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Theories of Democracy



Democracy is an elusive concept. Actual and historical democracies differ widely in practices, procedures and institutions. The same is true of the purposes of democracy and the reasons why democracy is desirable at all. Is democracy a value in itself, providing autonomy and self-realization to citizens by participation in the public affairs of their political community? Or is democracy just instrumental to the attainment of some other good, such as the protection of individual rights, or the prevention of tyranny? Is democracy a device to produce some common good, such as the General Will, or is democracy no more than a set of rules to ensure fair competition between candidates in free elections? These are but some of many questions raised by democratic theory.
In this course the concept and practice of democracy will be analyzed, from its origins in classical Athens, to contemporary forms of democracy originating in the French and American Revolutions of the 18th century. Normative and empirical arguments for and against different concepts of democracy will be discussed, aiming at a critical understanding of the enduring questions and dilemmas of democracy.

Methods of Instruction

The seminar will consist partly of lectures, partly of discussion.

Study material


  • David Held: Models of Democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2006, third edition, 392 p.

  • Robert A. Dahl: Democracy and its Critics, New Haven/London 1989, 397 p.

  • Plus: other literature to be decided on in consultation with the lecturer.


Students must write a final paper.

Deadline final paper: 31 December 2010


All meetings are in room 13.10 building Stichthage, The Hague
Tuesday 2 November from 20.15-22.00
Tuesday 9 November from 20.15-22.00
Tuesday 16 November from 20.15-22.00
Saturday 20 November from 10.00-12.00 and 13.00-15.00
Tuesday 23 November from 20.15-22.00
Tuesday 30 November from 20.15-22.00
Tuesday 7 December from 20.15-22.00
Tuesday 14 December from 20.15-22.00
Tuesday 21 December from 20.15-22.00