Democracy: A Very Short Introduction
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Democracy refers to both ideal and real forms of government. The concept of democracy means that those governed – the demos – have a say in government. But different conceptions of democracy have left many out. Naomi Zack provides here a fresh treatment of the history of this idea and its key conceptions. In the ancient world, direct and representative democracy in Athens and Rome privileged elites, as did democratic deliberative bodies in Africa, India, the Middle East, and China. Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero were sceptical of mob-rule dangers of democracy. The medieval and renaissance periods saw legislative checks on monarchy, notably the Magna Carta. The social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau matched political expectations that national government be based on consent, for the benefit of those governed. The American Revolution established a new sovereignty, based on British government tradition. By contrast, the French Revolution heralded universal humanitarian ideals.
In the nineteenth century, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and Karl Marx focused on the democratization of society. Mary Wollstonecraft had championed women’s education and rights and Mill advocated further for that cause. Movements for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and labour unionization were organized. World War II brought a reset in the twentieth century, with new democratic governments for many countries, including India and South Africa, and new ideals. Karl Popper, Hannah Arendt, and John Rawls emphasized orderly government transition, inclusion, and fairness. Equalitarian goals have concerned racial and ethnic minorities, as well as women. The twenty-first century has brought fresh challenges, including disasters and uninformed electorates. Democracy among nations is a future goal.
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