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By Albert Weale (auth.)

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Thus, we may say that what the varying conceptions have in common is the idea that the resolution of political questions is made by a body that is at some point at least dependent upon the views of citizens. In treating a variety of conceptions of democracy as a class, it is helpful in clarifying our thoughts to ask what the members of that class are being contrasted with, since finding the contrary of a concept is often a good way of defining its meaning. Here we come across an interesting question of method: should we contrast democracy with its historically most prevalent alternatives or with its theoretically most plausible alternative?

99-117). Theorists in this tradition start from the Hobbesian assumption that government is necessary in order to avoid civil war and social breakdown and to these ends governments are needed with enough power to enforce order (Hobbes, 1651). But at this point democratic theorists note a problem which Hobbes paid less attention to: if governments have enough power to stop civil war and social breakdown, they almost certainly have enough power to exploit their own populations. A government needs power to protect you from the theft and violence of a lawless neighbour, but what if government itself becomes a source of theft and violence?

Those who are in the minority simply realize that they have mistaken the general will. Although this last element of Rousseau's thought has often been held to have totalitarian implications, it is in fact no more than a logical inference from the strong assumption of moral autonomy. If strong moral autonomy exists in the way that Rousseau supposes, then moral rules and principles can be nothing other than conventions adopted by societies for the regulation of their conduct. This conventional character of morality will mean that a majority is likely to be right, since conventional behaviour is simply what most people will do under given circumstances.

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