Democracy embodies the belief that all human beings ought to enjoy the opportunity for self government or autonomy.

sem2.jpg (11878 bytes)There has been a long and hard struggle to establish more democratic political systems. In part this has been born out of the recognition of the problems and injustices identified above. ‘Democracy embodies the belief that all human beings ought to enjoy the opportunity for self government or autonomy’ (Lakoff 1996: 30). Implicit in this belief is the idea that all are equal citizens. There may remain great inequalities linked to wealth, gender or culture, however, a democratic system at least holds out the promise that people can collectively come together to reduce or perhaps even eliminate some or all of those inequalities.

Demokratia - mea ning 'rule of the people' - was used to describe the way some Greek city-states were governed in the fifth century BC. Citizens took part in regular mass meetings that made decisions about the affairs of the city. Those holding public office only did so for a short period. Sometimes these jobs were taken in turn, at others they were filled by lot or election.Since the seventeenth century in the West, democracy has taken on other meanings. 'Representative democracy' has become a familiar form. Citizens elect politicians and officers to 'represent' their interests and views. As states have grown in scope and scale - so matters have to be managed across great distances. It is one thing for 6000 people to come together in a mass meeting, quite another for 60 million.

When we talk of democracy here, we are not only concerned with a way of choosing governments. We look to it as a quality that runs through the whole of life, to the relationships between us. This entails moving beyond a focus on individuals. We are social beings. We are what we are because of our interactions with others. We achieve what we do because we benefit from their work. Thus, if we are all to flourish then we must:

In this view, we do not simply add together individuals and get society. People's lives are woven together, we share in a common life. Many ancient Greek thinkers recognized this. Their term for the private individual was idiotes (idiot) - such a person was literally a fool as she or he was not interested in public affairs.

Lakoff, S. (1996) Democracy: History, theory, practice, Boulder, Colerado: Westview Press, page 30.

infedcov.jpg (18462 bytes)Taken from Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith (2005) Informal Education. Conversation, democracy and learning, Nottingham: Educational Heretics Press.

© Tony Jeffs and Mark K. Smith
First published October 18, 1999. Last update: July 08, 2014