New Login   

No Alternatives to Democracy

Harsh Sethi

Edited by Arvind Sivaramakrishnan
Imprint One, Gurgaon,, 2007, pp. 259, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 9 September 2008

Probably few other concepts occupy, if not hegemonize, political imagination as democracy does. ‘What began as an improvised remedy for a very local Greek difficulty two and a half thousand years ago, flourished briefly but scintillatingly, and then faded away almost everywhere for all but two thousand years’ as political theorist John Dunn writes in his masterly monograph (Democracy: A History. Altantic Monthly Press, New York, 2005), ‘has for the first time in the history of our still conspicuously multilingual species acquired an over-riding acceptance as the legitimate basis of political authority. Not, of course, uncontested in practice anywhere, and still roundly rejected in many quarters, but never, any longer, in favour of an alternative secular claimant to cosmopolitan legitimacy.’ To state more emphatically, for the first time in history, we have the existence of a single cosmopolitan standard, as also the term selected to express it.   Democracy is both a form of government and a political value. We often quarrel fiercely, if confusedly, over how far the value vindicates or indicts our own practices of governance. But we also quarrel over how far the same value is practically coherent, or desirable, in its prospective consequences in different circumstances, on any scale between an individual family or domestic unit and the entire human population of a still painfully disunited globe. When we use the term democracy today, we mean far more than the school-text definition of ‘a government of the people, by the people, and for the people’. Thus when we speak or think of ourselves as living in a democracy, we have in mind that our own state, and the government which does so much to organize our lives, draws its legitimacy from us, and that we have a reasonable chance of being able to compel it to continue to do so. This legitimacy, we believe, comes from holding regular elections in which every adult citizen can vote freely and without fear, in which each vote has a reasonably equal weight, and in which any uncriminalized political opinion can compete freely for votes, legitimacy, and eventually the power and authority to shape our lives. This, at least, is the theory, and the governing myth.   Reality, as we know all too well, is somewhat different. Despite every country claiming adherence to the same/similar values and standards of judgement, their systems of organizing political authority are different, often dramatically so. What, ...

Table of Contents >>
Please or to Read Entire Article

Free Access Online 12 Back Issues
with 1 year's subscription
Archive (1976-2011)
under construction.