The power of a democratic public

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4 Scopus citations


Introduction There are three aspects to democracy, all of them important for ensuring that the demos or people truly have kratos or power over their government. First of all, the government must be able to make a credible claim to speak and act in the people's name; it must have the general acceptance of the members of the domestic polity, however tacitly this is given. That first aspect marks off a democracy from the colonial form of government that is imposed from outside a country. It enables us to speak of the people as the ultimate sovereign, the ultimate source of political authority. That the people are sovereign in this sense, however, does not mean that government is elected under universal franchise. It requires only that should the people generally come to disapprove of a government – say, a monarchical or aristocratic government – then they are entitled to resist and reject it. The second aspect of democracy also indicts any elitist dispensation, however benign, as undemocratic. It requires that the people serve in an electoral role as well as in the role of a sovereign. But the fact that the people serve in these two roles does not yet mean, intuitively, that the people have much control or power over government. For all that the right of resistance and election enjoin, those in government might yet behave in a more or less arbitrary, even dictatorial fashion; they might deal unjustly with ordinary citizens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAgainst Injustice
Subtitle of host publicationThe New Economics of Amartya Sen
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9780511657443
ISBN (Print)9780521899598
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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