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In 2010 Milja Kurki explained that although scholars recognize that democracy is described in a variety of ways, they do not typically engage with its many and diverse descriptions. My aim in this agenda-setting research note is to tackle this quandary by first providing a minimum empirical account of democracy’s descriptions (i.e., a catalogue of 2,234 adjectives that have been used to describe democracy) and secondly by suggesting what democracy studies may gain by compiling this information. I argue that the catalogue of descriptors be applied in four ways: (1) drilling down into the meaning of each description, (2) making taxonomies, (3) rethinking the phenomenology of democracy, and (4) visualizing democracy’s big data. Each of the four applications and their significance is explained in turn. This research note ends by looking back on the catalogue and its four applications.
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Democratic Theory
Volume 5, Issue 1, Summer 2018: 92–113
doi: 10.3167/dt.2018.050107 ISSN 2332-8894 (Print), ISSN 2332-8908 (Online)
2,234 Descriptions of Democracy
An Update to Democracy’s
Ontological Pluralism
Jean-Paul Gagnon
Abstract: In 2010 Milja Kurki explained that although scholars recognize
that democracy is described in a variety of ways, they do not typically engage
with its many and diverse descriptions. My aim in this agenda-setting research
note is to tackle this quandary by rst providing a minimum empirical account
of democracy’s descriptions (i.e., a catalogue of 2,234 adjectives that have
been used to describe democracy) and secondly by suggesting what democ-
racy studies may gain by compiling this information. I argue that the catalogue
of descriptors be applied in four ways: (1) drilling down into the meaning of
each description, (2) making taxonomies, (3) rethinking the phenomenology
of democracy, and (4) visualizing democracy’s big data. Each of the four appli-
cations and their signicance is explained in turn. This research note ends by
looking back on the catalogue and its four applications.
Keywords: adjectives of democracy, big data, denitions of democracy,
democracy, democracy studies, democratic theory, philosophy of democ-
racy, types of democracy
Over the last two hundred years (see Supplement A in the online issue
for evidence) it has been noted that there are many, if not “hundreds”
(Collier and Levitsky 1997: 430–431) of ways to describe democracy. Yet
we have made these recognitions about democracy’s ontological plural-
ism (the view, as Turner [2012] explains, that a thing can exist in the
world in many forms) without exactly knowing the minimum extent
of democracy’s descriptions. More importantly, we do not know what
such knowledge might add to the field of democracy studies. As Milja
Kurki (2010) explains, scholars often recognize democracy’s ontological
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 93
pluralism but do not engage with it. Kurki goes on to say that this is
perhaps a case of intellectuals shirking their duty to engage with onto-
logical diversity. I believe another barrier has been that we do not have a
catalogue or even an approximate estimation for the number of descrip-
tions (i.e., theories, models, definitions, conceptions, ideations, itera-
tions, illustrations, practices, names, frames, forms, etc.) that have been
ascribed to democracy.1 There is a practical reason for this lack. As we
will see, constructing such a catalogue requires access to vast amounts
of literature and the ability to search through it quickly.2 Constructing
this catalogue may reveal, as Aristotle (Ward 2008: 205) supposed, one
or more underlying unities about democracy. This in turn could satisfy
Guizot (1839: 7), who beseeches us from the past for a scientific defini-
tion of democracy, and satiate Tocqueville, who once asked for a clearer
definition of democracy so that people will not “live in an inextricable
confusion of ideas, much to the advantage of demagogues and despots”
(quoted in Sartori 1987: 3).
Giovanni Sartori (2004: 786) oers a dierent reason for why we rec-
ognize but do not engage with democracy’s ontological pluralism. He
says it is, at least in part, a symptom of the “belittlement of definitions
[or descriptions]” that is entrenched in the American tradition of political
science. Sartori sees three problems with this belittlement: “First, since
definitions declare the intended meaning of words, they ensure that we
do not misunderstand each other. Second, words are also, in our research,
our data containers. Therefore if our data containers are loosely defined
our facts will be misgathered. Third, to define [or describe] is first of all to
assign limits, to delimit.”
Sartori is concerned about the proliferation of neologisms, epithets,
and adjectives for democracy and has worked to counter this trend (e.g.,
Sartori 1987). His eorts have, however, been premature because he did
not first cast a wide enough net when he sought to capture all of the
claims about what democracy is. It is undoubtedly important to be pre-
cise with our descriptions of democracy. But it is equally important to
know which descriptions exist, which are valuable to us now, and which
should be removed from the canon. Further to this, not knowing the
number of ways democracy is described means that we are unable to
consider democracy’s definitions, data containers, and delimitations as a
whole. Much as an archaeologist would spread out what she presumes to
be the many pieces of a shattered artefact on a table, a scholar of democ-
racy needs to identify and interrogate, and compare and contrast each
description of democracy in turn. This will help us understand how these
descriptions make up the whole and how many of democracy’s neolo-
gisms are formed. I believe the “belittlement of definitions” in American
94 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
political science is a symptom of having to make do without an empiri-
cally grounded understanding of democracy’s descriptors rather than it
being inherent to the discipline’s character.
The lack of a comprehensive corpus of knowledge about democracy,
one that would give scholars a more logical first position or point of de-
parture in their study of democracy, inevitably means that our facts about
democracy are misgathered. We are presently unable to interrogate de-
scriptions of democracy from inside a coherent and ecumenical corpus
of knowledge about it. Such an interrogation would enable us to see,
for example, what information each description of democracy includes
and excludes (i.e., what makes the description unique), whether two or
more descriptions are in fact delimiting the same information and should
therefore be consolidated into one, or if a description of democracy is a
false positive—that it is not describing democracy but rather coopting its
meaning for other, potentially nefarious purposes, as arguably happens
with despotic democracy, autocratic democracy, totalitarian democracy,
and populist democracy.
Kurki argues that this gap in scholarship has real—and negative—
consequences because it means scholars either implicitly or explicitly ad-
vance certain descriptions of democracy at the expense of others. Kurki’s
analysis is mirrored in the literature critical of democracy promotion by
the United States (Jahn 2012) and European Union (Gillespie and Youngs
2002: 10) or, conversely, by mainland China (Bryant and Chou 2016; Chou,
Pan, and Poole 2016) and Russia (Salmenniemi 2012: 81), which each pro-
mote distinct models of democracy, such as liberal democracy, neoliberal
democracy, or even authoritarian/illiberal democracy (Huntington 1996:
9; Zakaria 1997). An insistence on specific models of democracy can con-
strain the ability of citizens in parts of the world to cultivate alternate
models that may be equally legitimate, if not more so. It restrains and
constrains their ability to counterpromote democracy with democracy
(Rosanvallon 2008; Rosanvallon and Gagnon 2014). Therefore, by enforc-
ing specific descriptions of democracy, scholars may be doing a disservice
to dierent ideas or practices of it out of ignorance. If Kurki is correct—
and my sense is that she is—then providing an empirical update to de-
mocracy’s ontological pluralism holds the potential to uncover dynamics
of power in the knowledge of democracy (Bueger 2015; Hedstrom and
King 2005). Understanding these dynamics could help us determine how
certain descriptions of democracy are dominating others—both in epi-
stemic (i.e., how do we know about democracy and why do we know it
in these ways and not in other ways) and practical terms (i.e., how do we
practice democracy and why do we practice it in these ways and not in
other ways).
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 95
Taking this treatment of Kurki and Sartori together, it is clear that
not engaging with democracy’s ontological pluralism has produced a sig-
nificant blind spot in democracy studies, for how can one know democ-
racy without first knowing what is known about it?
Robert Dahl (1956: xix) helps us understand why this blind spot exists
and persists. In his view democracy scholarship traditionally provides “to
some extent arbitrary” descriptions of democracy. Arbitrary because the
descriptions do not come from a comprehensive, empirically derived cor-
pus of democracy’s descriptions; rather, our descriptions come from a po-
sition of not knowing the corpus. In Dahl’s view this does not matter, as a
scholar’s work on democracy has to start somewhere. In other words, “we
should not worry about” describing and “that [descriptions] are to be kept
loose” (Sartori 2004: 786). Dahl qualifies the arbitrary nature of democra-
cy’s descriptions when he writes “to some extent” because scholars often
justify their descriptions: they give their readers historical, etymological,
ethical, comparative, phenomenological, and moral if not conventional
reasons for why they use a particular description of democracy and not
another. These “to some extent arbitrary” and “loose [descriptions]” con-
stitute a pragmatic and reasonable approach—this is because it was not
possible in Dahl’s time to either count democracy’s descriptions or to
try to make sense of that immense body of information. As David Held
rightly says in an interview conducted several years prior (Held and Gag-
non 2014), we can only work with the tools available to us. Yet if we had
a tool that could reduce the arbitrariness of our descriptions—by giving
the language of democracy an improved empirical footing—wouldn’t we
scholars of democracy and our discipline be the better for it?
Following this rationale, the aim in this agenda-setting research note
is to break with our tradition of recognition but not engagement. I do this
by giving a minimum account of the pre- and postpositive adjectives (e.g.,
representative democracy and democracy lite, respectively) that are used
to describe democracy in English scholarly literature. This culminates in a
catalogue (see Supplement B in the online issue for evidence) that contains
2,234 dierent descriptors for democracy, organized alphanumerically. I ex-
plain how I came to count these descriptors and not others—such as the
synonyms of democracy. I then explain four ways that the catalogue can be
applied and what, I believe, are its main points of significance. These are (1)
drilling down into the meaning of each description, (2) making taxonomies,
(3) rethinking the phenomenology of democracy, and (4) visualizing big
data. The research note ends by looking back on democracy’s 2,234 descrip-
tors and its four applications to argue that this minimum approximation of
its ontological pluralism points, initially, to the need for more research and,
later, to the question of what democracy is and how it came to be so diverse.
96 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
Why Count Adjectives?
Two perspectives on knowledge creation demonstrate that democracy has
been described in many ways. If we start from a Platonist perspective of
knowledge creation, then there is an ideal type for each concept that ex-
ists in the phenomenological world. Inevitably this means there is no one
true, real, pure, actual, or definitive description of democracy but instead
many of them. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are, for instance,
littered with lock-horn debates between rival absolutist accounts of democ-
racy (e.g., the struggle in early-1800s America between popular Jacksonian
democracy and restrained Van Buren democracy). Among the more sig-
nificant examples from the twentieth century was the ideological struggle
over democracy between the United States and the Soviet Union (Timashe
1950). Both powers were rival claimants to the practice of “true” democ-
racy, and both accused each other of being false prophets in this regard.
A non-Platonist perspective of knowledge creation also embraces the
pluralism of concepts because a concept is created, altered, or carried
by people who live in a particular place in time. Non-Platonism holds
the view that concepts are sometimes the product of contingency. This
means that there must be many descriptions of democracy and that they
are likely going to dier, to varying extents, across time and place and
from person to person in those places, as Doorenspleet (2012) suggests.
When it comes to how knowledge about democracy is created—whether
it is Platonic or non-Platonic—the results are undeniably plural.
This observation led me to wonder how many descriptions of democ-
racy exist in the English literature. I discovered that democracy has at
least 2,234 descriptors, ranging from basic sentence fragments, such as
“torpedo-boat democracy,” to complex discourses, such as the ones de-
voted to “social democracy.” I write “at least” because, as I describe in the
next section, the method used to find these descriptors was inductive.
There are likely hundreds of other descriptors awaiting discovery—many
of which can be found using a deductive method. For example, a research
project has paired the word democracy with the Oxford English Dictionary’s
complete list of adjectives from historical and modern English. An ex-
haustive Amazon-powered search of more than 260,000 word pairings
(e.g., “a close-second democracy,” “a false-step democracy,” “a million-dol-
lar democracy,” etc.) has been run in the Google Books database to find
descriptors that do not appear in the catalogue.
I have chosen to concentrate on pre- and postpositive adjectives be-
cause my observations suggest they are the most common means for de-
scribing democracy in the English language.3 A prepositive adjective is
where the descriptor appears directly before the word democracy, as in
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 97
the following: representative democracy, liberal parliamentary democ-
racy, and semibarbarous Catholic democracy. A postpositive adjective is
where the descriptor appears directly after the word democracy, as in
the following: democracy proper, democracy lite, and democracy inter-
rupted. There are more prepositive than postpositive adjectives.
The Method Used to Count Democracy’s 2,234 Descriptors
An inductive method was used to build the catalogue presented in Sup-
plement B. I was curious about the number of democracy’s descriptors,
and in 2010, with the aim of compiling a catalogue, I began a record of the
ones I encountered when conducting other democracy-oriented research.
By the end of 2014 I had found 507 descriptors. This triggered the release
of a pilot study that was, in the main, devoted to refining the catalogue’s
Following the results of the pilot study, the inductive method gained
refinement as patterns became noticeable in what was a constantly grow-
ing catalogue. For instance, “green democracy” (Baber and Bartlett 2005;
Dryzek and Schlosberg 1998; Saward 1993) was in the catalogue, so why
not red democracy (Fernbach 1969; Price 2007), blue (Latta 2014), yellow
(Steinbeck and Steinbeck 2011), rainbow (Taub 2002), black (Hine 2003; Jo-
seph 1987), brown (Romulo 1944), pink (Klemperer-Markman 2015), gray
(Ding 2001: 95), white (Olson 2004), or any other color or combination of
colors (Cahan 2006: 1107) of democracy too?
And what of the antonyms to the adjectives in the catalogue (e.g., rep-
resentative and unrepresentative democracy) and other demonyms (e.g.,
American democracy, Saskatchewan democracy, Parisian democracy)?
In short, systematic lines of inquiry were developed, which I employed
in a second wave of searches. This yielded an additional 1,727 descriptors,
resulting in the 2,234 that appear in alphanumerical order in the catalogue.
The Applied Value of Democracy’s Ontological Pluralism
There is an instinct to simplify ontological pluralism from the outset—to
say, for instance, that “democracy is such and such” and to use that frame
to adjudge which descriptors should be kept in the catalogue and which
should be left out, or to articulate the theory that explains how democ-
racy’s plurality emerged and why this matters, or to deploy a series of
critical discourse analyses using language processing software to uncover
a helpful syllogism: that, for example, all descriptions about democracy
98 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
are associated with communication, and therefore, democracy is com-
municative. Inquiries of this nature are important but secondary. They
should come only after more descriptors are found, after other relevant
catalogues are compiled (e.g., on democracy’s synonyms, predicate ad-
jectives, and non-adjectival descriptions) in English and other languages,
and after we have identified, digitized, and stored the publications that
are appropriately associated with each descriptor. Following these pre-
liminary steps will ensure that the secondary inquiries are more accurate
and, subsequently, that the work to simplify democracy’s ontological plu-
ralism will have better outcomes.
Our first obligation is to let the descriptors speak for themselves. My
model is the philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin (1999: 460),
who became preoccupied with the detritus of great cities like Paris and
the ragpickers who collected it for repurposing and resale. It is important
here to recognize that Benjamin did not rush to interpret what he found. “I
needn’t say anything,” he writes. “I shall purloin no valuables, appropriate
no ingenious formulations. But the rags, the refuse—these I will . . . allow,
in the only way possible, to come into their own: by making use of them.”
Like Benjamin, I wish to avoid aecting what is by, for instance, omitting
descriptors or laying upon them a theoretical rationale at the outset. It is
important to let democracy’s descriptors speak for themselves, and as Ben-
jamin demonstrates, we can do this by making use of them.
What then, does the catalogue of 2,234 descriptors add to the dis-
cipline of democracy studies? It opens pathways for us to better under-
stand, interrogate, and use its content. This data, as I explain below, can
be applied in four ways. The first is to drill down into the meaning of
each descriptor. The second, which derives its method from Foucault’s
work on the archeology of knowledge, is to use bibliometric data to cre-
ate taxonomies of descriptors, as this reveals their informational infra-
structure. The third is to rethink the phenomenology of democracy. The
catalogue enables us to ask which of the 2,234 descriptions of democracy
have been—or are—found outside of the literature—in the “real world”
so to speak. The fourth and final application is to visualize democracy’s
big data as a three-dimensional, digital, “city of democracy.” This visu-
alization not only makes it easier to macro-theorize about democracy;
it also oers its users a novel means to engage with knowledge about
democracy (publications) and its producers (authors).
(1) Drilling Down: Tell Stories and Eliminate False Positives
Each descriptor in the catalogue holds a story of its own. We can zoom in to
isolate a descriptor of our choice and drill down into it to understand who
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 99
used the descriptor and for what purpose. Take “brown democracy” (Friend
1988: 141; Romulo 1944: 128) as an example. This conception of democracy
stems from the political theory of former Philippines’ journalist and World
War II Colonel Carlos P. Romulo. In the early 1940s he argued that “the
Pacific war has united the Asiatic peoples as nothing has in the past . . . a
new consciousness is rising in the East, a consciousness of oneness and of
unity” that will “see a Brown Democracy emerg[e] out of the Japanese de-
bacle.” The case for a pan-Asian, transboundary, racial democracy premised
on the emancipation of colored people and the resistance to Western and
Japanese variants of imperialism was initially advanced by Romulo in his
1943 book Mother America (Romulo 1943: see especially 66). The book pro-
voked a response from Rupert Emerson (1944) that was published by the
Far Eastern Survey in March 1944. Although Emerson principally critiqued
Romulo’s book for being Pollyannaish about the positive influence of the
United States in the Philippines, he also questioned the vision of an an-
ti-imperialist multinational democracy rising out of the ashes of the Pacific
War. Romulo responded in July of 1944, agreeing with Emerson that it was
“the advent of Western imperialism in the Orient” that “created divisions
among the people” in the first place. But it was the war in the Pacific that
“united the Asiatic peoples as nothing has in the past. The Japanese slogan
of ‘Asia for the Asiatics’ has opened the eyes of the Orientals.” Romulo fin-
ishes his response to Emerson by qualifying that it was “the stress by Japa-
nese propagandists on the color line” that “has served to bring the Indians,
the Burmese, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Indonesians, the Malays and
the Filipinos closer together. The eects of this propaganda will,” Romulo
believed, “remain after the military defeat of Japan” (1944: 128).
Romulo’s brown democracy and the debate it sparked seven decades
ago has lamentably been left untouched by scholars over this period. It is
because I asked, after encountering “green democracy,” what other colors
of democracy there might be in the literature that I stumbled onto Rom-
ulo’s conception of a pan-Asian, anticolonial democracy—a conception
that no doubt deserves the attention of today’s historians of democratic
thought and those pursuing the theory of international democracy (e.g.,
Bogdandy 2012; Görg and Hirsh 2011; Lynch 2000). Scholars can, for in-
stance, explore why Romulo’s racial democracy, or some iteration of it,
did not eventuate after the Empire of Japan’s surrender. Was it because
Asian democratization was interrupted by the “new colonialism” (Frey
2003: 560) of the Cold War?
Zooming out and taking the full list of descriptors in again, we can
see that drilling down oers a qualitative route for scholars to tell the
stories behind democracy’s 2,234 descriptors. The process of drilling
down opens the opportunity to debate the value of a descriptor within
100 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
our scholarly community. “Torpedo-boat democracy,” for example, is Ted
Hopf’s (1994: 268) translation of the Russian term minonostsa demokratiya.
The term is used only once in the Google Scholar and Google Books cor-
pora. Hopf does not explain what this description of democracy means,
as it appears in the bibliography to his book. The reference points us to
the Russian broadsheet Izvestiya that published a story entitled minonostsa
demokratiya on April 20, 1984. Archival research might uncover a fascinat-
ing story about a company of Russian sailors practicing democracy at sea,
or it might be a contrived—and therefore probably useless—propaganda
piece rich in double-speak and little else. If the truth is akin to the for-
mer, we will have found a valuable story to share. If akin to the latter, the
descriptor will be a false positive and should be removed from the cat-
alogue. In either scenario our action improves the quality of knowledge
about democracy through elucidation (by adding appropriate data to the
corpus) or elimination (by removing inappropriate data from it).
(2) Taxonomies, Archives, and Information Infrastructure
A taxonomy is a heuristic device (from the Greek word heuriskein, “to
find,” “to discover”) that is used to classify objects and determine how
they relate to one another over time. Using bibliometric data, we can con-
struct a taxonomy of publications and organize them in a time sequence,
one that shows if and how publications relate to each other through cita-
tion network analysis. As Foucault reminds us in his book The Archeology
of Knowledge (1969a, 1969b), it is possible to treat a subject-specific body
of publications as an archaeological site. Identifying the publications be-
longing to a specific subject—Foucault refers to them as “the archive”—
and demonstrating how these publications may or may not link to each
other helps us determine how a subject can be dierently understood
across discourses and over time (1969b: 261). It is “a comparative anal-
ysis that is not intended to reduce the diversity of discourses . . . but is
intended to divide up their diversity into dierent figures” (1969a: 177).
Take the taxonomy of “Lincolnian democracy” as an example. Table 1,
below, shows the fifty-seven publications that use this term (see Supple-
ment C in the online issue for evidence). The taxonomy of the term be-
gins at the top of the table with Lincolnian democracy’s earliest mention
in 1920. It then it then tracks down to where and when the term appears
over time and also its frequency of use. What Table 1 shows is that the
term has been used not fewer than sixty-three times in ninety or so years,
meaning it is a rare term. It also demonstrates that none of the publica-
tions refer to each other directly. The scarcity of the term and the lack of
a citation network between publications points to two phenomena in this
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 101
particular archive. The first is that each work uses Lincolnian democracy
as a small part of separate discussions, and the second is that there is no
obvious discourse devoted to the term.
A proximal word analysis sustains this finding, as definitions of
Lincolnian democracy dier in the archive. Most authors define it as
Table 1: A taxonomy of “Lincolnian democracy
Year Source
1920 Shaw, FN: 1
1924 DuBois, FN: 1
1927 Roeder, FN: 1
1941 Browder, FN: 1
1943 Author Unknown, FN: 1
1946 Author Unknown, FN: 1; Author Unknown, FN: 1
1947 Santee, FN: 1; Markham, FN: 1; Author Unknown, FN: 1
1950 Author Unknown, FN: 1
1953 Author Unknown, FN: 1
1956 Author Unknown, FN: 1
1959 Rosenberry, FN: 1; Kanamori, FN: 1
1960 Bittelman, FN: 3
1961 Randall, FN: 1; Jansen, FN: 1
1963 Planck, FN: 1
1964 Author Unknown, FN: 1; Anderson, FN: 1
1965 Grazia, FN: 1
1966 Wadia, FN: 1
1969 Cakravartin, FN: 2; Randall, FN: 1
1971 Liang, FN: 1
1972 Lewis, FN: 1
1973 Stone, FN: 1
1979 Sherwood, FN: 1
1981 Aquino, FN: 1
1984 Author Unknown, FN: 1
1985 Flanner, FN: 1
1987 Papo, FN: 1
1988 Author Unknown, FN: 1
1989 Roper, FN: 1; Evano, FN: 1
1990 Silver, FN: 1
1991 Clanton, FN: 1; Author Unknown, FN: 1; Buhle, FN: 1
1993 Teaford, FN: 1
1997 Wiebe, FN: 1
1998 Jameson, FN: 1
1999 Seldon, FN: 1; Jones, FN: 1; Poliko, FN: 2
2003 Morrisey, FN: 1
2005 Chatturvedi, FN: 1
2007 Sisson, FN: 1
2008 Avim, FN: 1; Author Unknown, FN: 1
2009 Hassan, FN: 1; Sands, FN: 1
2010 Cullen, FN: 2; Davidson, FN: 2; Doli., FN: 1; Author Unknown, FN: 1
Legend: FN = Frequency number, or, number of times “Lincolnian democracy”
was used in text.
102 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
“democ racy for the people, by the people, and of the people” (which is
the last line in Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address) or some variation of
that phrase. But others see it as a liberal and social democracy; a racially
exclusive democracy; the direct opposite of Aristotle’s definition of poli-
tics; a Western myth; another name for polyarchy; an idea of democracy
that became perverted over time; the antithesis to totalitarian commu-
nism; an idea amenable to capture by dictators who adopt its appearance
or phraseology; a gospel; a style of democracy that leads to a government
that will be loved, esteemed, and respected by its citizens; and a US-Amer-
ican political tradition.
The disjointed structure of the information pertaining to Lincolnian
democracy begs to be made sense of. Why, for instance, are there so many
dierent definitions? Is there any way to give this body of literature a
narrative—to plot in some sensible way to discover how and why Lincol-
nian democracy came to have so many meanings? When we try to answer
these questions, the work of the archaeologist comes into play. Having
collected the fifty-seven publications that use the term and having es-
tablished that each is isolated inside the archive, we can now investigate
whether these sites intersect outside of the archive (i.e., whether two or
more definitions can be logically connected in a genealogical narrative of
Lincolnian democracy). Playing the archaeologist in this way allows us to
give a genealogical account of the evidence, to dismiss irrelevant infor-
mation, and to devise a comprehensive narrative of the subject.
Over time, as the catalogue of democracy’s descriptors expands and
becomes more sophisticated, it might be possible to give the whole its
taxonomy—to start from the earliest known pre- or postpositive adjective
and to track where and when new descriptors appear. We will then hope-
fully be able to tell why they appear where and when they do. As seen
with the example of Lincolnian democracy, the simple exercise of set-
ting publications out in a time sequence can help identify gaps, generate
research questions, and ultimately advance our understanding of what
democracy is and how its descriptions came to be so diverse.
(3) Rethinking Democracy’s Phenomenology
The catalogue invites us to rethink the phenomenology of democracy—
the way democracy “is” in the world—within both contemporary and
historical polities. That there are at least 2,234 descriptions of democracy
means that some number of them will exist, either in practice or con-
ception, within a polis and among its citizens (heretofore polity). If we
accept that statement as true, then we find ourselves asking a rather in-
teresting question: Can more than one understanding of democracy exist
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 103
simultaneously within a polity, and how do they coexist? This question
leads to thinking about, for example, the democracies within a democratic
regime. Or, more generally, of the blend of democracies that can be found
within a polity and of how that blend defines a polity’s democratic nature.
Consider, for example, the language that is conventionally used to
identify democracy in a polity such as the United States. “American de-
mocracy” (the demonym) and “America’s democracy” (the statonym),
which represent subtly dierent perspectives on democracy in America,
are singular. Although both descriptors imply it, this does not mean that
democracy in the United States is one type of democracy out of a possible
2,234. An examination of the literature on democracy in America reveals
that it is or purports itself to be: a federal democracy (Erk 2015)—there
are, for instance, fifty separate democratic governments at the state level
inside the United States and thousands more at the local level; a repre-
sentative democracy (Toregas 2001: 235); a liberal democracy (Layne 2006:
14); a capitalist democracy (Goodwin 1994: 108); a prospective electronic
democracy (Norris and Reddick 2012); an unequal democracy (Bartels 2016);
an electoral democracy (Kropf and Kimball 2012); a white democracy (Pool
2015: 419); a violent democracy (Ross 2004); and so forth. Any circumspect
analysis of American or America’s democracy will reveal that it is a blend
of numerous dierent—and sometimes commensurate or clashing—un-
derstandings and practices of it.
The catalogue, because of its plural nature, prompts us to ask which
democracies are present in which polities and whether these blends of
democracy dier between levels of government, socioeconomic or cul-
tural contexts, perspective, and time. This fluid way of thinking about de-
mocracy is already present in the scholarship on measuring democracies.
Democratic regimes are, for example, being measured for multiple coex-
isting practices and models of democracy, as political theorists and empir-
icists are increasingly seeing plural types of democracy simultaneously in
play within them. “There is a widespread conviction,” writes Markowski
(2015: 40), “that we need to empirically disentangle this multifaceted con-
cept [of democracy] and scrutinize the relationship between its particular
components.” He goes on to say that “in political practice there is a move-
ment to improve our understanding of exactly what is meant by democ-
racy in culturally divergent parts of the world and in particular countries.”
This is reflected in the work happening within the Varieties of Democracy
(V-Dem) program (e.g., Coppedge et al. 2011; Coppedge et al. 2016), which
argues that “any measurement scheme rests on concepts” and that “there
is no consensus on what democracy writ-large means beyond a vague no-
tion of rule by the people. Political theorists have emphasized this point
for some time, and empiricists would do well to take this lesson to heart.”
104 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
As V-Dem is an empirically driven program of research, it internalized
this recognition by including the electoral, liberal, participatory, deliber-
ative, and egalitarian descriptions of democracy as variables in their study
(Coppedge et al. 2016: 4–6). Although these are clearly not the only descrip-
tors for democracy, it is nonetheless an important step in the direction of
detecting democracies—and not only, for example, its liberal representative
iteration—within polities.
The catalogue makes possible the theory of “blended democracy,
which posits that the democratic nature of a regime is characterized by
the types of democracy that can be found within it, how these types rise
and fall in popularity, and how they clash or go together (Chou et al. 2017:
ch. 2; Gagnon and Vasilev 2016: 2). Take the following example: in the late
1940s and 1950s United States, many in the post–war builders’ generation
were satisfied with voting, elections, and multiparty representation. But
the cultural revolutions of the late 1960s and early 1970s would come to
challenge this understanding of democracy. Emancipation, desegregation,
gender and sexual equality, and numerous other impassioned cries for po-
litical reform (especially coming from young people, women, and visible
minorities) were lauded by Ralph Dahrendorf (in Crozier, Huntington, and
Watanuki 1975: 192) as the immanence of the political public “for the first
time in the history of democratic countries.” At the same time, Crozier,
Huntington, and Watanuki (1975) reprimanded these developments as
“participatory overload” and a case of “too much democracy.” Democracy
in the United States was, at this point, in part characterized by a clash
between representative and delegative as well as participatory and direct
understandings of democracy.
Democratic regimes also demonstrate cases in which one type of de-
mocracy has been imported into another to either increase the quality of
its democratic governance or improve its stability. A significant example in
politics today is, as Carole Pateman (2012: 10) mentioned in her 2012 pres-
idential address to the American Political Science Association, the uptake of de-
liberative democracy, “which puts communication” and consensus “at the
heart of politics,”4 into electoral democracy, which places more emphasis
on ballots and electoral systems. This is especially evident at local levels of
government, where deliberative budgeting, deliberative polling, and other
forms of deliberative mini-public are increasingly used (see Grönlund,
Bächtiger, and Setälä 2014 and the Participedia project for more).
(4) Big-Data Visualization: Introducing the City of Democracy
Digital humanities allow big data to be visualized so that both writer
and reader can see the material in a dierent but comprehensible form.
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 105
Visualizing the catalogue in this research note allowed me to think about
democracy in macro-theoretical terms. Macro because thinking about the
catalogue as a whole means theorizing about a body with 2,234 parts to
it, and theoretical because this form of thinking can produce both de-
scriptive and normative outcomes. But it is also a means to engage with
a constantly growing corpus, a whole that changes over time, one that
only exists because of its plural components. Visualizing the catalogue
makes its corpus comprehensible without losing the specificity of its con-
stitutive parts.
I have been visualizing the catalogue as a three-dimensional, digitally
modeled, city of democracy. The idea to visualize the catalogue as a city
came from Tocqueville. As Leo Damrosch (2010: 202–203) explains, when
Tocqueville returned home from his visit to America, it took him eight
years of further research and a number of geographical metaphors to
bring coherence to the trunkful of notes on democracy he brought back
with him. “I will be like a traveler who emerges from a great city and
climbs a nearby hill” writes Tocqueville. “The farther away [the traveler]
gets the more the people behind him disappear from view. Their dwell-
ings merge together, he can no longer recognize the public squares, he
can barely make out the streets. But now,” Tocqueville continues, “his eye
takes in the contours of the town more easily and for the first time he
grasps its shape.”
I decided to try to replicate Tocqueville’s metaphor. I used videogame
design software to see what would happen when my avatar climbs a
nearby hill and looks back on the catalogue visualized as a city. Each de-
scriptor of democracy is a building. What I see are 2,234 buildings of var-
ious sizes, as preliminary research shows that descriptors can be ranked
by the amount of publications each is associated with (e.g., according
to Google Scholar and Google Books, the term “American democracy”
appears in an estimated 864,000 publications, while the term “quiescent
democracy” appears in only 21 publications). Building size in the city is
tied to the descriptor’s ranking: the higher its ranking, the bigger the
building; the lower its ranking, the smaller the building. The buildings
are separated by streets.
The view of the city from the hillside shows its immensity. There
are buildings everywhere. Moving my avatar, I walk down from the hill
and enter the city. I am struck by how many people there are. Tens of
thousands of people live here. They are the authors who used one or
more of democracy’s descriptors in their work. Walking inside the city
is like walking in a bustling metropolis. Every building and person is dif-
ferent, and each has its own story to tell. Some buildings contain rooms,
which are generated by secondary adjectives. “Liberal representative
106 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
democracy” makes, for instance, a “liberal” room inside the “represen-
tative democracy” building. As is the case with the buildings, the rooms
vary in size based on their ranking.
Rolling back on the mouse, my viewpoint changes from first-person
streetview to the bird’s-eye view—similar to how Google maps customar-
ily portrays urban spaces. The city and all its people now lie in two dimen-
sions, and there is a toolbar on the screen with dierent functions that
can be toggled. A click of the mouse on “anity networks” (a button in
the toolbar) sees buildings and people rapidly move on the map and settle
in a new orientation: the city is now made up of neighborhoods where
buildings and people are linked by their commonalities. Another click of
the mouse in the toolbar, this time on “time sequence,” sees buildings
and people move again. Now the left side of the city contains the oldest
buildings and people and the right side the youngest. A forward roll of
the mouse, after hovering the cursor over the left side of the city, sends
my avatar back to the street level of the old quarter, where I can choose to
click on a person and see their biographical data (e.g., list of publications,
keywords, weblinks), or click on a building and see its bibliometric data
(e.g., access its digital archive and see the names and number of rooms
it has inside it), or walk inside a building to access the digital archive
pertaining to one of its rooms (e.g., liberal representative democracy’s
archive, which can be downloaded to my hard drive with the click of a
The city of democracy is, however, more than an exercise in visualiz-
ing big data; it is also a service, because anyone with a computer, internet
connection, and the required software can enter the city and do as I have
done—interact with immense amounts of knowledge about democracy.
Once it is brought online, the city will also be updated annually, allowing
users to track how the city changes over time.
Whether one’s avatar is outside, inside, or above the city, it becomes
easier to macro-theorize about democracy. My time in the city led, for ex-
ample, to an inquiry into its residents and how they gave meaning to the
word democracy in their publications. I have empirical reasons to sustain
the hypothesis that there are at least four ways to give meaning to democ-
racy: the first is to do so without using pre- and postpositive adjectives
(Type I); the second is by using only one pre- or postpositive adjective
(Type II); the third is by using two or more pre- or postpositive adjectives
(Type III); and the fourth is by using all pre- and postpositive adjectives
(Type IV). Preliminary research shows that Type Is are uncommon, Type
IIs are rare, Type IIIs are by far the most common, and Type IVs do not
yet exist. The normative aspect of this work has to do with the Type IV
intellectual. Are they not needed to advance a number of theoretical and
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 107
philosophical debates in democracy studies today? The work of the Type
IV is to give the city its narratives, to explain its origins, and to point out
its most recent trends. She searches for the city’s commonalities and dif-
ferences in order to define it. And she might point out that the city is not
Western, Eastern, Northern, or Southern but rather global, for so much
from the world seems to exist within it.
Looking Back on the Catalogue and Its Four Applications:
The Road to Further Inquiry
Now that we have let the data speak for itself by using it in four applica-
tions—(1) drilling down, (2) making a taxonomy, (3) rethinking democra-
cy’s phenomenology, and (4) big-data visualization—we should take up
Benjamin’s invitation to understand what the data is saying.
Three points have emerged from this exercise. The first brings us back
to Kurki, the one who started this exploration by arguing that although
scholars recognize democracy’s ontological pluralism, they tend not to en-
gage with it. I have found that engagement can clearly benefit democracy
studies and that our discipline has been missing out on a substantive part
of itself. There are over two thousand descriptions of democracy whose sto-
ries deserve to be told, hundreds of taxonomies to make, dozens (or more)
democracies to detect and analyze within polities, and, in time, a digital city
of democracy to interact with. This is a productive space to be working in,
with much research, experimentation, and discussion waiting to be done.
This brings us to the second point, which is that the catalogue can be
made more complete. This requires finding more descriptors, identifying
the literature appropriately associated with each descriptor, and digitizing
that information. A catalogue with this level of completeness will allow us
to bring the city of democracy online, to run macro-analyses on a democ-
racy corpus containing hundreds of thousands of documents, and to start
interrogating to what extent these multiple descriptions of democracy are
repetitive, contradictory, or false. At the same time, we can work toward pro-
viding more ecumenical definitions for democracy that are firmly grounded
in empirical fact and not opinion. There is scope here too to uncover the
eect that influential thinkers have had on democracy by examining how
they have privileged certain understandings of democracy over others.
The third point is that this catalogue is a gateway to finding better,
more intellectually honest truths about democracy and how it has been
variably understood in dierent times and places. As Gianni Vattimo
reminds us in his explanation of weak theory, “the world is not simply
given to us as pure, uninterrupted, unmediated reality” (Guarino 2011: 18);
108 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
instead, the world must be endlessly interpreted. If we accept Vattimo’s
position, then democracy must be interpreted through its ontological plu-
ralism. Some might read this as a disaster for democracy, as confirmation
of its unbridled relativism. But such a reading would be mistaken. Democ-
racy’s ontological pluralism is, I believe, its strongest virtue. Resilience
theory provides a useful metaphor for what I mean. As Paul Nieuwenhuis
(2016)—a sustainability researcher—writes, “When the environment inev-
itably changes, the resulting shifts in conditions . . . could mean that pre-
viously marginal species suddenly find themselves in the perfect situation.
They can then become core species in the new system, while previously
dominant species may come to play a more marginal role as conditions
are now less favorable for them. As a result, the whole system can survive,
albeit in a somewhat dierent configuration” and that “if those species
that were marginal at first had not been there to take on key roles, the sys-
tem would have collapsed.” So although many descriptions for democracy
exist, this does not mean that democracy is lost to relativism; it means that
some of democracy’s many descriptions will be more relevant to dier-
ent people depending on their historical, geographical, cultural, and eco-
nomic circumstances and that this is a good thing so long as the form of
democracy being advocated is not a false positive. It means that we need
to figure out the origins of these descriptors—that is, tell the story of how
democracy became so diverse and what that signifies for us today. It also
means that we will need to navigate the ethics of using this information
in contemporary politics, as the catalogue communicated in this research
note sets a high bar when it comes to justifying our descriptions of democ-
racy (e.g., why description x and not, for instance, two thousand others?).
We will also need to debate dierent descriptions of democracy if only as
a means to remove from the corpus those descriptors that are democratic
in name only. This could, for example, lead to compiling a list of descrip-
tors that show how democracy has been described in the Orwellian sense:
where “elites manipulate electoral processes to lend an aura of legitimacy
to predetermined policies that protect their power” (Bienefeld 1995: 114).
And, if only to satiate the ghosts of Guizot and Tocqueville, we will need to
work through this ontologically pluralist reality to discover definitions of
democracy that do not suppress uncertainty, contingency, and neology but
are, at the same time, not divorced from empirically grounded fact.
The author wishes to acknowledge and thank the dozens of readers and
several audience groups who engaged with this Research Note and its
earlier iterations. This work gained depth and refinement particularly
Gagnon 2,234 Descriptions of Democracy: An Update 109
from engagements with Nicole Curato, Selen Ercan, Keith Dowding, John
Dryzek, Patrick Dunleavy, Paul Fawcett, Mike Jensen, John Keane, Ron
Levy, Rachell Li, Giovanni Navarria, Michael Saward, and Gerry Stoker.
Kind thanks to all for your time and uplifting collegiality.
Jean-Paul Gagnon is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the Univer-
sity of Canberra and a founding editor of Democratic Theory. A political theorist and
philosopher, his work centers on democratic theory.
1. Catalogues of democracy’s descriptors are not to be found in studies focusing
on information outside of scholarly literature either. It would be worthwhile
to study how democracy is described in the traditional media, new and social
media, and to continue doing so from the perspective of individuals through
surveys and interviews (e.g., Evans, Halupka, and Stoker 2017), to compare
and contrast these datasets, and to see how descriptions of democracy in
them change over time.
2. Scholars have only recently gained the technological wherewithal to search
vast amounts of literature through the click of a button. Henry Mayo (1959:
vi), for instance, admits to having tried to count the medley of democratic
theories in the literature (his aim was to introduce the reader to democratic
theory), but he changed strategy as “it led only to confusion, and there
seemed no end to the undertaking.” Today, in comparison, we have knowl-
edge-capturing organizations like Google that provide corpuses bearing im-
mense amounts of scholarly literature for us to search through. We can also
digitize literature, rendering it optical character recognition compatible, and
analyze vast amounts of it by using linguistic and critical discourse analysis
software. In short, a labor that just over a decade ago would have seemed
endless (Google Scholar launched in 2004 and Google Books in 2005) is now
accomplishable in a few weeks or months, depending on the scale of the
3. Although democracy can be described using predicate adjectives (e.g., democ-
racy is old), or in narratives that do not use adjectives (e.g., “You can find de-
mocracy in ancient Greece”), or in discourses in which the word “democracy”
is not used at all but explore demarchy, demoicracy, democrats, democrati-
zation, or polyarchy, or by discussing democracies as opposed to democracy,
my observations suggest that pre- and postpositive (or pre- and postnominal)
adjectives are the most common means for describing democracy. Therefore,
a focus on these two types of adjectives will lead to a more comprehensive
account of democracy’s descriptive pluralism.
4. The full quote from Ercan and Dryzek (2015: 241) is that the “core” of deliber-
ative democracy “is defined by putting communication at the heart of poli-
tics, recognizing the need for eective justification of positions, stressing the
110 Democratic Theory Spring 2018
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... I propose that the subjectivity that animates democratic ecosystems is also reflected in the perspectival approach to democratic theory. The participatory, agonistic, and transformative accounts of democracy in the four books discussed above are a testament to the plurality of democratic theory (Gagnon 2018). This plurality, in turn, is a core value and a strength of democracy itself (Dean, Gagnon et al. 2019). ...
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The systems debate in democratic theory has long been dominated by the deliberative perspective. However, democratic theory consists of various strands. Recently, participatory, agonistic, pragmatist and transformative democrats have entered the systems debate. This contribution suggests a multiperspectival approach to democratic theory and applies various lenses to demo-cratic systems. Looking through the kaleidoscope of democratic theory animates the research subject. This brings to light a vivid democratic ecosystem, which is perceived differently by each participant and from each position within the system. Democracy appears as a vital assemblage that reaches beyond formal political institutions into the everyday lives of its participants.
... Collier and Levitsky 1997), it has more recently been revived due to-amongst others-the realization that the concept of "democracy" is in fact used in many different ways (e.g. Gagnon 2018), and that "democracy" and "democracy support" have become increasingly contested (Kurki 2013). ...
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This paper intervenes in the debates on reforming EU democracy support by offering a "radical reformist" approach. It departs from the observation that literature lacks a sustained theorization of reform which more effectively considers contestation as the very condition of democracy. As such, in contrast to withdrawing democracy from its contested nature, this paper presents a theoretical argument, as informed by Chantal Mouffe's take on radical democracy, through which the EU more democratically can engage with and support the plurality of different contestations of democracy. In particular, a closer engagement with the radical democratic embrace of the political will allow for better reflection on how EU democracy support already is or can become democratic, empowering and receptive to the way democracy is understood locally.
... This disagreement in interpretation may partly be a disagreement over the more precise nature and causes of these developments, but it also harks back to what I mentioned in the introduction to this study: democracy is an "essentially contested concept" and there is no consensus in academic or public debate about what exactly it means, how it should look like in reality or what ideals it entails (or how these should be prioritized) (Beetham, 1994;Newton, 2012a). For instance, the "Democratic Theories Database" has in recent years collected more than 2.000 different terms and adjectives for democracy (Gagnon, 2014(Gagnon, , 2018Jean-Paul Gagnon, Mark Chou, Selen Ercan, 2014), while the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) project more modestly proposes five varieties of democracy: electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian democracy (Gerring et al., 2017;Varieties of Democracy, 2017). In the academic literature, a broader distinction has been made between electoral, "elitist", "minimal" or "protective" accounts of democracy that primarily value strong political party systems that can rule effectively and be "accountable" to citizens through competitive elections (Schumpeter, 1942, pp. ...
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What is driving the general decline of voter turnout in established democracies in the 21st century? In this study, I develop a holistic framework that incorporates explanations on the aggregate and individual levels, as well as the broader literature on democratic developments hitherto largely ignored in studies of turnout decline. I argue that there is an important, overarching debate within this literature that has yet to be tested longitudinal, cross-country analyses of changing political behaviour: that between political apathy on one hand and political alienation on the other. In other words: are modern citizens voting less than earlier electorates because they are simply less interested in politics or because they are still interested but instead alienated from the specific type of formal politics dominant in today’s democracies? To what extent are these dynamics particular to particular generations of citizens coming of age and what is the role of citizens’ changing education levels? In order to provide answers to these questions, I conduct multilevel logistics regression models and age-period-cohort (APC) analyses on an extensive new dataset, consisting of over 250.000 respondents from 121 national election studies conducted in eleven Western European countries in the period between 1956-2017 and merged specifically for the purposes of this study. I present descriptive data for various measures of turnout, apathy and alienation in all of these countries before focusing in on the four “turnout decline countries” (TDC), where the available survey data reflects a gradual trend of turnout decline, and comparing dynamics in these countries with the rest of the countries in this study. The results suggest that political apathy has in fact been declining across the region, while alienation has been rising substantially. However, the negative effect of apathy on turnout has become much stronger: apathetic citizens today are much less likely to vote than apathetic citizens in the past. This development accounts for most of turnout decline in the TDC and is significantly stronger there than in the other group of countries. Furthermore, I find that this effect is largely (but not entirely) particular to younger generations of citizens, but there is also a growing education gap in turnout that these dynamics do not fully explain. These results have important implications for studies of turnout decline and broader democratic developments, as well as for public policy in the fields of citizenship and participation – and for anyone interested in re-engaging citizens with their democratic systems.
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jats:p>This article intervenes in the debates on reforming EU democracy support by offering a “radical reformist” approach. It departs from the observation that literature lacks a sustained theorization of reform which more effectively considers contestation as the very condition of democracy. As such, in contrast to withdrawing democracy from its contested nature, this article presents a theoretical argument, as informed by Chantal Mouffe’s take on radical democracy, through which the EU more democratically can engage with and support the plurality of different contestations of democracy. In particular, a closer engagement with the radical democratic embrace of the political will allow for better reflection on how EU democracy support already is or can become democratic, empowering and receptive to the way democracy is understood locally.</jats:p
This essay examines prominent New Confucian Mou Zongsan’s account of Confucian democracy by focusing on his key notion of “self-restriction.” According to Mou, true sage-kings would willingly respect ordinary people’s individual endeavors in the political realm and endorse democracy as a form of government. This move of self-restriction then aligns Confucianism with democracy in a way that fundamentally restructures traditional Confucian rulership. I make contributions on two fronts. First, I offer a reading of Mou’s self-restriction different from existing ones that can help to disambiguate many aspects of Mou’s political thought. Second, what is often left out of existing discussion on Mou is the narrative of political myth and distinctive personality types associated with it. For Mou, political leadership’s impetus for transcending rule-based order and the people’s aspirations for the “superman” run deep and lie in the lasting appeal of political myth. Invoking Nietzsche, I discuss the sense in which transforming traditional rulership is not only a question of ought—why Confucians ought to adopt self-restriction—but a question of how it is possible for self-restriction to fulfill its mission. Commentators on his thought have so far largely glossed over this second aspect of Mou’s thought, thereby selling short the complexity of the idea of self-restriction. My key argument is that Mou’s self-restriction shows an effort to revamp the superman’s politics of the extraordinary into a politics of the ordinary.
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The study of democratic innovations has long been situated in the deliberative paradigm. Today, however, a new scholarly generation conceptualizes democratic innovations from various theoretical angles. This article reviews participatory, agonistic and transformative accounts of democratic innovations. This multiperspectival analysis presents democratic innovations in a new light. The term changes its meaning, going beyond institutions designed by experts to include the remaking of the structures that govern our everyday lives. Democratic innovations interrupt established modes of governance and create spaces for systemic transformations.
When diagnosing an individual’s health, a medical doctor has in mind the anatomy of a perfectly healthy body. Comparing this ideal-type model with the results of a clinical examination of a patient enables a doctor to assess whether the patient is in good health or whether there are any symptoms of ill health. This book uses a similar method to evaluate whether and in what ways British democracy is sick. In this book, the health of democracy is diagnosed by examining the anatomy of the British body politic and comparing the results with a model of a perfectly healthy democracy.
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Research on meanings and understandings of democracy is growing. But besides useful theoretical and empirical insights, this research produces open questions concerning the conceptualization and the measurement of meanings of democracy. This special section—and especially this introductory paper and the different contributions—reflect on several key challenges and thereby go beyond the debate about advantages and disadvantages of open and closed questions measuring meanings of democracy in surveys. Both conceptualization and measurement have different challenges which researchers should take into account when developing research designs, specifically by doing cross-cultural comparisons. Other challenges are connected to the debate on universalism versus relativism and the usage of various terms, which are often not clearly defined. This paper offers an analytical framework to distinguish between meanings and understandings of democracy, thereby integrating comparative political theory and empirical democracy research through inductive and deductive approaches. And it gives an overview of the contributions of this special section. In sum, research on meanings and understandings of democracy is needed to gain a better picture of political cultures around the world.
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Meanings of democracy are far more complex than results of standardized survey research imply. They are diverse and intertwined with other individual concepts and subjective experiences. In terms of phenomenological adequacy, they are important first order constructions that can be used for building second order typologies and explanations for political action. Survey-based quantitative research has clear limits in terms of gathering such first order constructions, even if one wants to integrate them. Drawing from a phenomenological perspective of methodology and experience from 389 qualitative interviews conducted in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany, we argue that research on meanings of democracy might rather use open, qualitative assessments and consider four methodological aspects. First, we need to have a theoretical and methodological basis for analyzing "everyday philosophies" and root our concepts in these first order constructions. Phenomenol-ogy and the concept of lifeworld offer such a guideline. Second, we should not oversimplify analysis. People differ greatly in how they define democracy, and this should be reflected in research. Third, we advocate a qualitative multi-dimensional analysis that separates democracy, politics and actual use of democracy. This can be used to develop a typology of individual, but collectively shared, political life-worlds. Finally, we argue that insights from this kind of research could be used to compliment standard survey instruments and contribute to developing and frequently testing a comprehensive instrument to assess the meanings of democracy in a more holistic way and to control our scientific second-order constructions of democracy.
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The literature on the crisis of democracy is booming. Take a glance, for instance, at the number of publications stating “crisis of democracy” in their titles. Close to 50 such publications have appeared in the last two years alone (2014–2015). There has also been more than 1,000 works published in this period that address a crisis of democracy from a variety of angles despite not bearing the expression in their titles. To say, then, that the crisis of democracy is a mainstream concern for democratic theory in the contemporary period is no overstatement.
This article describes and discusses the new generation of methodological responses to measuring democracy and related issues generated by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem). V-Dem is distinct in several regards in addition to its unique level of disaggregation, by the combination of: historical data extending back to 1900 and for a large selection among them to 1789 for many countries in the world; use of multiple, independent coders for each evaluative question; inter-coder reliability tests incorporated into a custom designed Bayesian item-response theory measurement model; provision of confidence bounds for all point estimates associated with expert-coded questions as well as for all indices; multiple indices reflecting varying theories of democracy; fully transparent aggregation procedures; and that all data are made freely available, including original coder-level judgments (exclusive of any personal identifying information).
The economic liberalization associated with orthodox structural adjustment is unlikely to permit the consolidation or deepening of democracy in southern Africa. Indeed, by introducing additional tensions and uncertainties into a highly charged political situation, it is far more likely to extinguish the flickering flame of freedom and pave the way for chaos or authoritarianism. If, by chance, democracy should survive, it would be a Guatemalan democracy that merely obscured an authoritarian reality.
Gagnon: What is your conception of democracy?
Gagnon: How do you define democracy?
The majority of today’s authoritarian regimes have little hope of promoting autocracy beyond their own borders, let alone to consolidated democratic countries. However, China and Singapore are two prominent examples of non-democratic countries whose soft power arsenals have given them some global appeal beyond that enjoyed by most authoritarian regimes. But to what extent has China’s and Singapore’s power of example influenced consolidated democracies in terms that the latter wanting to replicate some political practices or even norms in these non-democratic regimes? In this article, we engage recent works to examine this question in relation to how Australians perceive the political example offered by China and Singapore. Focusing our analysis on several prominent polls conducted recently by the Lowy Institute for International Policy, we suggest that at present there is little evidence of a causal impact of the rise of authoritarian powerhouses such as China and Singapore on how Australians view democracy at home. Through these case studies, this article sheds some light on the theoretical as well as practical questions about the inherent impediments of authoritarian diffusion in consolidated democracies.
This fascinating and provocative 2005 book will change the way you think about democracy. Challenging conventional wisdom, Daniel Ross shows how from its origins and into its globalized future, violence is an integral part of the democratic system. He draws on the examples of global terrorism and security, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the relation of colonial powers to indigenous populations, and the treatment of asylum seekers. His analysis of these controversial issues moves beyond the comfortable stances of both left and right to show that democracy is violent, from its beginning and at its heart.