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Democracy is not zero or one

Written by Sherwin, published on November 7, 2011

Democracy is not a single style of governance. Democracy is not simply about having elections. Democracies come in many colours and fashions. Democracy is a matter of degree and dimension. You can have more of it, or less.

As a first case approximation, I subscribe to the view that democracy is about giving people power over the policies that affect their lives.

This heuristic is not simple, but it means we can compare the way different democracies function. It means that sometimes, a state has more of the stuff even though they don’t vote every four years. It’s not rocket science. Would you rather have a community council, running water, or a vote in a national election? Which one gives you more power over your day to day circumstances?

I’m not saying that you have to choose between electricity and a ballot box. That would be a false dichotomy. Obviously. But the point is to actually ask ourselves the deeper question, ‘what is democracy?’ It’s not simply voting, of that we can be sure. And a place like Canada, can certainly have more of it, or less of it.

Which is why I’m tired of this bullshit saying that gets trotted out.

 Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. – Winston Churchill

This saying is usually operationalized as an attempt to stifle someone’s interest in criticizing the way a specific democracy functions. And it makes it sound like ‘democracy’ is a single form of government. Hogwash.

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