This chapter examines the claim that democracy is the ideal form of political obligation. It first traces the historical evolution of the term ‘democracy’ before discussing the debate between advocates of the protective theory and the participatory theory of democracy, asking whether it is possible to reconcile elitism with democracy and whether participatory democracy is politically realistic. The chapter proceeds to explain why democracy is viewed as the major grounding for political obligation, with emphasis on the problem of majority rule and what to do with the minority consequences of majoritarianism. It documents the contemporary malaise experienced by democracy and seeks to explain its perceived weaknesses as a form of rule. Finally, the chapter describes the new directions that democratic theory has taken in recent years, focusing on four theories: associative democracy, cosmopolitan democracy, deliberative democracy, and ecological democracy.
This chapter examines key aspects of democratic theory. It first defines what democracy means and traces the historical evolution of the term, from the time of the ancient Greeks to the French and American revolutions up to the nineteenth-century, when democracy began to take on more popular connotations in theory and practice. The chapter goes on to discuss the debate between advocates of the protective theory and the participatory theory of democracy. It also considers alleged problems with democracy — relating to majoritarianism, its impact on economic efficiency, and its relationship with desired outcomes — before concluding with an analysis of the new directions democratic theory has taken in recent years, including associative, deliberative, cosmopolitan, and ecological versions of democracy.