VOL. 4, NO. 2, PGS. 9–14


Quality Democracy: What Does it Depend On?
A conversation with Leonardo Morlino

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

Leonardo Morlino is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Free International University for Social Studies #info01#ldquo;Guido Carli#info01#rdquo; and former President of the International Political Science Association. He is the author of Changes for Democracy: Actors, Structures, Processes.

What is good democracy? Is good democracy effective governance?

The question about what good democracy is has been at the core of political philosophy for centuries. And it is difficult to say unequivocally what exactly it is because good democracy is a normative notion. That is, its definition depends on who you ask. Each citizen can have its own notion of what it is. Different philosophers, different lines of thought, different conceptions of democracy can each have a different definition of what it is. In short, good democracy is what the British philosopher Walter Bryce Gallie calls an “essentially contested concept”. To be able to assess the quality of any given democracy, I came up with a series of indicators that encompass all these different notions. For this, I set out a very broad definition: a high-quality democracy is “a stable institutional structure that realizes the liberty and equality of citizens through the legitimate and correct functioning of its institutions and mechanisms”. This definition embraces the fairly broadly accepted qualities that a good democracy should have —liberty and equality— and offers a working framework that can be readily accepted by many people. Now, regarding the second part of your question, effective governance has usually been accepted, particularly by international organizations, as a component of good democracy. These organizations particularly emphasize the importance of the rule of law and the control of corruption, among other things. But, again, as good democracy is a normative concept, the notion that effective governance must be a necessary condition can legitimately be challenged. Now, it is important to point out that effective governance does not imply good democracy. You can have effective governance even in authoritarian regimes. In China, for example, freedom is not important, but effective governance is.

How important is liberty for good democracy? Can there be democracy without liberty?

We have realized, from our observations over the years, that we usually use the word democracy as a shorthand for “mass liberal democracy”. And I think, that has to do with how democracy developed in Western countries. First came the notion of freedom of the popular masses. Once that notion gained grounds, then came along the ideas that brought about democracy, that is, justice and equality. Freedom is a key concept for many philosophers of democracy, whatever the particular conception of democracy they may have. Of course, you also have philosophers, like Plato, for whom freedom is an irrelevant matter. There are also communitarian views of democracy where the individual’s responsibility to the community prevails over individual freedom, which may not exist at all. However, for most doctrines of democracy, freedom is a key element. Besides the empirical explanation I have just mentioned, there is a central reason why freedom is an important component of democracy. According to Giovanni Sartori, democracy is about avoiding suffering —“demo-protection”, as he called it— that is, avoiding people being imprisoned without legal reasons, tortured or killed. And that cannot be achieved without freedom.

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