What is material democracy

Democracy definition of the democracy matrix

1. The democracy definition of the democracy matrix

There is no agreement in politics, science and society about what democracy means in detail. Where does democracy begin and where does it end? Therefore, in the discourses that have dealt with the topic over the millennia from Aristotle to the present day, various definitions and understandings of the concept of democracy can be found. These can be similar, but sometimes also contradict one another.

In terms of democracy theory, however, three ranges have emerged within these conceptions, which relate to a different conceptual scope (Bühlmann et al. 2012): minimum definitions, definitions of medium scope and maximum definitions.

Minimum definitions

It is true that prevails over the Minimum definition, which defines democracy through the repetitive holding of elections with a minimum of competition between candidates and the participatory inclusion of large parts of the population (Dahl 1971), predominantly consensus, but it is pointed out that this falls far too short (Lauth 2004; Munck 2012). By making use of the concept of electoral democracy, it has largely succeeded in identifying the central distinguishing features between autocratic and democratic systems. On the other hand, it fails to differentiate between the gray areas between autocracies and democracies as well as within established democracies, in which it is not so much the characteristics of the “elections” that differ as the quality of the rule of law, the media system, the separation of powers or intermediary mediation .

Maximum definitions

Also Maximum definitions like social democracy, which is used as a guide in the approach of O’Donnell et al. (2004) have not proven to be sensible, since by including socio-economic factors and the welfare state they overstretch the concept of democracy in the sense of “conceptual stretching” (Sartori 1970; Collier / Mahon 1993). If this understanding of democracy relates to the output side, it is also referred to as the material conception of democracy. However, this notion is not convincing, since it sets a certain policy performance as the norm, which, however, was not determined by the sovereign himself. That is why democracy cannot materially be defined in terms of the production of certain policy services, rather democracy is the procedural framework within which various policy solutions are first negotiated (Lauth 2004; Munck 2012).

Medium-range definitions

They are therefore more promising Medium-range definitionswhich enrich the minimal concept of democracy only to the extent that it is necessary for a differentiated analysis of democracies, and which, however, remain within a narrower and procedural understanding of democracy. It is precisely this understanding of democracy that is subject to the democracy matrix as a yardstick. By evaluating the democratic-theoretical debate, a conception of democracy can be obtained that is based on the one hand on the dimensions of political freedom, political equality and political and legal control and on the other hand, five essential institutions that cross the dimensions (decision-making processes, intermediary mediation, communication or . Public, legal guarantee as well as rule setting and application).

The democracy matrix defines democracy thus as "a constitutional form of rule that enables self-determination for all citizens in the sense of popular sovereignty by allowing them to participate in the filling of political decision-making positions (and / or in the decision itself) in free, competitive and fair procedures (e.g. elections) and ensures the chances of continuous influence on the political process and generally guarantees control of political rule. Democratic participation in political rule finds its expression in the dimensions of the political freedom, the political equality and the political and legal control“(Lauth 2004: 100).

2. The three dimensions of the democracy matrix

Political freedom as free self-government of the citizens

The dimension of freedom is anchored in the free self-government of the citizens in a political community. The Self-government includes the transfer of individual preferences through the selection of political decision-makers in free and fair elections and, moreover, the possibility of continuous political participation, which is structured in the context of the public by competing intermediary organizations. The political participation of the citizens is guaranteed by the existence of civil and political liberties. In addition, popular sovereignty implies that the elected representatives actually hold political power and use it in such a way that individual rights are respected.

Political equality as legal equal treatment and fair participation in political decisions

The dimension of equality is understood as political equality, which on the one hand involves fair formal equality of treatment of citizens by the state (legal egalitarianism) and, on the other hand, enables all citizens to participate fairly and effectively in formal institutions relevant to democracy (Input egalitarianism). While in the dimension of freedom the possibility of free participation in the political system was treated in an active sense, in the dimension of equality it is about equal access to these rights. Do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their political and civil rights in a fair and effective manner? We are talking about equality in the sense of equal treatment as a passive component.

Political and legal control as vertical and horizontal accountability

While the preferences of individual citizens and organized interests are expressed in the dimension of freedom, in the dimension of political and legal control the actions of these actors are now geared towards the review of government activity. The control concerns the government and the elected representatives. In determining the control dimension, the vertical and horizontal accountability to be included. The control is carried out through the political participation of citizens or intermediary organizations in the political and civil society sphere or by means of the media, which reveal violations of the rule of law in public and, if necessary, initiate legal measures. Above all, it takes place through the official control organs within the network of state and para-state institutions. The rule of law of state action is the sole measure of legal control.

3. The five institutions of the democracy matrix

Decision making process: quality of elections

In a democracy, the participation of citizens in binding decisions takes place largely through the election of representatives. With the exception of the legislative initiative, which is a form of direct democracy and which we take into account within the trade-off measurement, hardly any control is exercised with the election itself, rather it is in turn subject to control by non-governmental actors and organs. In democracies, as the discussion of its dimensions shows, the characterization of choice is necessarily based on the following Electoral principlesthat apply to the elections, which take place regularly and in a not too great rotation: Democratic elections must therefore be general, equal, free and secret.

Intermediate mediation: quality of parties, interest groups and civil society

Intermediate organizations such as parties, associations and civil society should be structured in such a way that they are able to articulate, select and bundle social interests in order to convey them to state decision-making bodies in the political system and at the same time enable feedback. The aim is that the preferences of citizens can be represented as inclusive as possible. Linking policy-making to the election act alone is not sufficient for a democratic process. In addition, during the legislative period there must be an ongoing dispute about political decisions through the influence of organized interests. A democratic intermediary placement system must be adequate openness so that certain interests are not systematically filtered out, but are given a chance to be made visible. Finally, there is the control function that organized interests carry out vis-à-vis the government.

Communication and the public: Quality of the media

The public institution is to be seen as the central forum for forming opinions and will. Democratic communication requires the Publicity and the transparency. The public forms the medium for conveying information for influencing and controlling and is open to various formal and informal forms of participation and actors, both of which together shape the structure of the public. The structure of the public in a democracy achieves its institutional security by guaranteeing freedom of expression and information. A certain degree of freedom of information in the sense of creating transparency in government action is to be seen as a prerequisite for successful government control. Central units of investigation for determining the quality of democracy are the rights of the media themselves as well as the rights of those who want to use the public as a forum.

Legal guarantee: quality of the rule of law

The institution of the legal guarantee is a reflexive institution, since it is linked to the guarantee of the other institutions and the rights on which they are based. The common type of this form of participation takes place via the judicial process, whereby the individual citizen or a group of citizens (association, association, party, etc.) take on the role of the initiator and party involved in the process. This can enable targeted and binding influence on political decisions or their implementation. Either certain actions are prohibited, confirmed or initiated. The central aspect is the safeguarding of the fundamental rights relevant to the rule of law. This is about a constitutional review of decisions that have already been taken or have been completed. The defining idea of ​​this institution is the control of government actions and decisions by means of the constitutional judicial process by individual citizens or organizations.

Rule-making and application: quality of effective governance and horizontal accountability

At the same time, it is necessary to involve the state institutions that are mandated by the sovereign to exercise democratic rule. Two functions are of crucial importance here. On the one hand, state institutions must be part of the effective governance be able to make decisions and implement the decisions made democratically. This includes in particular the need for an effective free government that can operate independently of non-democratically legitimized veto players (e.g. the military). Because a functioning democracy is always effective political rule. In a broader sense, this also applies to statehood as the maintenance of the state monopoly on the use of force and the ability of the administration to work effectively. On the other hand, all control aspects are in the sense of a horizontal accountability to be taken into account that lie in the political system itself (e.g. parliament, ombudsman, audit offices). For the functioning of democracy, it is of central importance that these state institutions also have the competences they need and that they use these competencies within the envisaged legal framework and do not abuse them.

Overview of the institutions of the democracy matrix



Key question

Decision-making process

Decision-making function;

Involvement of citizens in binding decisions by election

Are elections and referendums free, are they the same and are their implementation and assessment subject to independent and transparent control?

Intermediate brokerage

Function of interest aggregation / articulation;

Mediation to the political system (party → political power; association / civil society → political influence)

Can all relevant interests be organized and are all legally treated equally? Do organized interests control government action?

Communication / public

Function of understanding (communication rights);

The public as a medium of political communication for influence and control; Requirement for other institutions

Do the communicative freedom rights exist and do everyone have the same opportunity to make use of them? Is communication used by the media themselves as well as by other civil society actors as a forum for control?

Legal guarantee

Function of guaranteeing the rule of law principles in terms of rule of law control over government action;

guarantees the functioning of the other institutions (reflexive institution)

Is the judicial process open to everyone and the same for everyone? Are everyone subject to the law, can objections be lodged and is abuse of political power effectively punished?

Rule setting and application

Function of the implementation of democratic decisions (monopoly of force, administration);

Function of control in the political system (horizontal accountability)

Does the government have effective governance? Is there a monopoly of force and an effective administration? Does parliament and the administration give everyone equal legal treatment? Do control rights exist in the political system itself (parliament, audit offices)?


4. The 15 matrix fields of the democracy matrix

By combining the three dimensions with the five institutions, the 15 matrix fields of the democracy matrix are opened up, which the relevant area of ​​investigation for the quality of democracy Mark out. The dimensions form the horizontal pillars, while the institutions lie across them. A detailed description of the components and sub-components of the individual matrix fields can be found here.

5. Bibliography

Bühlmann, Marc, Wolfgang Merkel, Lisa Müller, Heiko Giebler and Bernhard Weßels. 2012. Democracy Barometer: a new tool for measuring the quality of democracy. In: ZfVP 6, pp. 115-159.

Collier, David, and James E. Mahon. 1993. Conceptual 'Stretching' Revisited: Adapting Categories in Comparative Analysis. In: American Political Science Review 87, pp. 845-855.

Dahl, Robert A. 1971. Polyarchy. Participation and Opposition. New Haven / London.

Lauth, Hans-Joachim. 2004. Democracy and Democracy Measurement. Wiesbaden.

Lijphart, Arend. 2012. Patterns of democracy. Government forms and performance in thirty-six countries (2nd ed.). New Haven, CT and London.

Munck, Gerardo L. 2012. Conceptualizing the Quality of Democracy: The Framing of a New Agenda for Comparative Politics. DISC Working Paper Series 23.

Munck, Gerardo I. and Jay Verkuilen. 2002. Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy. Evaluating Alternative Indices. In: Comparative Political Studies 35, pp. 5-34.

O’Donnell, Guillermo, Cullell Jorge Vargas and Osvaldo M., Iazzetta (Eds.). 2004. The Quality of Democracy. Notre Dame.

Sartori, Giovanni. 1970. Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics. In: American Political Science Review 6, pp. 1033-1053.