There exists no reasonable definition of democracy except for being a system of government in which all those subject to the government are politically equal – that is, have equal influence on government policy. Standard dictionary definitions, such as Merriam-Webster’s:

1 a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections,

are uninformative platitudes (“government by the people”, “government in which the supreme power is vested in the people”), misleading (“rule of the majority”), wrong, or a mix of all of those (“system of representation involving periodically held free elections”).

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Robert Dahl is one of the best scholars of democracy that mainstream America has to offer – he is substantive (i.e., not given to excessive theorizing and pretense), he is not a servant of the powerful (i.e., he is willing to acknowledge many of the problems of the established system), and he is more empirical than dogmatic. That said,Dahl is a full member of the establishment – meaning that there are some assumptions he must accept and some lines of thought he cannot pursue.

His booklet “On Political Equality” is a typical result of these circumstances: satisfying in parts, frustrating in others. I intend in upcoming posts to address the main points made by Dahl in “On Political Equality” and discuss strengths and weaknesses of his arguments.