Democracy is…

I read a lot of material that amounts to an obituary of democratic governance. Democracy is (choose your descriptor) and plagued by a loss of faith.

This is one of the principal reasons I have persisted working on the Joy of Politics project Among other things, I thought that it was important to define both democracy and politics, and differentiate the one from the other if need be.

In other words, merely to lament the failure (or decline, or death) of democracy does nothing actually to define what it is, or was, in the first place.

One might seek to understand democracy as the product of a certain structural matrix, as I did in chapter 2 of The Joy of Politics. Two recent notes focus on less tangible elements which I also address: unwritten rules and commitments; and a space within which democratic engagement can take place.

A democratic polity will require “guardrails,” a term I have detected in several recent media reports, among which rule of law, a free press, some form of separation of powers, and certain basic freedoms — of speech, of assembly, of religion, of property, and so on.

But as Gavin Charles observes, democracy also requires “the enabling of a vibrant and free civil society… [in a] … more or less structured and institutionalized space between individuals and government.”

The effort starts at home, in the US, in Canada, and elsewhere. As Canadian Gavin Charles writes,

Amid closing space for civil society globally, Canada can and should be a clear and strong voice, at home and abroad, for resistance and reopening. By enabling civil society in Canada and globally, Canada will help to enable, support, and improve democracy in our own country and around the world.


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