People and Politics - Democracy and political participation - Notes

Note by , created over 5 years ago

Notes summarising the key content from this topic within the course.

Created by chrislmurray2014 over 5 years ago
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What is democracy?   Democracy refers to any society in which people are able to make and influence decisions and where government is accountable to the people. It derives from Greek, in which it literally means 'rule by the people'. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln described it as 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'.    Democracy has a number of variations, including direct democracy, representative democracy, liberal democracy and pluralist democracy, and they often overlap.    Three examples of democratic states could be the UK, the USA, and France.

What is legitimacy?   Legitimacy is a concept closely associated with democracy. It is essentially the idea that a government or any other political institution has a democratic right to hold political power.    It's not always clear whether an institution is legitimate or not, however. Below are some examples to illustrate the meaning of legitimacy. The House of Commons is legitimate because it is elected. However, many claim that the electoral system is unfair and distorts political representation, so legitimacy can be challenged.  The House of Lords is arguably not legitimate because its members are not elected. However, it does have traditional authority and its political influence remains widely recognised.  UK government is legitimate because it is elected with a clear mandate to govern. However, every government in the UK has been elected with a minority of the popular vote, so we can challenge its legitimacy. The power of the prime minister is legitimate because it is widely acknowledged that they are the supreme policy maker in the political system. However, there is no legal basis for prime ministerial power, so it could be said to lack legitimacy.     If we look at other regimes outside the UK, we can see that legitimacy can be challenged even more strongly in some cases. Below are some examples. Regimes that seize power by force are not considered to be legitimate. This applies to the government of Cuba, where the communist party came to power after a civil war.  States which have one-party systems, such as China, lack democratic legitimacy even though they might receive widespread popular support. States where democracy is considered to be a facade or 'sham' lack legitimacy. Iran is an example. Hereditary monarchies such as Saudi Arabia or Bahrain lack democratic legitimacy.

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