Authors: Duhamel & Mény
Summary: In approximately 3445 words, the author of this entry gives a short definition of the concept and consequently provides a historical overview from the ancient Greece until the modern and the contemporary political thought.
Democracy is defined, in a classical way, as the government of the people, on the people. Democracy in the modern world delineates a social contract based on the values of equality and a political form which expresses the idea of freedom and autonomy. The history of political theory has underlined several properties of democracy: the equality of citizens before the law (isonomy), popular sovereignty and self-government (Rousseau), legitimacy, possession and exercise of power (Machiavelli), mechanisms of representation (Montesquieu) and of political participation, a minimal social equality (Tocqueville), and the presence of consensus (Rawls).
The classical idea of democracy has always been a utopia; it was realized just in very small communities. Then, the contemporary pragmatism defines democracy as a system which makes compatible public demands towards the state and the possibility to govern the society. The paradox of democracy, namely the tension between reality and ideal still has to be solved.