ank michels debating democracy

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Acta Politica, 2008, 43, (472492) r 2008 Palgrave Macmillan 0001-6810/08

Debating Democracy: The Dutch CaseAnk MichelsUtrecht School of Governance, Universiteit Utrecht, Bijlhouwerstraat 6, Utrecht 3511 ZC, The Netherlands. E-mail:

Normative theories on democracy differ in their view on the role of citizen participation. Whereas in the model of representative democracy, the role of citizen participation is mainly voting; in the models of associative democracy, deliberative democracy, and participatory democracy, other aspects of citizen participation are emphasized. This article investigates the extent to which the theoretical debate on democracy is reflected in the public debate on democracy and in democratic practices. It does so for the Dutch case. The analysis shows that the representative model dominates the Dutch debate on democracy among opinion makers and political parties. As far as elements of other models are mentioned, there appears to be a connection with the (ideological) background of the defenders of that perspective: the associative concept of democracy is mainly debated among Christian Democrats, the participatory model among parties from the Left, and the deliberative model among academics. Although the representative model is dominant in the public debate on democracy, the article also shows examples of local democratic practices in which elements of different models of democracy appear to be present. Acta Politica (2008) 43, 472492. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ap.5500205 Keywords: democracy; participation; public debate; political parties

IntroductionMany countries in Western Europe are facing an increasing volatility in elections, a decreasing turnout, a loss in party membership, and the growth of right-wing parties (Mair and van Biezen, 2001; Mair, 2005; Gallagher, 2006). Although, broadly speaking, confidence in democracy and politics does not seem to slipping, political research does show evidence of a loss of confidence in political institutions and politicians and of popular indifference to conventional politics in many countries (Dekker, 2003; Mair, 2005). The question of how politicians should react is the subject of public debate in many countries. In fact, this debate deals with the issue of what type of democracy is needed. Politicians and political opinion makers do agree that in a modern democracy citizens should participate and be involved. There is, however, considerably less agreement on the extent to which and in what way

Ank Michels Debating Democracy: The Dutch Case


such participation should be effected. In fact, this has yielded a discussion in which arguments from different theoretical models of democracy seem to be interwoven. This article aims at unravelling the debate on democracy through the lens of democratic theory. The question addressed in this article is: to what extent is the theoretical debate on democracy reflected in the public debate on democracy and in democratic practices? The article examines the debate on democracy among opinion makers and between political parties. It does so for the Dutch case. The first section presents four normative theoretical models of democracy. Within each of these models, participation has a different meaning. The second part of this article investigates the Dutch debate on democracy. It starts with a short overview of Dutch politics during the past few decades. It then examines the debate on democracy among opinion makers and in party manifestoes, and presents some experiences with democratic practices. Views on participation and democracy will be confronted with the theoretical perspectives on democracy.

Models of DemocracyThe concept of democracy has always been contested, as is evident from the enormous body of literature on different models of democracy (see e.g. Held, 1987; Sabine, 1989; Lijphart, 1999; Saward, 2003; Hendriks, 2006). Participation is generally seen as an important element of democracy. To what extent and how citizens should participate, are questions that belong to the core of normative political theories on democracy. The answers differ, however. In some theories, participation of many people is seen as vital to democracy, whereas other theories equate participation with the selection of politicians. In this section, four models of democracy will be presented, each emphasizing another view on participation: the representative model of democracy, the associative model, the deliberative model, and the participatory model of democracy.1 These models also differ in their answers to questions like: Who decides, and who are the main actors? Representative democracy The representative model of democracy is probably the model that is most frequently described. The model focuses on decision-making by elected representatives. Liberal democracy and polyarchical democracy are also often-used terms to label this type of democracy (Saward, 2003, 150). In this first model of democracy, participation plays only a marginal role and is limited to voting for leaders.Acta Politica 2008 43

Ank Michels Debating Democracy: The Dutch Case


One of the main representatives of this view is Joseph Schumpeter. He defines democracy in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy as follows: The democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of competitive struggle for the peoples vote (Schumpeter, 1976, first published in 1942, 269). Hence, in this view, the competition for leadership is the core of democracy. The role of the people is no more than to produce a government (Schumpeter, 1976, 269). Voters must understand that, once they have elected their leader, political action is the leaders business and not theirs. In his view, ordinary people could not be expected to judge about politics and policies. Therefore, massive political participation is seen as undesirable. A more modern representative of this view on democracy is Robert Dahl. In his A Preface to Democratic Theory (1956), he, too, focuses on decisionmaking by the elected representatives of the people. In Dahls view, elections play a central role in maximizing democracy, that is, in maximizing popular sovereignty and political equality. Through elections, voters can express their choice for alternatives. The alternative with the greatest support among the voters will be chosen and displace the other alternatives. The orders of the elected politicians will then become policy. Dahl, too, has a narrow conception of political participation. He even regards massive participation as dangerous, because an increase in political activity among the lower socio-economic classes could lead to more authoritarian ideas and thus to a decline in consensus about the basic norms of democracy (Dahl, 1956, 89). Although different theories on representative democracy may emphasize different aspects, they share the following characteristics: the emphasis is on decision-making by elected representatives, the main role of voters is to select leaders, and participation takes place through elections. Associative democracy The model of associative democracy emphasizes the importance of informal and local associations in democracy. These associations have an essential role in performing governance functions on behalf of their members. In this model, citizen participation takes place in associations. The concept of associative democracy is most notably present in the writings of Paul Hirst. In his book, Associative Democracy, he develops the idea of associative democracy as an answer to the increasingly diverse and pluralistic objectives of the members of modern societies (Hirst, 1994, 6). He claims that individual liberty and human welfare are best served when social affairs are managed by voluntary and democratically self-governing associations. According to Hirst, in an associative democracy, these voluntary selfgoverning associations should be the primary means of democratic governance.Acta Politica 2008 43

Ank Michels Debating Democracy: The Dutch Case


Social movements must build their own self-governing communities in civil society. These self-governing associations must not be regarded as secondary or opposing organizations, but as essential to democratic politics. Also, power should, as far as possible, be distributed to distinct domains of authority, and administration within these domains should be devolved to the lowest level for effective governance. And finally, democratic governance is more than elections and majority decisions; it should also provide for the continuous flow of information between governors and the governed. In Hirsts view, communication in democracy can operate best in a system where associations have government tasks, and where coordination depends on the cooperation of these associations (Hirst, 1994, 1940). So, the model of associative democracy may be said to be characterized by voluntary self-governing associations, which are regarded as important to democracy. Furthermore, participation takes place through associations and there should be multiple and diverse centres of power.

Deliberative democracy A relatively new conception of democracy is the deliberative democracy model. The emphasis in this model of democracy is on discussion and deliberation. Deliberation, rather than voting, is regarded as the central mechanism for political decision-making. Participation takes place through deliberation. Although the definitions of deliberative democracy differ widely from one another, all theorists agree that this concept of democracy includes at least the following characteristics (e.g. Elster, 1998; Fishkin and Laslett, 2002; Gutmann and Thompson, 2004). First, essential to the deliberative view on democracy i