There is considerable dispute among political

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majority of the population’s consent to being governed. There is considerable dispute among political scientists about existing models of democratic government and the extent to which they meet criteria for popular consent. The American political scientist Robert Dahl (1989) has developed the term “polyarchy” to distinguish the election-based form of government from “a ‘higher’ stage of democracy” (p. 223). We have not used his technical language in this book, but we do recognize that there is much debate about the limitations of official democracy and many possibilities for improving its practices. Democracy is presented in the official view as a characteristic of particular states in the contemporary world and not others (for example, Canada but not Burma, the United States but not North Korea). Of course, even this characterization is contested. Both sides in the cold war claimed to be defending democracy (Macpherson 1965). Indeed, North Korea’s official name is the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” and its official ideology is called the “Juche Idea,” which “means, in a nutshell, that the masters of the revolution and construction are the masses of the people” (Democratic
The Democratic Imagination 12 People’s Republic of Korea 2011). Clearly, the Canadian and North Korean governments have very different views of democracy, but in neither case are the people seen as direct participants in key decision-making processes. In the view of one influential strand of official democracy, “governments are elected on the understanding that they will have a nearly free hand in governing as they see fit” (Cunningham 2002: 126). In the official view, then, democracy looks like election-campaign signs and buttons, conventions, candidates’ debates, documents outlining constitutional rights, motions passing in legislative assemblies, public opinion polls, and media coverage of issues as they develop. At the same time, it is the judge in the courtroom, the police officer on the beat (to serve and protect), the idea of equality before the law, and a “free” (that is, not state-controlled) media system. In many quarters, this view of democracy has developed into common sense, perhaps even coming to seem as though it is the natural way of doing democracy (see Chapter 6). It tends to be shared by politicians of all parties, the powerful media outlets, the judicial system, the schools, and other authorities. The official view of democracy seems fairly uncontroversial once you have been taught it. In a large and complex society, it seems obvious that the only efficient way to administer things is to select a small number of representatives who are granted decision-making powers through election to specific positions (Catt 1999). Thus, being ruled over and being democratic are equated, provided we have some role in the selection of who will rule. Equality exists as long as everyone has the same rights and minority rights are protected.

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