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Democracy and instrumentalism

Malpas, J. and Wickham, G. (1998) Democracy and instrumentalism. Australian Journal of Political Science, 33 (3). pp. 345-362.

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The fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of state socialism, among other factors, has led to a renewed interest in a certain conception of democracy as a fundamental organising principle for political debate and decision-making. Yet there are good reasons to suppose that the concept of democracy is severely limited in the role it can play here. This article examines some of these limits. In the first section we summarise a number of arguments from the 'revivalist' democratic literature and the conception of democracy presented within it. In doing so, we identify a conception of democracy-a conception we refer to generically as 'the democratic ideal'-that is defined both in relation to certain structural features and also in terms of a set of progressivist and socially ameliorative ends to which that ideal is seen as being especially conducive. In this reason our interest is not in any one version of the democratic idealalthough we do take many contemporary forms of the ideal in question to combine two central strands-as in the promotion of that ideal as instrumental in furthering certain economic and social ends. In the second section we call this ideal into question through a discussion of some of the problems associated with democratic forms of governance. We conclude with a discussion of the way in which the appeal to the democratic ideal in political debate and decision-making may actually depend on ignoring or suppressing the very politics that it aims to address.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Copyright: 1998 Australasian Political Studies Association
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