Chapter 11: Non-electoral participation
Competitive elections may be a necessary and – if for no other reason than their widespread use – a defining institution of modern democracy. Nevertheless, elections constitute a weak and, in the eyes of many, insufficient condition for a fuller realization of the democratic ideal for several reasons. From a developmental perspective participatory democratic theorists argue that democracy requires more than just intermittent involvement of the public in elections arranged to select political leaders. Benjamin Barber, for example, characterizes voting as the ‘least significant act of citizenship in a democracy’ (1984: 187). In Barber’s view ‘strong democracy’ should imply continual, on-going involvement in a variety of political activities. Such a view is shared by others (e.g. Bachrach & Botwinick 1992; Berry et al. 1993; Fung 2004; Mansbridge 1980; Pateman 1970), the argument often resting on the idea that political participation is important not only as a means for influencing policy making, but every bit as much because it contributes to the development and self-realization of the individual, an idea that in various forms was put forward earlier by such thinkers as Rousseau, Mill and Dewey among others (Dewey 1961; Mill 1880; Rousseau 1996). Different forms of political involvement – voting as well as other activities – offer a ‘school in democracy’ which provide people with opportunities to learn the rules of democracy and to see more clearly interrelationships that are likely to exist between personal and collective interests.
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