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PSIR 1A-6: Democracy – Previous Year Questions & Answers

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Success of contemporary democracies lies in State limiting its own power. Comment. [2023/20m/250w/2a]

Contemporary democracies are based on the liberal-capitalist ideology which believes in the theory of laissez-faire individualism. The statement reflects a fundamental principle of democratic governance known as the concept of limited government.

Limiting the power of the state is essential to protect the individual rights and liberties of citizens. Democratic systems are built on the principles of individual freedom, and restraining the state’s power helps prevent it from infringing on these rights. Further, one of the primary goals of limiting state power is to prevent the concentration of power that can lead to authoritarianism or tyranny. In contemporary democracies, checks and balances, separation of powers, and constitutional constraints are employed to prevent any one branch or individual from becoming too powerful.

A government that voluntarily limits its power tends to be more accountable and transparent. It recognizes that it operates on behalf of the people and is subject to their scrutiny. Openness and accountability are essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy.

Additionally, a government that understands the need to limit its own power is often more adaptable and responsive to changing societal needs and preferences. It can evolve and enact policies that reflect the will of the people.

In the extremes of this idea are the libertarianism theorists like Hayek and Nozick who draw inspiration from the ‘natural rights’ of John Locke that certain rights of the individual which precede his political life, are indefeasible and these cannot be surrendered in favour of the collectivity.

The classical liberal theory of democracy emerged against the tyranny of the state and brought people into the discussion. Thus, the success of contemporary democracies is intrinsically linked to the principle of limiting the state’s own power. [284 words]

2] Elitist theory of democracy denies the possibility of democracy as ‘rule of the people’. Elucidate. [2022/15m/200w/2c]

The elitist theories hold that every society consists two categories of men; the elite or the minority within a social collectivity which exercises a preponderant influence within that collectivity and the masses or the major city which is governed by the elite.

A proponent of elitist theory, Michel propounded his famous ‘iron law of oligarchy’ which implied that every organization—whatever its original aims—is eventually reduced to an ‘oligarchy’, that is the rule of the chosen few, based on their manipulative skills.

Pareto, another political scholar, came to the conclusion that the ‘elite’ show highest ability in their field of activity whatever its nature might be, while masses are characterized by the lack of qualities of leadership and fear from responsibility. They feel safe in following the direction of the elite.

The elite theory had empirically demonstrated that democracy as the government of the people is incapable of realization. The champions of democracy found it difficult to repudiate the arguments advanced by the elitist theories. They, therefore, sought to accommodate the elite theory in the framework of democratic theory which led to its revision. The elitist democratic theory or ‘democratic elitism’ was developed by several writers.

In Schumpeter’s view, however, citizens do have a role to play in avoiding serious disasters. When politicians act in ways that nearly anyone can see is problematic, the citizens can throw them out.

There can be an elite deliberative democracy wherein elites deliberate, perhaps even out of sight of the population at large, on how to run the society.

Moreover, under the right conditions, representative democracy allows individuals to assess the competence of candidates for office and to select candidates who are best able to help the community pursue its commitments.

Elite theory has been criticized for being pessimistic and cynical about the possibilities of democracy. However, it has also been praised for its realism and its insights into the nature of power and influence in society. [324 words]

3] Free and fair deliberation is key to the foundation of democracy.” Explain. [2021/15m/200w/4c]

Proponents of deliberative democracy like Joshua Cohen and David Miller believe that people’s preferences are formed during the political process and not prior to it.

Rather than thinking of political decisions as the aggregate of citizens’ preferences, deliberative democracy claims that citizens should arrive at political decisions through reason and the collection of competing arguments and viewpoints. Democracy, then, is a process of arriving upon judgement or a consensus.

Such an agreement is an outcome of deliberation, i.e. a process where people try to persuade each other through the give and take of rational arguments. in this way, people become aware of information and perspectives that they are previously unaware of and then they can question each other’s views. In this process, preferences or interests get transformed to reflect a common agreement.

Deliberation, thus, reinvents a participatory model of democracy and key idea is that of a dialogue. Through open participation and unlimited discourse, a better argument emerges.

Two of the early influences on deliberative democratic theory are the philosophers John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas. Rawls advocated the use of reason in securing the framework for a just political society. For Rawls, reason curtails self-interest to justify the structure of a political society that is fair for all participants in that society and secures equal rights for all members of that society. These conditions secure the possibility for fair citizen participation in the future.

Habermas claimed that fair procedures and clear communication can produce legitimate and consensual decisions by citizens. These fair procedures governing the deliberative process are what legitimates the outcomes.

When seen critically, deliberative democracy requires a consensus, which is difficult, if not impossible to achieve in diverse and complex societies. [283 words]

4] Write a short note on Deliberative democracy. [2019/10m/150w/1d]

Deliberation is the heart and soul of democracy. It achieves two goals of democracy—it ensures that democratic decision-making is a reflection of public will and that it is an outcome of people exercising their freedom. Thus, it makes democracy substantive, and not mere ‘head-counting.’

Deliberative democracy does not envisage individuals fighting for their self-interests. Instead, it encourages mutual discussion and persuasion to achieve ‘common good.’ It also does not diminish the accountability of the politicians.

Contemporary proponents of deliberative democracy include Amartya Sen and Hannah Arendt. Habermas has given the concept of communicative action—when people interact in an ideal speech situation. Nancy Fraser believes that subaltern groups should create their own ‘counter public.’

At present, there is a decline in deliberative democracy all across the world. Executive dictatorship, along with judicial overreach, is giving rise to ‘audience democracies.” This should be countered to ensure and strengthen healthy democracy. [159 words]

5] Comment on Substantive democracy. [2018/10m/150w/1d]

A substantive democracy is a broader definition of democracy which denotes a way of life, a value system rather than just following procedures of democracy (like election).

The most important consideration for democracy to be substantive is, people’s participation in the process of decision making. Where policies are outcome of dialogue and debate. Where voice is more important than choice and the only strength is strength of an argument. (Habermas). Democracy, then, is not only a part of politics but also society and economy.

Often the democracies in west are contrasted with those in the 3rd world countries. While the former are considered substantive, the latter are called as procedural democracies (Christophe Jaffrelot for India).

However, we may argue against these assumptions. As elitist have pointed out, either in the east or in west, the power only circulates among elites. The power with masses is myth. Thus, there is a long way to go before even the democracies in advanced countries can be called as substantive. It is mere an ideal that humankind seeks to achieve. [176 words]

6] Critically examine MacPherson’s views on democracy. [2018/15m/200w/3b]

CB MacPherson divides democracies into two categories – classical and contemporary. He is critical of both, and suggests his own theory as a way forward..

He regards classical democracies as suggested by Locke, Hobbes, JS Mill, normative in their approach. In these theories, the end goal is development, empowerment of man. Rather than procedure, their focus is on substance of democracy.

Contemporary democracies, MacPherson suggests, focus more on procedures than substance of democracy. As elitist and pluralists both suggest – power with masses is myth. It is neither possible nor desirable. Thus elections are sufficient to called a political practice as democracy.

MacPherson comments that while classical democracies have neglected the real world of democracy, the contemporary theories do not recognize the substance of democracy (empowerment of people). Liberalism do not have monopoly over democracy. And as long as intra-party democracy exists, even practice in communist countries can be called as democracy.

He suggests two dimensions of power – extractive and developmental. Extractive power is exercised on others, especially by means of coercion. Developmental power, on the other hand gives freedom to self, allows individual what he truly wants to do. In an ideal democracy people have equal developmental power and minimum extractive power. It is a state when being and doing are same. [211 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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