Volume 11, 2001
Social and Political Philosophy
Peter A. French
The Meaning of Democracy
A Western Perspective
I suggest that part of the reason the on-going debate in the West between the liberal democrats and the communitarians about the future and/or the ills of democracy is futile because both sides are committed to conceptually different accounts of democracy. The roots of communitarianism in the Athenian polis and that of liberalism in the atomistic individualism of the Enlightenment are contrasted in order to discern the motivating visions and overarching structures of both. Whereas communitarian democracy is willdominated, liberal democracy is choice-dominated. My purpose here is not to argue for the supremacy of one over the other, but to call attention to the distinctions between the two that are often blurred in contemporary discussion about democracy.