chapter  2
Democracy and empirical political theory: from the present to the past
Pages 20

To be guided towards understanding of democracy through comparative analysis of paths taken to democracy it is necessary to have, at least, a clear notion of what democracy is, a working definition. As noted in Chapter 1, however, there are competing conceptions of democracy and views of what counts as democracy have also changed over time. This is not simply a matter of suffrage being first restricted to men owning property, then extended to all men and finally becoming universal with women given the vote. As will become clear as the cases unfold, past political systems have been counted as democracy where, for example, severe property restraints have been imposed on those eligible to stand for office, when votes have been indirect rather than direct, and where ballots have not been secret. The institutions and structures of democracy have varied greatly and this continues to be so today. Constitutional monarchies, presidential systems, federal systems and so on may all be kinds of democracy in practice and, in theory, democracies may be classified as ‘liberal’ or ‘social’ or ‘consociational’ and so on. On their paths to democracy countries may move from liberal to social, introduce federalism, remove constitutional monarchs and, of course, extend suffrage and make all kinds of significant changes to constitutions and electoral laws. Because of the changing nature of democracy in practice, and because of competing ideas on what the best kind of democracy is, historical analysis of democracy is problematic. It is no less so in political science.