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Definition of Democracy

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Definition: Democracy is literally "rule by the people". This is a dictionary definition and is not considered sharp enough for academic use. Schumpeter (1942) contrasts these two definitions below and regards only the second one as useful and plausible enough to work with:

"The eighteenth-century philosophy of democracy may be couched in the following definition: the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will." (p 250)

This "classical" definition has the problem that the will of the people is not clearly defined here (e.g. consider voting paradoxes) or known (perhaps even to the people at the time), and this can lead to ambiguity about whether a given political system is democratic. The following definition is preferred for its clarity but has a modern feel that is at some distance from the original dictionary definition. Political representation is assumed to be necessary here.

"[T]he democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote." (p 269) More clearly: the democratic method is one in which people campaign competitively for the people's votes to achieve the power to make public decisions. This definition is the sharpest.

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