Models of Democracy: Challenges and opportunities
Title: Models of Democracy: Challenges and opportunities
Author: DELLA PORTA, Donatella
Citation: Teoria Politica, nuova serie, 2011, I, 1, 341-350
External link: http://www.teoriapolitica.com/en/
Recent reflections on democratic crises address mainly some specific characteristics of Western democracies: the full sovereignty of the nation state, party democracies, and well-established welfare states. However, these characteristics have been challenged in the evolution of the political and the societal fabric at the turn of the millennium. Although a narrative concerning the crisis of democracy has been long widespread, a sort of counter-narrative has nonetheless started to develop that stresses the opportunities that some recent transformations bring about for democracy. This accompanies a growing attention to the need to balance the perceived crisis of the representative (electoral) conception of democracy with a sort of revival of other conceptions that, although far from hegemonic, belong to deep-rooted traditions in both democratic thinking and the development of democratic institutions that go beyond electoral accountability. In order to capture the challenges and opportunities for democracy in transformations, we have to distinguish different conceptions and practices of democracy. In this direction, the article builds a typology based on two dimensions. The first dimension refers to the recognition of conflict as an integral part of democracy; a second one looks at the construction of political identities as exogenous versus endogenous to the democratic process (which I do not consider as limited to the state institutions, but as enlarged to include interactions within the civil society). Crossing the two dimensions the article singles out four different models of democracy. Liberal democracy assumes identities that are built outside of the democratic process, which channels them inside the political system. While of course interests differ, a broad consensus is assumed among compatible interests, and conflicts tend to be considered as negative, as they risk overloading the system. This liberal conception of democracy has been challenged by social movement scholars (among others), who considered conflict as a fundamental and dynamic element of our societies. There is however a second alternative to liberal conceptions of democracy that has stressed consensus as a basis for the formation of collective identities. The need to combine attention to the formation of identities as endogenous to the political process (with deliberation inside counterpublics) with the presence of conflicts is instead recognized by the theoreticians of participatory forms of deliberation.
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