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Criticising Empirical Theorists of Democracy: A Comment on Skinner Author(s): Carole Pateman Reviewed work(s): Source: Political Theory, Vol.

2, No. 2 (May, 1974), pp. 215-218 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/190674 . Accessed: 24/12/2012 16:13
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CAROLE PA TEMAN University of Sydney

[ T IS NOT CLEARfrom QuentinSkinner'sarticle(PT, Vol. 1, No. 3) what kind of democratic theory he regards as relevant or appropriate,having wished a plague on the houses of empiricaltheorists and their critics alike. Are we to accept the empiricaltheory despite its ideological nature-or are the critics right in regardingthat as a good reasonto rejectit? While I agree with Skinner that the critics that he cites have not substantiated their claims against the empirical theorists, the aspect of their argumentthat he has taken up does not get us very far. Eventhough Skinner may have placed the claim that the empirical theorists have produced a conservative,ideological defense of the status quo, on a firmer footing (albeit by a somewhat tortuous route), he still remains in essentially the same place in the argumentas the critics that he attacks. Neither these critics nor Skinnerhas shown that the empiricaltheorists are mistaken in their revision, given the empirical data-referred to by Skinner-on which the empirical theorists base their claim that the 'classical' theory of democracy needs revision, and the present system meets the necessaryrequirements for a 'democracy.' That is to say, the really crucial argument between the empirical theorists and their critics is not over the question of the ideologicalnature of the empiricaltheory in the sense in which Skinnerdealswith it, but on Political Theory, Vol. 2 No. 2, May 1974, ? 1974 Sage Publications, Inc.


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the question of whether it is empiricallyfeasible in the latter part of the twentieth century to have a 'democracy'characterized by anything other than the social basis and competing leaders in periodic, free elections describedby Dahl et al. If the empiricalrequirements for the realizationof the 'classical'theory of democracy are not realizableundercontemporary social and economic conditions, then there seems little point, irrespective of whetherthe empiricaltheory is or is not conservative and ideological,in these critics continuingto defend it (althoughit should be addedthat they are often unclear about the exact nature of the ideal that the empirical theoristsarebetraying). It is significantthat the criticsdiscussedby Skinnerare very selectively chosen. Those who go further and make a stronger case against the empiricaltheorists arecarefullyomitted;there is no mention, for example, of Peter Bachrach (1967) or of my own Participationand Democratic Theory (1970), in which the empiricaltheorists are tackled on their own ground-the empirical one. Their own interpretationof the evidence is open to question, and it can be argued on the basis of a different interpretationthat the 'classical'ideal of a democracybased on widespread participation,includingsome direct participation, is a feasibleone. Indeed, although Skinnerrefers to Dahl'sAfter the Revolution?,he appearsnot to have noticed that Dahl has, in that book, introduced industrial selfmanagementinto democratic theory as 'one solution too obvious to be ignored'to some of the problemsof 'polyarchy'(Dahl, 1970: 134). This radical modification of the empiricaltheorists' 'democracy'is a significant concession to the arguments of the critics whom Skinner ignores. It is the strongest, not the weakest, part of the critics' case that Skinnermust meet if he is to dismissthem as well as their opponents. Skinner'sselectivity in the choice of critics also helps him to make the kind of case he does for the ideologicalnatureof the empiricaltheory. He suggeststhat it is only recently that the meaningof 'democracy'has been in dispute. On the contrary, in its modernform at least, there have always been two fairly well-definedtraditionsof argumentabout properform for a 'democratic' system. As I have argued (Pateman, 1970), the idea, accepted alike by almost all the writerson the subject, of one 'classical' theory of democracythat is to be opposed to the new empiricaltheory is a myth. In fact, the empirical theorists are merely the latest, 'operationalized,' version of the liberal democratic tradition; that is, the theory of (ideology of?) the actual political institutional arrangementsthat have been part and parcel of the development of the capitalist, liberal, 'democratic'West, especially the United States and Great Britain,which has always stressed the role of leaders and seen participation as a

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protective device, and a cost that, ideally, the citizen shouldhave only to pay very seldom. This view of democracy has never been universally accepted among theorists, although the alternative, participatorytradition has, until very recently, been virtuallycompletely ignoredby most writers on democratictheory: includingSkinnerin this presentarticle. I would argue that democracy itself, and the other key terms of democratic theory, always were 'evaluative-descriptive' terms.' Thus the argumentabout democracyalways has been 'ideological'in the sense that those who 'commended'it have never been agreedabout its meaning.The argument goes beyond the question whether 'oligarchy' or 'democracy' best characterizes the present system, to the question of what other form, if any, of democracycan be reasonablyheld to be feasible.After all, if the presentsystem is 'oligarchical,' then what exactly is a democracy? Part of the claim of the empirical theorists, as Skinner notes in his discussion of Dahl, is that the set of institutional arrangements that they specify as 'democratic'is also characterized as involving'politicalequality,' 'political freedom,' 'popularsovereignty,''control' and 'responsiveness' of leaders, and so on. The crucial question here is how it is to be decided if the characterization is a correctone. Anothertheorist may disagreethat it is correct, and arguethat (say) 'politicalequality' refersnot merely to the periodicelection of representatives throughuniversalsuffrage(and perhaps the existence of pressuregroups) but to a situation where citizens can actually take part in makingpolitical decisions. That this is more than a matter of arbitrarystipulations can be seen if it is considered how the empirical theorists could defend their characterization.I would suggest that a complete argumentwould demand not just referenceto the actual operation of the existing system-control of leaders, protection of individualinterests-and the lack of feasibilityof the alternativeinterpretation, but also referenceto a 'realistic'conception of the citizen as a certain kind of (male) individual-see the discussionof homno civicus(Dahl, 1961: 223-225)-with certainkinds of interests (cf. Bachrach,1967: 38-39, 95). The empirical theorists' defense would appeal to the existing political system and its political culture and therefore is, as Skinner argues, conservative. But the conservatismlies not only, as Skinner's analysis would suggest, in a linguistic sphere,in the realmof speech acts which the term democracy is 'standardly' used to perform. It is precisely those standardsand the actual social and political relationshipsof which they form a part, that lie at the heart of the critics'attack. The argumentis over something much wider than the 'application'of one term. Moreover,the empirical theorists would hardly claim that the conditions necessaryfor applying the term have been drawn too narrowly;ratherthe argumentis

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that in the 'classical'theory they are far too wide, involvingan ideal of the citizen and political participation that is unrealistic, even utopian. Skinner'sargumentdoes not advance the critics' case much beyond the point where he took it up because he ignores the real strengthof their argument;that they meet their opponentshead-onover the interpretation to open of empiricalevidence and so move beyond oligarchy/democracy up the so long neglected theoretical and empirical questions about participatorydemocracy.

1. These remarks draw on Pateman (1971: ch. 2).

BACHRACH, P. (1967) The Theory of Democratic Elitism: A Critique. Boston: Little, Brown. DAHL, R. A. (1970) After the Revolution?: Authority in a Good Society. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press. --- (1961) Who Governs? New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press. PATEMAN, C. (1971) "Participation and recent theories of democracy." Ph.D. dissertation. Oxford University. ---(1970) Participation and Democratic Theory. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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