Is democracy possible today?af Erik Oddvar Eriksen
The process of globalization, which exacerbates thepluralism and complexity associated with modernity, andan unauthorized delegation of power, challenges thestandard model of representative democracy, in which theparliament is seen as the embodiment of the will of thepeople. However, "the people" is never really present todecide. The representatives are elected and the notionsof the common good or the public interest that theyespouse are inaccurate, at best. No legal form and noactual assembly can claim legitimacy per se - asexpressions of la volonté générale. Thus, an alternativeconceptualization of the democratic process is required.In order to get to the modern idea of democratic politics,the normative content of the democratic constitutionalstate is spelled out as this is understood in thediscourse-theoretical conception of deliberativedemocracy. This conception is a viable alternative to thestandard model. It relinquishes nationality as requirementfor democracy. In the discourse-theoretical perspective,popular sovereignty is de-substantiated and located in thevery procedures that govern law and decision making.The parliamentary principle cannot by itself ensuredemocratic legitimacy and has to be supplemented withprocedures that secure individual rights and publicdebate. A threefold model of political power thenemerges: social, communicative and administrativepower. This perspective provides us with a rathercomplex set of criteria for assessing democracy todaywhich, however, are needed not only for normativereasons, but also because of the differentiated accessstructure that exist in modern welfare states.Erik Oddvar Eriksen er professor ved ARENA, Oslo Universitet.
- 17. September 2002