Unformatted text preview: Since democracy realizes equality in a
highly public manner and publicity is a great and egalitarian value, the equality realized
by democracy trumps other kinds of equality.
The conception of democracy as grounded in public equality provides some reason to
think that democratic equality must have some pre-eminence over other kinds of
equality. The idea is that public equality is the most important form of equality and that
democracy, as well as some other principles such as liberal rights, are unique
realizations of public equality. The other forms of equality in play in substantive
disputes about law and policy are ones about which people can have reasonable
disagreements (within limits specified by the principle of public equality). So the
principle of public equality requires that one treat others publicly as equals and
democracy is necessary to doing this. Since public equality has precedence over other
forms of equality, citizens have obligations to abide by the democratic process even if
their favored conceptions of equality are passed by in the decision making process.
Of course, there will be limits on what citizens must accept from a democratic
assembly. And these limits, on the egalitarian account, must be understood as deriving
from the fundamental value of equality. So, one might think that public equality also
requires protection of liberal rights and perhaps even the provision of an economic
minimum. 5.3 Limits to the Authority of De mocracy
If democracy does have authority, what are the limits to that authority? A limit to
democratic authority is a principle violation of which defeats democratic authority.
When the principle is violated by the democratic assembly, the assembly loses its
authority in that instance or the moral weight of the authority is overridden. A number
of different views have been offered on this issue. First, it is worthwhile to distinguish
between different kinds of moral limit to authority. We might distinguish between
internal and external limits to democratic authority. An internal limit to democratic
authority is a limit that arises from the requirements of democratic process or a limit
that arises from the principles that underpin democracy. An external limit on the
authority of democracy is a limit that arises from principles that are independent of the
plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 23/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) values or requirements of democracy. Furthermore, some limits to democratic
authority are rebutting limits, which are principles that weigh in the balance against the
principles that support democratic decision making. Some considerations may simply
outweigh in importance the considerations that support democratic authority. So in a
particular case, an individual may see that there are reasons to obey the assembly and
some reasons against obeying the assembly and in the case at hand the reasons against
obedience outweigh the reasons in favor of obedience.
On the other hand some limits to democratic authority are undercutting limits. These
limits function not by weighing against the considerations in favor of authority, they
undercut the considerations in favor of authority altogether; they simply short circuit
the authority. When an undercutting limit is in play, it is not as if the principles which
ground the limit outweigh the reasons for obeying the democratic assembly, it is rather
that the reasons for obeying the democratic assembly are undermined altogether; they
cease to exist or at least they are severely weakened.
5.3.1 Internal Li mi ts to Democrati c Authori ty
Some have argued that the democratic process ought to be limited to decisions that are
not incompatible with the proper functioning of the democratic process. So they argue
that the democratic process may not legitimately take away the political rights of its
citizens in good standing. It may not take away rights that are necessary to the
democratic process such as freedom of association or freedom of speech. But these
limits do not extend beyond the requirements for proper democratic functioning. They
do not protect non political artistic speech or freedom of association in the case of non
political activities (Ely 1980, chap. 4).
Another kind of internal limit is a limit that arises from the principles that underpin
democracy. And the presence of this limit would seem to be necessary to making sense
of the first limit because in order for the first limit to be morally important we need to
know why a democracy ought to protect the democratic process.
Locke (1690, chap. XI) gives an account of the internal limits of democracy in his idea
that there are certain things to which a citizen may not consent. She may not consent to
arbitrary rule or the violation of fundamental rights including democratic and liberal
rights. To the extent that consent is the basis of democratic authority for Locke, this
suggests that there are limits to what a democratic assembly may do that derive from
the very principles that ground the authority. And t...
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