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The concept of "democracy" is contestable.

It is understood by many people to mean a form of government in which a significant portion of the governed society has a franchise to elect members of the governing body. Other observers would argue that a "true" democracy is a system of government that embraces a universal adult franchise. While flaws exist in all democratic systems of government, most advocates accept Churchill's dictum that contemporary democracy as we know it is the least bad of all systems of government. What is democracy? The popular understanding of the term "democracy" is that there are three basic forms: direct, representative and constitutional. Direct democracy is a form of government in which the right to participate in making political decisions is exercised directly by all citizens, acting under procedures of majority rule. In large states, direct or participative democracy is not possible. Representative democracy is a form of government in which the citizens exercise the same right of participation in making political decisions, not in person but through elected representatives. However, different representative political structures can produce substantially different outcomes. There is no simple formula for democracy that can relate popular preferences to political outcomes in complex systems of government. Plato's fear that the momentary majority could implement policies that would disadvantage a minority, is always a possibility in such democratic systems. Constitutional democracy developed to counter this possibility and is a form of representative democracy in which the powers of the majority are enshrined in constitutional provisions designed to guarantee the individual and collective rights of all citizens. These citizenship rights are enshrined in a constitution and can be amended to reflect social change. This third form of democracy is the basis of Australia's political system. Each form of democracy illustrates a phase in the development of the concept. A brief outline of the historical development of each will provide a solid foundation of knowledge on which the concept of constitutional democracy can be further explored. Direct democracy Debate continues as to the origins of democracy. However, the city-states of ancient Greece stand out as one of the earliest examples of codified and institutionalised democratic principles. The motivating force for the development of democratic political institutions in the Greek states was their desire to discover the best system of government that would maintain the liberty of the citizen. Their solution was a system in which the whole citizen body formed the legislature. All citizens had a voice and a presence in the formulation of the rules that governed their society.

All citizens were eligible to hold executive and judicial offices, some were elected, while others were assigned by lot. In this early form of democracy all officials were directly responsible to the popular assembly, which was qualified to act in executive, judicial and legislative matters. It should be noted that Greek democracy, which may be epitomised as the expression of the interests of all citizens, rested on a society radically different from that which exists today. In the first place, the city-states were small enough to allow for direct participation in judicial and legislative affairs. Secondly, only male native-born Athenians were citizens and so were participants in this process. Slaves, women and foreigners, who together made up the majority of the population of any Greek city-state, were excluded. Thirdly, in ancient Greece, the notion that a citizen was in some way unique did not operate. Each citizen was part of a collective and public whole. Public life was significant and private life was not taken into account. Finally, the concept of citizenship carried with it military responsibility, either as a warrior or as a contributor of funds. This early version of democracy, now known and frequently revered as "classical democracy", was both flawed and vulnerable to manipulation. The power of demagogues to incite the mob to action became too strong for the system to withstand. The Greek city-states withered politically and economically under this pressure, and the Greek civilisation yielded its primacy to the burgeoning Roman Republic. While the Roman Republic gave the franchise to all the classes in society, in reality only the rich and property-owning classes possessed political power. As time passed and the plebeian class struggled to achieve political power, the system began to exhibit the weaknesses inherent in simple democracy. Demagogues once again controlled the political processes and private armies "persuaded" ordinary citizens to support their masters. Propaganda and force subverted the Greek principle of open and rational discussion. With the decline of the Roman Republic, democracy was replaced by a period of warrior kings, and many centuries were to pass before the re-emergence of democratic systems of government. The key to this revival was the emergence of individualism during the eighteenth century. Representative democracy The re-emergence of democracy took place in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During the period between the collapse of the Roman Republic and the middle of the seventeenth century, political power was epitomised by feudalism. Feudal society, which rested on monarchy, kinship, land, social class, religion and local community, was a rigid hierarchical political structure. Participation in the political structure remained the exclusive right of the propertied classes.

The greatest check on the power of government is, of course, the threat of dismissal. This is why the struggle by the emerging bourgeoisie to obtain political power was matched by an equally hard-fought battle to restrict the rights of the unpropertied classes. The fear of both aristocracy and the middle-classes was that the mob would gain control of government and in so doing undermine private property. However, in England, the property-owning class considered the return of an absolute monarch as a greater threat. This was expressed most forcefully during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when one king was deposed and replaced by another who agreed to abide by a set of rules limiting his power. The age of constitutional monarchy was born, and the concept of an unalterable constitution was to play a significant role in the next stage of the development of democratic theory. In the late eighteenth century, two major political ideas emerged. One idea rested on the revolutionary claim for the worth of the individual and individual rights in political society. The other was found in the rise of science as an explanatory tool. The first, embodied in the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment, helped provoke political revolutions in America and France. The second, in providing the methodology and discoveries that led to technological innovation, gave impetus to that force which we know as the Industrial Revolution. Both of these culminated in explosive events toward the end of the 18th century. The French Revolution (1789) and the American War of Independence (1861-65) are the two events which characterise the political character of modern society. These events gave rise to the view that any legitimate political system must, in some sense, be based on "the will of the people", as expressed in a constitution. The rights of the individual laid down among those rights were the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religious belief, and freedom to participate in the legislative process. Such rights, together with those separating the powers of government into judicial, legislative and executive branches, were enshrined in documents regarded as sacrosanct and unalterable by any legitimate government without the consent of the electorate. From the turn of the eighteenth century, this model of the democratic constitutional state has developed in complexity to become the exemplar of modern political organisations. The necessity for a constitutional basis for democracy and political change was fuelled by the continuing fear of either mob rule or a return to autocratic rule. If the American and French Revolutions initiated the political impetus for the modern world, then the Industrial Revolution in Britain underpinned the necessity to modify the established status quo.

The changes that took place in Britain during the nineteenth century, which were to be repeated in other industrialised countries, made the fear of mob rule a powerful force for changing the political structure of the country. During this period the existing rigid structure of feudalism was dissolved by the revolution in manufacturing. This change was characterised by the movement from the land to the cities, the massing of workers in the new industrial towns and factories, the rise of new distinctions between family life and work life, and the separation of work and leisure for large classes of persons. Within this new way of life the demand for political input by the masses was irresistible. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Western political institutions were gradually transformed into the constitutional democracies we know today. This was not an easy procedure, nor was it a perfect one. The struggle to achieve political power made by the masses was matched by the struggle of the propertied classes to prevent erosion of their privileges. However, gains were achieved and a method of democratic government was devised that was acceptable to both the propertied class and the working class. This end result is what we now know as a constitutional democracy. Constitutional democracy Industrialisation came to be seen as not just the economic and technological changes that underpinned a growing prosperity, but to include the political and social changes that emerged as well. This led to the realisation that, when the leaders of a state embraced economic progress via industrialisation, they had to be prepared to accommodate the social and political change that accompanied it. The most perilous of those changes, from the perspective of the propertied classes, were the growth of individualism and the demand for political influence. To maintain stability in the state and to avoid the economically disruptive effects of civil unrest, it was necessary to devise political institutions that would prevent any individual or group from gaining control of the organisations of government. Peaceful political change is a significant strength of the modern constitutional democratic state. What characterises a constitutional democratic state? In the modern world, constitutional democracy is the chief type of non-autocratic government. A definition of a constitutional democracy such as Australia's is that it should provide: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. a system of periodic elections with a free choice of candidates competing political parties universal adult suffrage political decisions by majority vote protection of minority rights an independent judiciary

7. constitutional safeguards for basic civil liberties, and 8. the opportunity to change any aspect of the governmental system through agreed procedures. In most modern constitutional democracies there is a constitutional document providing for fixed limitations on the exercise of power. A constitution assigns certain specified powers to different structures of governments by: 1. limiting the powers of each structure and the establishment of arrangements for their co-operative interaction 2. specifying the individual rights or liberties of the individual that are protected against the exercise of state power 3. providing a statement of the methods by which the constitution may be amended. The significance of political parties in the development of constitutional democracy is worth noting. A political party is an organisation through which the electorate is involved in both the exercise and transfer of power. It is the presence of two or more political parties within a democratic structure that separates constitutional democracy from the pseudo-democratic structures found in single-party totalitarian states. Political parties in a constitutional democracy, on the other hand, are independent of the state. They are concerned with the integration and representation of many interests and beliefs, and, crucially, they are open to wide public participation. There is competition between parties to achieve government. Even if a party is too weak to form a government, it has the ability to influence government policies and legislation. Parties act as a means of representing all interests in the membership of the constitutional democracy and at the same time provide an efficient and peaceful means for the transfer of power in the state. Future challenges to democracy The concept of democracy delineates the issues on which citizens are required to form opinions. In direct democracy they must contribute directly to the discussion and resolution of those issues. In a representative democracy, they are called upon to decide among various candidates in elections who will act as proxies for them in formal discussion in parliament to reach the same end. In contemporary constitutional democracies, almost any matter may become a public issue if a significant number of people wish to make it one. Importantly for the democratic process, the attitudes of both citizens and representatives are often stimulated or reinforced by outside agencies a crusading newspaper, a pressure group, or a government agency or official. In this way, even matters that are not regarded as the legitimate concern of governments may become public issues. There is a problem at the heart of this process, which is the most pressing

one confronting contemporary constitutional democracies. The problem is the present narrow control of the information necessary to make informed decisions. In an ideal democracy, everyone would be free to attempt to persuade others to agree to their point of view and free to oppose points of view. The democratic ideal assumes that, if a variety of opinions are free to compete continuously and publicly, the ideas best for society will win out in the long run. For this process to be successful, it requires that accurate and uncensored information, outlining contrasting points of view on current issues, be available for public consumption. However, this is rarely the case. Rather it is the large and well-financed businesses, media organisations and government agencies that dominate the selective publication and distribution of public information. The limited access to and availability of information are major obstacles to the achievement of an ideal democratic state. The modern practice of "spinning" information to present the best possible case for the "spinners" is widely recognised as one of the foundations of contemporary political power. The ideal democratic process, whereby all citizens reach opinions based on all the available evidence, has seemed beyond attainment, until recently. It is the increase in access to information, particularly during the last decade of the twentieth century via the World Wide Web, that points the way toward a likely beneficial change in the quality of constitutional democratic government. The spread of public information via the web is occurring in a way hardly thought feasible when McLuhan (1992) published his seminal works on the global village. The sheer mass of information can overcome the problem of bias by presenting cheaply and efficiently every point of view and opinion. The advent of the Internet not only makes this mass of information available to citizens in the constitutional democracy, but it also provides them with the means to contribute to debate on any issues which concern them. The informal structure and processes of the web provide a counterweight to the previously unassailable formal dispensers of information. The concept of the ideal democracy is no longer hobbled by the control of information by powerful economic and political forces. That this transformation is taking place at an enormously rapid rate may be illustrated by an event which took place during the 1992 American presidential election campaign. Al Gore, revivifying McLuhan's (1992) text, referred to the concept of the "electronic town hall" as a means of intensifying citizens' participation in the governance of their country. This reference by Gore was mocked in the press and by other politicians. Now, less than a decade later, the concept is being canvassed at every level of government as both viable and beneficial.

A democratic constitutional government that embraces the new information technology in order to promote the participation of its citizens in raising and debating issues of significance to them will be making a great step toward bringing about the ideal of a democratic structure in society. The obstacles to be confronted are large and not the least of them is the new divide between the information-rich and the information-poor, which is the particular problem of educationalists. Should they be overcome, the next phase in the development of the concept of democracy will be assured. References Adcock, F. E. (1975) Roman Political Ideas and Practice. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. Blondel, Jean. (1972) Comparing Political Systems. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Bramsted, E. K & Melhuish, K. J. (1988) Western Liberalism. London: Longman Davies, Morton R. & Lewis, Vaughan A. (1971) Models of Political Systems. London: Macmillan. Forrest, W. G. (1966) The Emergence of Greek Democracy. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Green, Philip. (1985) Retrieving Democracy: In search of civic equality. London: Methuen. Held, David. (1987) Models of Democracy. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Kariel, Henry S. (1970) Frontiers of Democratic Theory. New York: Random House. Levi, Mario Attilio. (1955) Political Power in the Ancient World. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Lewis, Naphtali and Reinhold, Meyer. (1951) Roman Civilisation: The Republic. New York: Harper and Rowe. Maddox, Graham. (1985) Australian Democracy: In Theory and Practice. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire. McLuhan, Marshall and Bruce Powers. (1992) The Global Village. New York: Oxford University Press Rowe, Eric. (1969) Modern Politics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Sabine, G.H. (1963) (3rd Ed.) A History of Political Theory. London: Harrap.

Discussion starters 1. "Debate continues as to the origins of democracy. However, the city-states of ancient Greece stand out as one of the earliest examples of codified and institutionalised democratic principles" (Bale).

Many indigenous civilisations pre-date ancient Greece and use democratic principles to guide their systems of government. Why should the debate about the origins of democracy be restricted to "classical concepts of democracy?

2. "Peaceful political change is a significant strength of the modern constitutional democratic state" (Bale).

Can this statement be sustained in democratic states that have numerous small parties making up a coalition government? How can "peaceful political change be used by the state to control political dissent and stabilise the status quo?

3. Bale argues that, in contemporary constitutional democracies, almost any matter may become a public issue if a significant number of people wish to make it one.

Using a current political issue as an example, justify this statement. When does a political issue become a public issue? How do public issues become part of the political agenda? How are the same public issues removed from the political agenda? Public issues have a life cycle. Identify some characteristics that can sustain the life of a public issue.

4. "The concept of the ideal democracy is no longer hobbled by the control of information by powerful economic and political forces" (Bale).

Is this an overly optimistic view of the potential of the world wide web? Can the information-poor afford the technology to assist this new source of truth? What specific features of the web may help liberate the information-poor?