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John S. Dryzek on Minimalist Liberalism - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 148
Minimalist Liberalism/liberal minimalism/democracy/Dryzek: The model of democracy most popular among comparative politics scholars, especially those in the burgeoning field of democratic transition and consolidation, expects far less from democracy than do the deliberative democrats. This model is essentially that proposed long ago by Schumpeter (1942)(1): democracy is no more than competition among elites for popular approval that confers the right to rule. In the 1950s this idea became the foundation for 'empirical' theories of democracy happy with the generally apathetic role of the ignorant and potentially authoritarian masses (Berelson, 1952(2); Sartori, 1962(3)).
Competition models of democracy: Such competitive elitist models have
Gaus I 149
long been discredited among democratic theorists - not least those such as Dahl (1989)(4) who had earlier believed in them as both accurate descriptions of United States politics and desirable states of affairs. Yet they live on among transitologists and consolidologists, who see the hallmark of a consolidated democracy as a set of well-behaved parties representing material interests engaged in electoral competition regulated by constitutional rules (see, for example, Di Palma, 1990(5); Huntington, 1991(6); Mueller, 1996(7); Schedler, 1998(8)).
The deliberative democrat's concern with authenticity is nowhere to be seen. Active citizens play no role in such models.
Popularity/procedure: acceptance of the minimalist model makes life much easier. It can be applied, for example, in Huntington's (1991(6): 267) famous two-election test for consolidated
democracy, which requires a freely elected government to cede power in a subsequent electoral defeat. Or it can underwrite a temporal scale for assessing the degree to which democracy is consolidated; Lijphart (1984(9): 38) suggests 30 to 35 years. Perhaps a more important reason for the popularity of liberal minimalism is its consistency with developments that see capitalist marketization and democratization marching together.
Lindblom: as Lindblom (1982)(10) among others notes, the capitalist market context automatically
punishes governments that pursue policies that undermine the confidence of actual or potential
investors by causing disinvestment and capital flight. Thus when it comes to public policy, democracy can only operate in what Lindblom calls an 'unimprisoned' zone.
Dryzek: the corollary is that too much state democracy means dangerous indeterminacy in public policy (Dryzek, 1996)(11).
Fukuyama: this combination of capitalism and liberal minimalist democracy received perhaps its most positive gloss (and a dash of Hegel) in the triumphalism of Francis Fukuyama's (1989(12); 1992(13)) 'end of history'. Fukuyama's thesis lost plausibility in the ensuing decade, but only in terms of the persistence (or renewal) of challenges such as religious fundamentalisms, ethnic nationalism, and Confucian capitalism. But the basic idea that democracy is globally dominant and that the liberal capitalist model of democracy has few if any plausible challengers that merit the title 'democracy' is still the dominant view among transitologists.
Dryzek: The more critical stances that democratic theorists are inclined to take would highlight the limitations on democracy that this global dominance of minimalist liberal democracy plus capitalism entails. But any such critical response is easily countered if it remains devoid of ideas about how such dominance might realistically be challenged (without retreating to ungrounded idealism). Part of the response might involve the strengthening and democratization of international institutions in response to the migration of political power from the state to the transnational political economy. >Democracy/Held, >Minimalist liberalism/Przeworski, >Minimalist liberalism/Riker.
Gaus I 151
DryzekVsMinimalism/liberalism/democratic practice/democracy: (...) minimalism fails to do justice
to the variety of conceptions that political elites and ordinary people in [post-communist] societies bring to bear when it comes to their expectations of and hopes for democracy (for evidence for 13 post-communist countries, see Dryzek and Holmes, 2002)(14).


1. Schumpeter, Joseph A. (1942) Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper.
2. Berelson, Bernard (1952) 'Democratic theory and public opinion'. Public Opinion Quarterly, 16: 313—30.
3. Sartori, Giovanni (1962) Democratic Theory. Detroit: Wayne State Umversity Press.
4. Dahl, Robert A. (1989) Democracy and its Critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
5. Di Palma, Giuseppe (1990) To Craft Democracies. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
6. Huntington, Samuel (1991) The Third Wave. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
7. Mueller, John (1996) 'Democracy, capitalism and the end of transition'. In Michael Mandelbaum, ed. Postcommunism: Four Perspectives. New York: Council on Foreign Relations.
8. Schedler, A. (1998) 'What is democratic consolidation?' Journal ofDemocracy, 9: 91-107.
9. Lijphart, Arend (1984) Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty- One Countries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
10. Lindblom, Charles E. (1982) 'The market as prison' Journal of Politics, 44: 324-36.
11. Dryzek, John S. (1996) Democracy in Capitalist Times: Ideals, Limits, and Struggles. New York: Oxford University Press.
12. Fukuyama, Francis (1989) 'The end of history?' National Interest, Summer: 3—18.
13. Fukuyama, Francis (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.
14. Dryzek, John S. and Leslie Holmes (2002) Postcommunist Democratization: Political Discourses across Thirteen Countries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Dryzek, John S. 2004. „Democratic Political Theory“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Dryzek, John S.
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-06-18
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