THE DECLINE OF DEMOCRACY: Essays on an Endangered Political Species by Ralph Buultjens

THE DECLINE OF DEMOCRACY: Essays on an Endangered Political Species

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The numerous attempts to define democracy fall into one of three classifications; as a set of procedural rules, a set of basic concepts (such as freedom, equality, etc.), or a combination of these. Buultjens' efforts fall into the third category. He isolates four main procedural ""conditions"" for democracy--regular, open elections; genuine opposition forces; free expression of dissent; general participation--but adds that the essence of democracy lies in a belief in the power of reason and the maintenance of individual rights. If these criteria sound vague it's because they are, and Buultjens gets into trouble as soon as he tries to concretize them. At the outset, he distinguishes sharply between politics and economics, maintaining that democracy is a political concept distinct from capitalism or socialism, which are purely economic systems, Nevertheless, democracy soon becomes identified with capitalism, though with an archaic, entrepreneurial capitalism based on thrift, individual initiative, and public responsibility (an argument, such as it is, taken from Daniel Bell's The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism)--in short, a revival of the ""Protestant ethic."" The pessimism of the title derives from many familiar sources--the influence of mass media and government control thereof, the impact of pressure groups, the exigencies of Third World economic development, etc.--and Buultjens does not give democracy much of a chance outside the West, and only a slim chance there. On his criteria of ethical renewal, no chance is a better guess. This small book is a genuine plea for freedom--doomed, however, by its failure to take the relationship between politics and economics seriously.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1978
Publisher: Orbis