Dahl, on Democracy

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Democracy has become the most widespread political form of government during the past decade, after the fall of all its alternatives. During the second part of the 20th century, the 3 main enemies of democracy, namely communism, fascism and Nazism, lost most of their power and influence. However, democracy is still only to be found in less than half of this world's countries. China with a fifth of the total population "had never experienced a democratic government" and Russia still doesn't have a well established democracy. By adopting a democratic perspective, 3 types of governments emerge, non-democratic, new democracies, and old democracies, and all have a different challenge to overcome: either to become democratic, to "consolidate" the existing democracy or to "deepen" it. Democracy is not, however, a new concept. Although put into practice only 2 centuries ago, the idea of the rule of the people s much older than that, having been discussed and partly implemented in both ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Shrouded in mystery, the invention of the concept cannot be traced back to a certain time in the past, because, for example, current historians could not properly analyse the ‘government' form of the primitive nomadic tribes, existent before recorded history. Favourable conditions for the development of some type of democracy reappeared around 500 B.C.E. in Europe, on the Mediterranean coast and later in the north. In 507 B.C.E. Athens, the most important city-state in the Greek peninsula, "adopted a system of popular government" (Dahl: 1998: 11), which was to last until the Macedonian invasion two centuries later. The term democracy has its roots in the Greek language, meaning rule (kratos) of the people (demos). Although more cities adopted this type of government, the one in Athens is the one posterity remembers as the first example of participatory democracy. The whole Athenian experience shaped the political philosophy, even the...
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