Democracy and the Right to Otherness

July 2014
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In the European community, which Ukraine aspires to join both through its geographic position and logic of historical development, the superiority of the democratic state system is regarded as an axiom. Indeed, democratic countries have simultaneously the highest indicators of GDP per capita and the smallest gap between the incomes of the richest and the poorest; they are considered the most secure for life and the most effective at giving people the best opportunities for self-improvement. This, of course, does not mean that democracy is a flawless system. After all, the existence of a pluralism of thought and the absence of censorship has the consequence that the democratic system suffers not only the attacks of opponents, but also severe criticism from supporters.       

The theory and practice of democracy is the subject of many works, which offer ways to determine what is and what is not democracy, but in fact they boil down to the question: how is an effective society built? The ideological polemic of the twentieth century showed the futility of attempts to create a clearly outlined conception for the construction of the future—this prompted Raymond Aron, Edward Shills, and Daniel Bell to formulate the idea of an end to ideologies as the powerful engines of revolutionary changes in society, which in their time was liberalism, and later socialism and communism. The fall of the practical embodiment of communist ideology — the Soviet Union — graphically illustrated the thesis that manipulating society under any such idea is in vain. Thus, in most modern research, democracy appears not as an ideal type of the construction of the state, but as a method of achieving the best social system. In view of the aforesaid, it is absurd to pose the question of what the best social system is. But in the memoirs of Raymond Aron I found a good recipe for inquiries into the tendency of society’s development in his time — this is the critique and truncation of that which is undesired and the preservation and development of that which is desired. By what criteria is democracy guided on the movement toward the construction of the best society?

Like the majority of social conceptions from ancient history, the notion of democracy is characterized by a diversity and controversy of definitions. What is rule by the people on the modern stage, when states have departed from the boundaries of the small polis and nearly all the adult residents of a country are citizens, not a tiny minority as it was in Ancient Greece? Very often democracy is defined as the control of the majority or, conversely, democracy is treated so broadly that one can begin to speak about an original “democratic ideology.” Considering democracy in institutional terms, its direct (polis) and representative (modern) models are distinguished. The main difference between them is determined by their quantitative parameter, which is to say that in modern conditions one should not speak about the participation of all in the exercise of power.

Opponents of modern models of democracy add that modern democracy is “invalid” because it is indirect and many people are excluded from the political process, so in this case one cannot speak of democracy. And upon examining the functioning of the polis more thoroughly, we see that even in the period of the blossoming of Athenian democracy not all power was administered directly: various guiding representative organs and officials existed, and the majority of positions were chosen by lot, with the exception only of such important ones as, for example, the position of Strategos. The French sociologist Dominique Schnapper considers this the expression of the highest social equality: all strata face blind fate. The moment of choice is important in the definition of the modern model of democracy: to take part or...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka