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Alternate Conceptions of Democracy (Chart)


This chart was developed by Frances Moore Lappé and Paul Martin Du Bois and was published along with their article Living Democracy.







Formal Democracy

Moral Community

Living Democracy

Definition set of formal political institutions (e.g., multiple parties) and procedures (e.g., secret ballot) state of justice and mutual caring for the common good a way of life in which people share in public problem-solving in all their public roles - as citizens, workers, students, employers, parents, consumers, etc.
Nature of Democracy a static set of institutional
arrangements we already have in the Western democracies, that many other people want
a static ideal we work towards but never achieve a dynamic process which we are
forever evolving and improving as we participate in it; democracy is something we do
Purpose to protect individual pursuit of happiness, protect against interference to achieve justice and therefore peace and harmony to facilitate mutual pursuit of interests. Democracy is also of inherent value because it develops distinct human capacities and meets human needs (like "making a difference" and participating in a community)
Democracy applies to: those few things that market exchange can't handle social rules that determine distribution of resources decision-making concerning the
"commons" - those natural, economic, educational and cultural resources on which we all depend
Role of citizens to select leaders and check their power by vote, protest & recall to be responsible for the common good to wield power as co-creators of history
Power perspective power is a one-way force exerted by powerholders over the less powerful; zero-sum: the more for you, the less for me; measured by control and immediate victory power is corrupting, destructive and nasty;
it's denied as a goal;
the power of oppressors should be protested
power means "to be able"; everyone has it in their relationships; the more we use it together, the more there is; not zero-sum: it grows when used to build long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships
interested behavior
protects individual selfish interests and own narrow agenda denies self-interest and works on behalf of the oppressed self-interest includes all that we care about; we evolve & move on our broad self-interest by discovering & developing its relationships to the interests of others
Handling of differences differences tolerated but the majority rules cut through differences to common humanity diversity acknowledged as real and valu-able; dialogue among diverse perspectives creates new common ground
Skills/arts/ qualities needed good sense in choosing leaders to make decisions for us public virtue;
compassion; capacity to overcome self-interest
democratic arts must be actively learned: listening, dialogue, critical and strategic thinking, reflection, negotiation, creative controversy, etc.
Role of expertise dominant, since most decisions depend on centralized, specialized technical knowledge experts must be converted to serve the common good expertise "on tap, not on top"; used by citizens to develop useful guides for pub-lic action; direct experience is respected
Role of
the state
a regulator to protect property, the market and individual rights a means to achieve justice and protect the powerless a tool used by citizens to express self-interests, protect the commons and progress toward mutual goals
Role of the market governs the interaction of self-seeking social atoms (individuals) a threat to community a tool used by citizens to meet their needs, build their communities and
solve shared problems
Role of public values (e.g., freedom or fairness) individually held values usually unarticulated, undiscussed; can be deduced from individual choices; value-symbols used to market products, candidates & policies values taught by more enlightened people to those still trapped in
values consciously held, used and discussed in public life; they evolve and become clarified through experience
and dialogue with others
Rights to protect the individual against the state and other citizens to protect minorities and all those less powerful to assure those human and other resources needed for vibrant, effective public life and civic culture