Mark E. Warren

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Political Philosophy

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199238804
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728365 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy


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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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When compared to various forms of autocracy, monarchy, theocracy, oligarchy, and dictatorship, democracies are better at solving, routinizing, and institutionalizing basic problems of common social life and collective action. This article explores the historical origins of ideas that articulate and justify contemporary democratic theory and practice. First, it surveys the conceptual questions embedded in the concept of democracy inherited from the Greek, demokratia—literally, the power (kratos) of the people (demos), though commonly translated as rule of the people. Embedded in this concept of democracy we find at least four basic classes of questions: Who are “the people”? At what level of organization is “self-government” directed? How is the rule of the people translated into collective decisions and actions? Why is democracy good? The answers to these questions form, as it were, the history of democratic theory from the perspective of what historical democratic ideas and practices might contribute to the present and future of democracy.

Keywords: democracy; rule of the people; self-government; collective decisions; democratic theory; demokratia

Article.  5696 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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