public sphere. Despite ostensibly universal and gender-neutral categories of citizenship, women have continued to suffer subordination and exclusion, both within and outside the family. The availability of rights is further severely compromised for those belonging to subordinate social groups (e.g., racial or religious or linguistic minorities or lower castes in India), and especially so for women belonging to these groups. Even in their most minimal and negative conception, rights are frequently not available to large numbers of women. Let alone the right to make meaningful choices about one’s life in accordance with one’s conception of self-realization, basic civil and political liberties are routinely denied or severely constrained. These include, variously, the free exercise of the right to franchise, freedom of association and movement, the right to be elected, reproductive rights, etc.

This is why feminists have sought, secondly, to ‘engender’ democracy, by providing for greater participation for women in political processes, if need be by quota-based reservations in political parties or legislatures. The case for quotas is often justified by an appeal to Anne Phillips’ argument that a politics of ideas (political choice between the policies and programmes of political parties, rather than on the basis of group concerns and interests) does not ensure adequate policy concern for groups which are marginalised or excluded. This suggests the importance of a politics of presence, in which women, ethnic minorities and other similarly excluded groups are guaranteed fair representation. In this way, feminists have attempted to rework the theory of democratic representation.

8.6.4 Globalization

The institutions of democracy as we have known it are inextricably linked to the idea of the sovereign and territorially defined modern nation-state. So are its principles and practices, whether these pertain to the nature of citizenship or the idea of self-governance through consent and representation. Thus, a democratic political community is assumed to be one whose borders are coterminous with those of a territorial nation-state. To the extent that it entails transcending national borders, globalization is increasingly changing all this. Globalization, as we know, increases the intensity of transnational flows of trade, finance, capital, technology, information and even culture. In so doing, it makes it difficult for democratic governments - particularly in the countries of the South - to control their own affairs internally and in a self-contained way. The new institutions of global governance, such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organization, perform regulatory functions but are not themselves organised in ways that are democratic or accountable. On the contrary, they reflect and reinforce the asymmetries of global power relations.

However, even as the forces of global capital and global institutional power place limits on democracy as it is practised within nation-states, globalization and the
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information flows made possible by it do have a certain democratising potential too. One of the most striking examples of this is the phenomenon called ‘global civil society’, a term that describes the organizations, associations and movements which cut across national boundaries, and generate new types of political solidarities around issues of environmental degradation, or women’s oppression, or human rights. Of course, these movements and organizations are often criticised because they are themselves unaccountable. Another form of supranational democracy and citizenship is found in the creation of regional organizations like the European Union, which seek to advance models of ‘cosmopolitan democracy’ beyond the nation-state. Cosmopolitan democrats believe that the era of the sovereign state is coming to an end, and there are transformative possibilities in globalization and regionalization which can lead us towards greater and more substantive democratization. Thus, while many people believe that the nation-state is the most suitable site for the practice of democracy, there are others who argue that since the practice of power in the world is being rapidly transformed, the mechanisms of democracy have also to be revisioned and possibly redesigned.


As we have seen, the evolution and the practice of democracy in the modern world have varied greatly. Each of the nation-states that today claims to be democratic has arrived at its own distinctive form of democracy by a quite distinctive route. History, society and economy are powerful influences shaping democracy, as are democratic ideas and ideals. It is a mix of the material and the ideological that must explain democracy anywhere. Both, further, are dynamic forces: material conditions change, but so do the ideas and visions of what is a democratic, egalitarian and participatory society, and how it may be brought into existence. In this sense, the struggle for democracy is never concluded; it just constantly assumes new forms.


1) Differentiate between the ancient and modern forms of democracy.

2) Briefly discuss the historical process of democratization.

3) What are the problems with the principles of democracy? Outline different schools’
criticisms in this respect.

4) What are the contemporary concerns of democratic politics?



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1.6 Conclusion

1.7 Key concepts

1.8 References and Further Reading

1.9 Activities


After studying this unit, you should be able to:

• Understand the concept of Democratic Decentralization;

• Know the evolution and significance of Democratic Decentralization; and

• Describe the Democratic Decentralization pattern in India.


The dawn of 21st century is marked by decentralized governance both as a strategy and philosophy of brining about reforms and changes in democracies. These changes led to such virtues of transparency, responsiveness and accountability and ensures good governance. Today decentralization and democracy are the most significant themes in the development discourse. In the present contex…