Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Since democracy realizes equality in a highly public

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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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