Demos Kratein

The etymology of the word 'democracy' is often mistaken. It comes from the Greek demos and kratein. Literally, it means power to the people, so long as 'the people' is restricted to, essentially, the class of property owners. Dahl makes pains about using the term 'polyarchy' to refer to what most call democracies, but the semantic distinction is superfluous at best and simply wrong at worst.

The idea suggested by polyarchy is that there are multiple sources of power whereas, in reality, sources of power are not discrete but run into one an another. In Britain at the moment, the governing party, Labour, is connected to the Trades Unions. Where now does one stop and the other start? Certainly, they are not the separate sources of power suggested by polyarchy.

In our democracy, not everyone is part of the demos. To begin with, not everyone who can vote does vote (and there is no 'RON' option) and there is no effective popular control over the actions of the executive, not even mediated by the legislature. Democracy is a better term than polyarchy.



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