Democratic theories typically operate at multiple levels of orientation. For example, definitions of democracy as well as normative arguments about when and why democracy is morally desirable are often rooted in empirical observations concerning the ways in which democracies have actually been known to function. In addition to a basic commitment to democracy as an object of study, most theorists agree that the concept democracy denotes some form or process of collective self-rule. The etymology of the word traces back to the Greek terms demos the people, the many and kratos to rule.
Yet beyond this basic meaning, a vast horizon of contestation opens up. Important questions arise: who constitutes the people and what obligations do individuals have in a democracy? What values are most important for a democracy and which ones make it desirable or undesirable as a form of government? How is democratic rule to be organized and exercised?
What institutions should be used and how?
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Once instituted, does democracy require precise social, economic, or cultural conditions to survive in the long term? And why is it that democratic government is preferable to, say, aristocracy or oligarchy? These questions are not new.
In fact, democratic theory traces its roots back to ancient Greece and the emergence of the first democratic governments in Western history. Ever since, philosophers, politicians, artists, and citizens have thought and written extensively about democracy. Yet democratic theory did not arise as an institutionalized academic or intellectual discipline until the 20th century.
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The works cited here privilege Anglo-American, western European, and, more generally, institutional variants of democratic theory, and, therefore, they do not exhaust the full range of thought on the subject. A number of works have been published that provide overviews of the different historical and contemporary forms of democratic thought.
Written by one of the most renowned democratic theorists in the United States, Dahl offers a brief and highly readable introduction to democratic thought that brings together normative and empirical strands of research. Crick offers another brief and accessible guide to the various traditions of democratic thought, while Cunningham presents a more comprehensive survey of the different currents of democratic theory and their historical developments.
The text is notable for its discussion of theories of deliberative democracy and theories of radical pluralism, two of the more recent and popular trends in democratic theory.
Held provides one of the most popular overviews of the various models of democracy coupled with a critical account of what democracy means in light of globalization. Another critical account of the field of contemporary democratic theory is offered by Shapiro , while Keane provides a historical narrative of sweeping scope that tells the story of democratic governments and ideals as they have developed and transformed since classical Greece.
Dryzek and Dunleavy focuses on theories of the liberal democratic state, while Christiano provides an introductory exploration of normative democratic thought.
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Dunn offers a collection of essays written by leading political theorists that charts the development and contemporary significance of the idea of democracy. Christiano, Tom. Edited by Edward N. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, An introductory survey of some of the major debates in the field of normative democratic theory.
Emphasis is placed on the tasks of defining democracy, articulating the moral foundations of democracy, and explaining the requirements of democratic citizenship in large societies. A bicameral parliament usually consists of a directly elected lower house with the power to determine the executive government, and an upper house which may be appointed or elected through a different mechanism from the lower house. Scholars of democracy such as Arend Lijphart distinguish two types of parliamentary democracies: the Westminster and Consensus systems.
Implementations of the parliamentary system can also differ as to how the prime minister and government are appointed and whether the government needs the explicit approval of the parliament, rather than just the absence of its disapproval. Some countries such as India also require the prime minister to be a member of the legislature, though in other countries this only exists as a convention. Furthermore, there are variations as to what conditions exist if any for the government to have the right to dissolve the parliament:.
The parliamentary system can be contrasted with a presidential system which operates under a stricter separation of powers, whereby the executive does not form part of—nor is appointed by—the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, parliaments or congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments.
There also exists the semi-presidential system that draws on both presidential systems and parliamentary systems by combining a powerful president with an executive responsible to parliament: for example, the French Fifth Republic. Parliamentarianism may also apply to regional and local governments.
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A few parliamentary democratic nations such as India,  Pakistan, and Bangladesh, have enacted an anti-defection law, which prohibits a member of the legislature from switching to another party after being elected. With this law, elected representatives lose their seats in parliament if they vote contrary to the directions of their party. One of the advantages commonly attributed to parliamentary systems is that it is faster and easier to pass legislation,  as the executive branch is formed by the direct or indirect support of the legislative branch and often includes members of the legislature.
Thus the executive as the majority party or coalition of parties in the legislature has a majority of the votes and can pass legislation at will. In a presidential system, the executive is often chosen independently from the legislature. If the executive and the majority of the legislature are from different political parties, then stalemate can occur see Divided government.
Thus the executive might not be able to implement its legislative proposals. Some constituencies may have a popular local candidate under an unpopular leader or the reverse , forcing a difficult choice on the electorate.
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Mixed-member proportional representation , where voters cast two votes, can make this choice easier by allowing voters to cast one vote for the local candidate at the constituency level but also cast a second vote for another party at the wider parliamentary level. However, many other electoral systems such as first-past-the-post voting don't allow for this and only let voters pick either a single candidate or party, without regard for the voter disliking the candidate's party or the party's local candidate.
It has been observed that the rankings of top-performing countries according to performance indices such as list of countries by GDP nominal per capita , Human Development Index , Global Competitiveness Report , Corruption Perceptions Index , and many more performance indexes feature most best-performing countries having parliamentary systems, while most worst-performing countries have presidential systems or strong-president semi-presidential systems.
Furthermore, most of the countries that dominate top ranks of lists like the Global Liveability Ranking , the Mercer Quality of Living Survey , the Henley Passsport Index , and many such ranking lists use parliamentary systems. In contrast, the list of cities by murder rate shows an overwhelming number of cities found in countries that use presidential systems.
In , a paper by the University of York 's economics department argued that "presidential regimes consistently produce less favourable outcomes as compared with parliamentary ones with lower output growth, higher and more volatile inflation and greater income inequality. Moreover, the magnitude of this effect is sizable. Parliamentary government has attractive features for nations that are ethnically , racially , or ideologically divided. In a presidential system, all executive power is vested in one person, the president, whereas power is more divided in a parliamentary system with its collegial executive.
In the Lebanese Taif Agreement , in order to give Muslims greater political power, Lebanon moved from a semi-presidential system with a powerful president to a system more structurally similar to classical parliamentary government. Iraq similarly disdained a presidential system out of fears that such a system would be tantamount to Shiite domination of the large Sunni minority.
Afghanistan's minorities refused to go along with a presidency as strong as the Pashtuns desired. It can also be argued that power is more evenly spread out in parliamentary government, as the government and prime minister do not have the power to make unilateral decisions, as the entire government cabinet is answerable and accountable to parliament. Parliamentary systems are less likely to allow celebrity-based politics to fully dominate a society, unlike what often happens in presidential systems, where name-recall and popularity can catapult a celebrity, actor, or popular politician to the presidency despite such candidate's lack of competence and experience.
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Some scholars like Juan Linz , Fred Riggs , Bruce Ackerman , and Robert Dahl have found that parliamentary government is less prone to authoritarian collapse. These scholars point out that since World War II , two-thirds of Third World countries establishing parliamentary governments successfully made the transition to democracy. By contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without experiencing coups and other constitutional breakdowns. A World Bank study found that parliamentary systems are associated with less corruption,  which is supported by a separate study that arrived at the same conclusions.
In his book The English Constitution , Walter Bagehot praised parliamentary governments for producing serious debates, for allowing for a change in power without an election, and for allowing elections at any time. Bagehot considered the four-year election rule of the United States to be unnatural, as it can potentially allow a president who has disappointed the public with a dismal performance in the second year of his term to continue on until the end of his four-year term. Under a parliamentary system, a prime minister that has lost support in the middle of his term can be easily replaced by his own peers.
Although Bagehot praised parliamentary governments for allowing an election to take place at any time, the lack of a definite election calendar can be abused. Previously under some systems, such as the British, a ruling party could schedule elections when it felt that it was likely to retain power, and so avoid elections at times of unpopularity.
Thus, by a shrewd timing of elections, in a parliamentary system, a party can extend its rule for longer than is feasible in a functioning presidential system. This problem can be alleviated somewhat by setting fixed dates for parliamentary elections, as is the case in several of Australia's state parliaments. In other systems, such as the Dutch and the Belgian, the ruling party or coalition has some flexibility in determining the election date. Conversely, flexibility in the timing of parliamentary elections can avoid periods of legislative gridlock that can occur in a fixed period presidential system.
In any case, voters ultimately have the power to choose whether to vote for the ruling party or someone else.