Assessing democratic innovation

The chapters that follow in this book cover a range of topics related to six general questions about democratic innovations. Most usually, each chapter considers two, three or four of these topics, because they are intertwined one with the other, yet closely associated in the real world.

Direct democracy vs representative democracy?

There is an understandable tendency in the literature on new forms of political involvement to assume that strong democracy should replace weak democracy, that deliberative democracy should supplant elite direction, and that direct democracy should render representative democracy obsolete. There is something wrong with this assumption that the new and the old are incompatible and alternative forms of government. New forms of direct democracy - whether referendums, cogovernance, or citizen juries and mini-publics - are inevitably developed within and by the institutions of old forms of representative democracy. While it is the job of abstract theories to explore the abstract principles and potentials of strong democracy, deliberation and direct participation, in the real world these are set in a context of the institutions and practices of representative government - parties, pressure groups, legislatures, government institutions, the mass media and political leaders. For better or worse, the new forms are inevitably influenced, or even determined by, the old. This prompts the questions of how democratic innovations mesh with and relate to the old institutions of representative government, and whether the old forms constrain or enhance the performance of the new forms.

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