Adam Przeworski, “Minimalist democracy: A defense”, in Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón (eds.) Democracy’s Values (1999), Chapter 2.

Summary:_ It’s, umm, a defense of minimalist democracy…Przeworski demonstrates that _choosing rulers by elections does not assure either rationality, representation or equality._ Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to include these factors in any definition. His defense proceeds in two steps, premised on the assumption that we want to resolve conflicts without violence: i) the possibility of being able to change governments can avoid violence, and; ii) being able to do it by voting has consequences of its own. As for i) bloodshed is avoided by the mere fact that the political forces expect to take turns, an equilibrium results. As for ii) voting acts not just as the random determinant of who is in office, but it also “authorizes” the winners to impose their will. For Przeworoski, voting constitutes ‘flexing muscles’ – a reading of chances in the eventual war. Elections are a peaceful substitute for rebellion because they inform everyone who would mutiny and against what. Importantly, they provide information to the losers.


Three facts:

* democracies are more likely to survive in wealthy countries

* they are more likely to last when no single political force dominates

* they are more likely to endure when voters can choose rulers through elections

* Thus, democracy lasts when it offers an opportunity to the conflicting forces to advance their interests within the institutional framework.


The result is that a minimalist conception of democracy does not alleviate the need for thinking about institutional design.