The Social Science Encyclopedia

Authors: Kuper & Kuper
Summary: In approximately 1,200 words, this entry traces democracy's conceptual development, discusses the complexities of modern democracy, and analyzes the political and social environments necessary for democracy's existence. A definition of democracy is not provided.
The entry's survey of the development of democratic ideas begins with ancient Greece and moves to the French Revolution, a period which marks the beginning of modern democratic thought. During this period democracy became the new name for an old idea, classical republicanism. But it also came to represent a manner of governing, as well as a source of legitimate power. At the same time, democracy came to be associated with specific institutions, such as representation.
The entry next raises some challenging questions about the concept of democracy. What, for example, is the democratic principle, and how far should it extend? The entry also explores the complex connection between democracy and freedom, and democracy's implied promise of harmony between the rulers and the ruled.
The entry identifies two prerequisites for democracy: organization for political action and recognition of public and sectional interests. It observes that democracy is impossible without general agreement that a common good exists and can be identified. The entry concludes by briefly discussing recent trends in the study of democracy.