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Normative and Empirical Questions (text chapters 7 and 8)

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1 Normative and Empirical Questions (text chapters 7 and 8)
Democracy: Normative and Empirical Questions (text chapters 7 and 8)

2 Goals for this section This presentation incorporates the material from both chapters 7 and 8 of the text. Chapter 7 deals (in the main) with what we have termed normative approaches to the study of democracy, while chapter 8 focuses on more empirical questions. Broadly, chapter 7 asks the question, “what is democracy?”, while chapter 8 focuses on the issue of “how do we organize democracy?”. You should be able to articulate some of the main themes that theorists of democracy have addressed over the millenia, both in terms of the nature and organization of democracy. You should have an in-depth understanding of what Sodaro terms the four faces of democracy (see text, page 164). You should be able to discuss the question of the measurement of democracy (covered in this presentation) You should know the difference between the organization of democracy into either presidential or parliamentary regimes.

3 By way of introduction…
Although we don’t think about it much, there is a somewhat strange nature of democracy. According to the political theorist, David Held, (Models of Democracy, 1987), there are two curious and rather paradoxical features of democracy: As an idea, democracy is old, dating back to the ancient Greeks (at least). But most political theorists in the interim – even some of the greats like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, have been critical of both the theory and practice of democracy. As Held states in the introduction to his book, a “united commitment to democracy is a very recent phenomenon” (p.3). As a practice democracy re-emerged in the 19th century, after almost 2,000 years, but proved to be very fragile and unstable. Only a handful of countries can claim to have uninterrupted experience of democracy. As a point for discussion; what uninterrupted democracies can you think of? Why do you think that democracy has proved to be so fragile and unstable? We will come back to these points, but it is worth thinking about now.

4 The Four Faces of Democracy
In an attempt to try and sketch out the basic lines of democracy, Sodaro proposes that we might think about it in terms of ‘four aspects, or faces’ (text, page 164). These four faces encapsulate themes that great theorists of politics and democracy have written about over many centuries. Each of the four faces can be thought of as variable, with a minimum, a maximum, and a mid-point. The next few slides lay this scheme out graphically; you can use these as an accompaniment to the text. However, as you read this section carefully, you should keep two questions in mind. Again, these are useful points for discussion; These dimensions are what we call ideal types. Nothing in them is fixed, so whether we prefer a minimum or maximum variant is a matter of choice. How can we collectively make those choices? What are the trade-offs between these faces? Are they complimentary, or are there some mutually exclusive aspects of them? These are really profound questions and, because they are normative in nature, there is no clear-cut answer. However, they are a really good starting point for a debate about the possibilities and limits of democracy. As you look at the graphic on the next page, make sure that you understand the concepts used in each box. They are explained fully in the text.

5 Four faces of democracy
Key Features Minimum Variant Intermediary Values Maximum I: Popular Sovereignty Participation, Accountability Representative Democracy Plebiscitary democracy; Techno-democracy Direct II: Civil Rights and Liberties Enumerated, Inalienable rights Basic civil Additional “Positive” III: Democratic values Majority and minority Non- discrimination Tolerance, compromise Affirmative action IV: Economic democracy Distribution of wealth and Economic Decision-making power Equity and laissez-faire Equality of opportunity; Electoral democracy plus Welfare state condition; Workplace (council democracy)

6 Normative Theorists Each of these faces is derived from a long history of political philosophy in the West. To give you a sense of who contributed to what, I have prepared the following list; Popular Sovereignty – Edmund Burke, James Madison, Jean-Jacques Rousseau Civil rights and liberties – John Locke, John Stuart Mill, John Rawls Democratic Values – Aristotle, Alexis de Tocqueville, Isiah Berlin Economic Democracy – Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Prudhon If you are interested, you might think about looking up some of these theorists and reading about their lives and work. You can find many in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (

7 Popular Sovereignty Minimum Maximum Direct Democracy Representative
Plebiscitary Democracy (techno democracy)

8 Civil Rights and Liberties
Minimum Maximum Positive Rights Basic rights Additional Rights

9 Democratic Values Minimum Maximum Affirmative Action
Non-discrimination Tolerance, Compromise

10 Economic Democracy Minimum Maximum Equality Equity Equality of
of condition Equity Equality of opportunity

11 What are the basic conditions of democracy?
To summarize the complex discussion in the last few slides, we might suggest that there are three basic conditions of democracy that co-exist with the faces that we have looked at. At some level, no matter whether we prefer the minimum or maximum variant of any one of these faces, everybody committed to the idea of democracy can agree that it encompasses the following things; The freedom to choose government. The ability to hold government accountable. Constitutional limitations on the power of government. Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn, and generate some topics for discussion.

12 The Freedom to Choose The primary normative question is; what are the best mechanisms by which we can choose our government? For example, traditional (non-democratic) societies chose government through ascriptive mechanisms (age, divine right, etc.). What institutions might best replace these in democratic societies. Elections? Meritocracy (the best get to rule)? Lottery? What do you think?

13 Accountability The primary normative question: how should we hold our government accountable? For example, should government representatives be considered “delegates” (that is, they do exactly what we want when they are in office) or “trustees” (they do what they think is best, given that they have access to more information and may have better judgment)? How do we ensure that no-one is above the law? Recall elections? Petitions? Again, these are all good topics for discussion.

14 Limits on government The primary normative question: where does government end and ‘civil society’ begin (or, put another way, how much power should government have?)? For example, classic liberal thought has made a distinction between the ‘public’ and the ‘private’ sphere (going back to Aristotle). But where does this end? (e.g. the modern feminist slogan “The personal is political”). It would be interesting to discuss some of these ideas with others in the course.

15 The Empirical Approach
Democracy The Empirical Approach

16 Some basic questions How do we measure democracy? Can we produce a standardized rating of the “degree of democracy” in all countries? (This discussion is not in the text, but it is useful to think about whether we can translate the principles that we have just discussed into specific measurements. As we shall see, it is not so easy!). How can we organize the institutions of democracies? How do we ensure the representative character of democracies?

17 The Measurement of Democracy
Many observers of democracy think that it would be nice to be able to measure it. Policy makers like this idea as well. As an example; it would be really useful, according to some, if we could link foreign aid to democratic development. But in order to do this, the implication is that we need to have some standard by which we can measure democracy. However, the attempt to measure democracy has generated a lot of debate among empirical researchers. For example, “[I]t has been easier for researchers to agree on the general characteristics of democracy than how to measure it” (Vanhanen, ‘A New Dataset for Measuring Democracy, ’, Journal of Peace Research, 2000, p.252) Let’s look at the issue in some further detail.

18 Questions in the Measurement of Democracy
Is this dichotomous (meaning that we would be able to classify democracies as a 1, non-democracies as a 0), scalar (we could measure degrees of democracy on a scale of, say, 1 to 5), or a continuum (the higher the number, the more democracy. Note that this implies that democracy can never be perfect, as such a measure would tend toward infinity)? An example of dichotomous measures include Robert Dahl’s polyarchy measure. An example of a scalar approach is the Polity project (Ted Robert Gurr) An example of a continuum is Vanhanen’s Index of Democracy Let’s look at each one in turn, and then discuss the strengths and weaknesses.

19 Robert Dahl’s Polyarchy Measure
We have seen Dahl before; he was the person who coined the term polyarchy in the 1960’s. Since then, he has tried to show how we could use the concept of polyarchy to classify systems as either democratic or non-democratic. Dahl’s measure of democracy combines two indicators, each measured on a scale between 1 and 7 – rights and liberties. The actual information is taken from the data gathered by Freedom House. Thus, the theoretical score ranges from 2 – 14 (attained by adding the two scores together). Dahl then introduces a cut-point; the cut-off for being considered polyarchical is 7 (above = democratic, 7 or below is non-democratic). In 2000, Dahl ranked 60 out of 192 as meeting that threshold (31%)

20 Polity Ratings The Polity project, which has been in existence since the 1970’s, generates ratings based on (a) a democracy scale, composed of four sub-scales [political participation, competitiveness, openness, and constraints on chief executive], and (b) an autocracy scale, based on four sub-scales [lack of competition, regulation of political participation, lack of competitiveness, and lack of constraints]. The autocracy scale is then subtracted from the democracy scale. It is interesting to note that the assumption built into this approach is that a system can have features of both democracy and non-democracy at the same time; so, for example, it can have certain elements of democratic political participation and elements of non-democratic participation at once. This is impossible in Dahl’s dichotomous approach. The resulting scale runs from –10 to +10, -10 being purely undemocratic and +10 being purely democratic.

21 Vanhanen’s Index of Democracy
The index of democracy (ID) is based on three main variables; the degree of competition, degree of participation, and a combined measure of degree of distribution of power. Each of these is measured on an open ended scale, and is composed of a number of sub-indicators, such as the number of major political parties (competitiveness), the amount of electoral abstention (participation), or turnover of seats in the legislature (distribution of power). The resultant ranking, according to Vanhanen, “forms a continuum from very high index values to zero values”. The higher a country scores on the index, the more democratic is that country. The next slide shows the position of some countries on this index… note the position of the United States and the position of Turkey and Iran!

22 Vanhanen’s Index of Democracy
43 Zero Haiti = 0.9 USA = 17.1 Slovakia = 43.5 Iran = 19.1 Switzerland = 19.0 Jamaica =12.5 Turkey = 31.8

23 A comparison of the measures
Dahl’s measure is based on the Freedom House rankings, and largely focuses on what we call ‘civil society’ (which is basically faces 2 and 3 of Sodaro’s 4 faces). The Polity measure is largely subjective, and focuses on the institution of the executive. It is also fairly cumbersome. The Vanhanen measure focuses on observed measures of participation (face 1), and is relatively parsimonious. However, some might object that the results are a bit odd and lack credibility. None of the measures includes face 4 of the faces of democracy (economic democracy). Elements of this may be found in things like the United Nations Human Development Index, which can be found at However, this is not, strictly speaking, a measure of democracy. To conclude this discussion; none of the measures seems fully satisfactory. However, it is probably still a useful exercise to think about how we might actually measure democracy. For further discussion; what elements would you want to include in a measure of democracy? How would you get the information for all the countries in the world?

24 The Organization of Democracy
In chapter 8 of the text, the author turns to an examination of the principle ways in which we organize democracies. We should note that there is nothing ‘magical’ about these forms, but they are in part a result of the choices that societies have made and in part a derivative of the practice of democracy over the years. As noted on page 185, two basic systems can be distinguished for containing the institutions of democracy: Presidential systems Parliamentary systems In addition, there is a sub-type (rare), the mixed presidential-parliamentary system.

25 The Principles of Parliamentary Democracy
The principles of presidential government are fairly familiar to us, and are briefly reviewed in the text. However, parliamentary government is much less familiar to Americans, and we should briefly think about the main principles that lie behind it. We should also note that parliamentarianism is by far and away the most common type of democratic system in the world. Parliament is elected and sovereign Parliament selects the executive (“The Cabinet”) The cabinet retains executive power only as long as it retains the “confidence” of parliament Usually the head of the executive retains the power to disband parliament and call for elections There is no separation of power between the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. This is a hard concept for many Americans to grasp, as the separation of power is one of the most fundamental building blocks of presidential government. Let us quickly look at each of these principles in turn…

26 The sovereignty of parliament
In Britain, this was established as early as 1688 (in the so-called ’Glorious Revolution’) and, although unwritten, is part of the evolutionary nature of the British system. In this sense, Britain can claim to be one of the oldest democracies in the world. In Germany, the sovereignty of parliament is inscribed in the so-called ‘Basic Law’ that forms the basis of the constitution. In practice, what this means is that no other institution of government, not even the courts, can challenge the ultimate authority of the legislature.

27 Parliament selects the Executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet)
In Britain by tradition, this is always the head of the majority party. So, after an election, the Queen formally calls upon the leader of the largest party to become prime minister. The system works because Britain traditionally experiences majoritarian government (i.e. when one party holds the majority, not the plurality, of the seats in the legislature) In Germany, there have been more instances of coalition government than single-party majoritarian government. Where no party has a majority, the President of the country – which is otherwise a largely ceremonial position - generally ‘invites’ the leader of the largest party to try to form a coalition. If unsuccessful, the President may turn to the leader of another party.

28 The Prime Minister and Cabinet must retain the confidence of parliament
In Britain, a simple ‘motion of no-confidence’ is need to make the PM resign. Although not constitutionally obligated, government would be unworkable if he/she did not. Why? Because if there was a majority that consistently voted against the prime minister, nothing would get done; the prime minister ultimately has no power except that which is delegated to him or her by the legislature (no separation of powers). In Germany, there is what is called a ‘positive vote of no-confidence’ inscribed in the constitution. A PM only has to resign if the vote of no confidence also designates a successor. This is intended to make it a bit more difficult for parliament to dismiss the prime minister, so as to guarantee a little more stability to the system.

29 The PM can call for ‘snap’ elections
All parliamentary countries have an established term for parliament, generally somewhere between four years (Germany) and six years (Britain). However, the executive (prime minister) may retain the right to dismiss parliament when and if they wish to, and to call for an election at any time. In Britain, in fact, the date of the election is always set by the prime minister, with the only rule being that the life of one parliament may not exceed five full years. Usually, the PM will only exercise this option if it appears that (a) his/her party will win the election, or (b) government appears to be becoming unworkable. Examples: Margaret Thatcher, 1983 and 1987, Tony Blair 2005. In some countries, this is not an option (e.g. Sweden)

30 There is no separation of power
It does not make any real sense in a full parliamentary system to think about the separation of powers. IN every parliamentary system, examples can be found that show that there is no such thing. In Britain, the highest court of the land is the Law Lords, who actually sit as members of the House of Lords (which is the second chamber of parliament). Thus, technically, the law lords are also part of the parliamentary system. This is extremely confusing to us in the United States, where we are used to such things as judicial independence and judicial review. In Germany, the President (mostly ceremonial, but with the power to invite a party leader to try and form a government) is chosen by the parliament. Again, this seems plain odd to us!

31 The Organization of Parliament
Parliaments themselves may be organized in different ways. Some common distinctions that are to be found include the number of chambers and the powers that they have. Unicameralism versus bicameralism (unicameralism is relatively unusual, although it does exist in some countries, e.g. Sweden) Bicameralism: houses may have ‘co-equal powers’ (relatively rare) or, more normally, unequal powers. The lower house always has more power, while the upper house may have varying degrees of checking power. In Britain, the upper house (the House of Lords) has extremely limited powers In Germany, the Bundesrat (the upper house) has fairly extensive powers, although is not co-equal (the Senate and the House of Representatives are generally considered to be co-equal).

32 The Correlates of Parliamentary Government
What are the effects of parliamentary governments? Or, put another way, can we decide, on the evidence, which form of government is the best (presidential, parliamentary, or mixed?). Actually, we can look at all the democratic countries in the world, separate them out into these groups, and then see if any common patterns emerge. On the basis of this, we have found that there are certain advantages and disadvantages of parliamentary government. Advantages: effectiveness and efficiency (legislation gets passed much faster), clear lines of responsibility Disadvantages: protection of minorities, the potential for instability in coalition governments Discussion point; which system do you think is best? Why? Is this on the basis of sound facts, or is it just a part of your ‘belief system’?

33 Coalition Governments, Instability, and “Duverger’s Law”
As Sodaro mentions in the text, a great deal of what happens in a parliamentary system is ultimately linked to the type of election system used. We know for sure that different types of election system lead to different outcomes. In general, single-member district, majoritarian systems (SMD) tend to produce two parties. Proportional representation systems tend to produce many parties.. This is know as “Duverger’s Law”, after the great French political scientist Maurice Duverger. This is a bit of a curiosity; after all, we think that we have two main parties in the United States because that is what people want. But it might be as much to do with the kind of electoral system that we use as anything else!

34 Types of Election System
SMD – Single Member District Plurality (sometimes called the ‘winner takes all’ system). Advantages: simple, intuitive, produces two-party system Disadvantages: discriminates against small parties (such as the Greens, libertarians, etc.), and is not really an accurate representation of votes Proportional Representation (PR) Advantages – very fair, small parties get representation, is an accurate translation of votes into seats Disadvantages: May lead to fragmentation of party system, instability, lack of local representation (no districts in its purest form). PR is sometimes modified by (a) hurdles, and (b) districts.

35 Which electoral system is fairer?
Empirical research emphasizes the outcomes and effects of electoral systems, not the fairness of those systems. We might ask the question: is fairness simply a normative concept? Electoral specialists often point to something called Condorcet’s Paradox (after the great French mathematician and politician). The paradox states that, “If three individuals are faced with three competing choices, it may be impossible to determine the will of the majority”. In the 20th century, this was elaborated by Kenneth Arrow, and we now sometimes refer to the problem of creating majorities in democracies as Arrow’s Theorem. Arrow, by the way, won the Nobel prize in economics for his work.

36 So can fairness be treated empirically?
NO – if we are to think of it in terms of an abstract standard by which outcomes treat all parties equally. YES – if fairness is defined as either (a) accurately translating seats into votes, or (b) creating conditions under which a ‘winner’ may govern effectively.

37 Alternatives to either SMDP or PR
Not mentioned in the text are some fairly esoteric alternatives to these electoral systems. A couple that are to be found are; Single Transferable Vote, so-called STV (Ireland) Preference Voting Systems (Australia) Approval Voting (found nowhere, although some claim that this is actually the fairest kind of election system). You can amuse yourself by looking at some advocacy groups for this on the internet, including: For further discussion; do you think that it would be a good idea to reform the electoral system of the United States? Some argue that this would be much more effective than term limits in producing genuine competition for house and senate seats.


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