In this chapter we will first define the concepts of democracy and governance to move on to
distinguish between normative and analytical discourses on governance to provide the framing
for the following analysis of the institutional context of governance and democracy in Europe.
The term democracy stems from the Greek words demos (=people) and kratein (=domination,
government and rule), which means popular domination or a government which is exercised
by the people. Concerning different approaches to democracy, a rough distinction can be made
between direct and indirect forms of democracy which are related to a liberal and republican
understanding of democracy.
Liberal democracy: The liberal vision of democracy is based on a strict division of the
and civil society, state and the economy are conceptualised as antagonist. But even in the
political sphere democracy is restricted to the repeated election of representatives, whereby
the classic form is parliamentary democracy, which rests on the institutional separation of
powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches. Representation from this
point of view is conceived as being an institutionalised mode of conflict resolution. It is
suspicious of the majority rule and aims at protecting the individual – its wealth as well as
ideas – from the will of the majority.
Republican democracy: In contrast to liberal democracy the republican approach is based on
public space to discuss common problems and collectively find solutions (Arendt 1998). The
concept of republican democracy which has affinities with direct democracy has been further
developed by Rousseau during the French Revolution. His ideas of direct rule by all citizens
lead towards a more inclusive form of democracy. A sympathetic view calls it integrated,
critics stress its totalitarian traces which do not protect privacy. Citizenship is a central
concept of republican theory (Janoski 1998), focusing on lessons in democracy learned by
politically active citizens.
Democracy dates back to the Greek polis where it was not a popular idea. In antique Athens
democracy was seen as opposing freedom (Canfora 2006: 17). Greek “democracy” was indeed
based on a slave-owning and patriarchal socioeconomic system which promoted the liberty of
free men. This tension between liberty and democracy has accompanied political history in
Europe until today and became prominent again with the rise of neoliberalism as a
“Constitution of Freedom” (Hayek 1978).
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From the Greek to the American slave-owner democracy advancing to universal franchise of
men and later on women as well, the history of democracy is a history of the struggle for
popular participation in decision-making. Over the last centuries there has been an ongoing
tension between capitalism and democracy, between civic and personal rights and the right of
property. An emblematic moment and an important progressive agenda-setting initiative were
the sit-ins of the US-American civil rights movement: the right of the black clients to be
served stood against the right of the white owner of the lunch bar to withhold. This symbolizes
very well the tension within the liberal identification of capitalism, freedom and democracy
(Bowles/Gintis 1986: 27).
The 1960s and 1970s were decades of democratisation, of the increase of the range and
content of democracy, a process of increasing inclusion of all members of a commonwealth.
The civil rights movement in the US, the post-1968 implementation of reforms by social
democratic governments in Europe and the struggle against dictatorships in Southern Europe
(García et al. 2007: 2), and, later on, at the periphery of the world economy and in state
socialist countries, showed a general will for more democracy. Sometimes this even went as
far as to “permeate society with democracy” and to deepen socioeconomic democracy
(Willi Brandt in Germany and Bruno Kreisky in Austria). A more recent, but influential,
approach towards democracy is deliberative democracy which is similar to the republican
concept, apart from one major topic. It emphasises the discursive process of political decision
making within the ideal type of the “public sphere”, too (Habermas 1962/1990). The
consensus reached in collective discussion defines the common wealth – what is good for
society as a whole –, but is not implemented by civil society itself. In this idealistic and
power-naive model, civil society is formed solely by educated and “disinterested” actors who
gain influence due to competence, but do not aspire to political power. Pressure through public
opinion should force issues to be addressed formally by the state (Habermas 1992). Thus,
consensus is only an intermediary step to political action, with civil society pressuring the
politicians to act in their interest. Today, democracy is no key word for alternative social
movements or progressive movements anymore (Novy 2003a). This is related to the
substitution of the political by politics, and the denial of diverging interests (Mouffe 2006). It
has been successfully denounced. Since the 1990s, “participation” has taken over large parts
of the progressive expectations associated with popular involvement of citizens in communal
and public decision-making. Participatory democracy is the corresponding concept, which is
also favoured by some of the social movements connected to the World Social Forum
(Fung/Wright 2003; Roussopoulos/Benello 2005; Santos 2005).