Is democracy simply a matter of process,
a peaceful way of making collective decisions through regular elections with
competing parties and candidates? Lincoln thought not: It is, he said, government
by the people that also works for the people as a matter of substantive results.
The essays by Frank Michelman and Atilio Boron in this issue explore theoretical
and practical implications of these two aspects of the democratic ideal.
Assessing recent philosophical accounts of democracy by Ronald
Dworkin and Jürgen Habermas, Michelman finds two flawed-because one-sided-efforts
to reconcile ideals of political freedom with substantive individual rights.
Michelman's lesson: Though a conception of democracy needs to have both procedural
and substantive elements, it cannot treat either as more fundamental.
Atilio Boron is concerned less with the foundations of democratic
thought than with the implications of a purely procedural practice of democracy
in newly democratizing Latin American countries. Adherence to the "for
the people" element of the democratic ideal has, he argues, generated
expectations that democracy will improve everyday life. But the combination
of electoral democracy with neoliberal economic policy has made life worse.
And disappointed expectations have, in turn, bred dangerously high levels
of doubt in the region about democracy itself.
As the terms of the discussion indicate, democratic thought
tends to assume that there is a people for government to be by and for. Boron's
bracing conclusion highlights the importance of this assumption: He describes
a divided society, rich and poor living in separate worlds, lacking even the
rudiments of a common life. To be sure, having a sense of commonality always
requires an act of imagination, and a common life, whether in the large or
small, is always a creative and risky venture-a theme that runs through the
contributions in this issue by Fred Block, Alan Stone, Stephen Burt, Yael
Tamir, Martha Nussbaum, Elizabeth Macklin, Peter Sacks, Ivan Kreilkamp, Rebecca
Kaiser, and Claudia Keelan. But, to paraphrase Keelan, life isn't art, and
in the world described by Atilio Boron, even an active imagination may be
unable to construct a common world. And without a people, democracy-as process
or substance, in theory or practice-faces a grim future.