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Definition of Democracy


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Dear Colleagues,

I am taking part in the debate with lateness because I knew I had been appointed for this task only after my summer holidays. Of course, this entails some problems but being so rested helps my clarity of mind, at least.

So, what is the point we are starting from?

To answer the request of giving substance to the matter, expressed by Juan Carlos, I propose to verify if it is possible to share a basic definition of democracy. The Italian scholar Norberto Bobbio said, 30 years ago, that for a basic definition of democracy it’s enough to start from its procedural aspects, that is, defining democracy as a “way to make joint decisions”.

A group can be defined as a democratic one if there occurs at least the following two rules:

1. Everybody participate, directly or indirectly, in the decision-making process;

2. Decisions are reached after a free discussion, by a majority of votes, according to previously-agreed rules.

Despite the seeming banality of this definition it contains so many words whose didactic mediation would itself legitimate the whole Comenius:

- Participation

- Direct/indirect representation (the political party system)

- Mechanism for representation (electoral systems)

- The recognition of the decisions reached by a minority

- Rules and their change (with reference to Constitutional Charts)

- Control

The didactic strategy expressed some time ago by Terry Haidn, that is, to think about the deviation of these key words, could show a common path to follow: investigating if in one’s own Country the above-mentioned list fulfils the points 1. and 2. helps answer the question we are starting from. That was for political democracy; but there is another feature to consider, I would define it as the social democracy level: once given the rules, do they maintain the same value when groups, individuals and people are involved in the decisions? This is a matter of fundamental rights.

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Welcome to the Forum Dino.

Some years ago I read Norberto Bobbio's book "Destra e Sinistra" (Right and Left) and I was impressed by what you affirm about his definition of democracy: "the seeming banality". However, his simplicity is profound. Bobbio confirmed me that too many thinkers and writers tend to turn easy things into difficult ones.

I would add other point that I consider that should be an important topic in a future project.

A democratic system is obviously based on a "Demos". A clearly defined people, nation, country... However, different changes: massive immigration flows, globalisation, devolution to regions, European integration process are blurring the old distinct outlines of what is it to be an Italian, a Spaniard...

The integration of the growing immigrant population is probably the most tricky challenge. In my view, the other great point of debate is: Does a European Demos exist? What does European Citizenship means? What should we do to overcome old and new European (Irish, Spanish, Basque, German, Padanian?) nationalisms?

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  • 3 weeks later...

I expressed the need to find a common definition of democracy because I find that this issue is strictly tied up to citizenship.

I started from a simple (but not banal) definition perhaps because it can be easily shared and with the awareness that, together, we would add meshes to the net.

Your mesh of the net, Juan Carlos, is the idea of people.

This idea in Italy, historically, coincides with the idea of Nation: una d’arme, di lingua, d’altare/di memorie, di sangue e di cor that is what Alessandro Manzoni wrote in 1948.

From an ideological point of view, such an idea of nation contains the whole Italian process of unification, with the rowdy exception of the events that happened in the Italian district named Carso, during fascism, and, more recently, within the Lega Nord (a political movement and party that in these years have developed in the Po-valley district).

The idea of people, in its territorial meaning, was adopted by the Italian Constitutional Chart in 1947, i.e. citizens are those who live within the boundaries of the State, as under art. 3: tutti i cittadini hanno pari dignità sociale e sono eguali davanti alla legge, senza distinzione di sesso, di razza, di lingua, di religione, di opinioni politiche, di condizioni personali e sociali .

In principle this statement gave way to a multiethnic, antiracist and multicultural idea of people but on the other side it leaves open the question of the requirements for citizenship. To me thinking the European citizenship as linked to territoriality is inevitable but I don’t mean it linked to blood and land, but to culture, mediation and sharing of objectives, projects of life, values, within the mutual respect for diversity.

Dino Renato Nardelli

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