Philosophy of Democracy

Astra Taylor (2019) quipped that 'Democracy may not exist but we will miss it when it’s gone': a timely remark in the current world situation. Study the philosophical and historical roots of Democratic systems; why they emerge and why they falter. We will discuss the core elements which make a Democracy ‘democratic’, and then test various kinds of Democracies against the ideal. The course will cover philosophers from the Ancient Greeks, Magna Carta (1215), through Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) to the present situation. Issues discussed will be checks and balances, suffrage, right and responsibilities, separation of powers, equality, capitalism, and many more. Lastly we will consider the theory that Democracy is in crisis and the responses to this idea.


  • This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom.
  • This course requires students to have an email, a reliable internet connection, a microphone/speakers and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.


  • What is Democracy: Defining Democracy is a complex issue: What must a political system have to qualify.
  • Comparison to Non-democratic systems: Many political systems in the past and now claim to have benefits which Democracies lack: what are the benefits and what are the flaws.
  • Emergence in History: We will consider a range of Ancient forms, some pre-cursors to the Greek invention of Democracy.
  • Magna Carta (1215) to Dutch Declaration of Independence (1581): The checks and balances on Sovereign power happen slowly, we will follow this historical and philosophical development.
  • Alexis de Tocqueville Democracy in America: Tocqueville’s speculations on the newly formed American Democracy became one of the most influential works for the next hundred years; many of his ideas were far sighted.
  • Twentieth Century Democracies: At the beginning of the 1970s the majority of countries had authoritarian systems; by 1995 114 of 191 countries had declared that they were Democracies (we will assess how democratic) this is a staggering change in the political landscape: why and how did this happen.
  • Elections: What do we mean by ‘equal, fair and impartial’. The idea of ‘fair’ needs to be assessed; no Democracy will reach the ideal in this matter, but what is ‘fair enough’.
  • Democracy and Capitalism: Can you have one without the other. There is a great deal of political philosophy which proposes that Democracy and Capitalism are interdependent, we will assess this issue.
  • The Contemporary ‘Crisis’ of Democracy: If Democracy is in crisis then what has precipitated this situation, and what are the suggested remedies for it. Keep in mind that at least some theorists think that this ‘panic’ is unnecessary.
  • Theories of a Better Way: Maybe Democracy has run its course, if so what could take its place.

PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Identify the main features which constitute a Democracy.
  2. Discuss the philosophical ideas of: Aristotle, John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville, Mill and many others.
  3. Identify the different kinds of Democracy and how they developed in history.
  4. Discuss the implications of the fortunes of Democracy for our own time.
$270 Limited / $243

<p>Astra Taylor (2019) quipped that 'Democracy may not exist but we will miss it when it’s gone': a timely remark in the current world situation. Study the philosophical and historical roots of

24 Apr

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