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6 - Citizens and Politics: Political Participation and Political Trust

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Summary

Introduction

Democracy is unthinkable without involved, active citizens. At the same time, there is considerable ambivalence about the role that citizens play in a modern democracy. French political philosopher Pierre Rosanvallon (2012) outlines the history of modern representative democracy as a structural ‘fear of the irrationality of the masses and the unpredictability of the electorate’. That tension in normative thinking about democracy is reflected in the contrast between Joseph Schumpeter and Robert Dahl. Whereas Schumpeter's procedural approach, out of mistrust, reduced the role of the citizen to taking part in elections, Dahl pleaded for a citizenship, complete with civil rights, that could be expressed through political participation at various levels of decision-making.

Even today, the debate about the state of democracy keeps coming back to the role that citizens play. There are regular references to citizens as the cause of a democratic crisis. Some think that such a crisis is reflected in a deepening chasm of mistrust between citizens and politicians. Others believe that citizens find it difficult to work up enough interest to become politically active. Still others are opposed to this idea, and call instead for a more central role for citizens. They believe that direct democracy would, through referenda and directly elected rulers, give citizens a more decisive voice in decision making. Through town halls or lotteries, participatory democracy would, they believe, get citizens more involved in political discussions. DIY democracy would give citizens the means to manage their own environment without direct state influence.

For a long time, research on citizens played a relatively marginal role in research on politics. Most attention was paid to formal institutions or to the political elites within them. This began to change after World War II. The role citizens played got more and more scholarly attention. A first strand of research focused on citizens as voters, and on explaining voting behaviour during elections, which determines the composition of parliament (see Chapter 7). A second emphasises other roles that citizens play in politics: their behaviours, their values and their views on politics. This chapter focuses on the second strand.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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