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A System of Rights$
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Rex Martin

Print publication date: 1997

Print ISBN-13: 9780198292937

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198292937.001.0001

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Democratic Institutions

Democratic Institutions

(p.127) 6 Democratic Institutions
A System of Rights

Rex Martin (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

It was argued earlier that active civil rights require agencies to formulate, maintain, and harmonize them; the question arises then, whether there are any kinds of governmental agencies that would be apt to produce and enforce rights. It could plausibly be argued that democratic institutions—universal franchise (on a one‐person, one‐vote basis), regular and contested voting operating at two distinct levels (the level of parliament and the level of general elections), and majority rule—can effectively perform this job and thus provide the setting required by civil rights. Democratic procedures are a stable and relatively reliable way of identifying, and then implementing, laws and policies that serve interests common to the voters or to a large number of them, presumably, at least a majority.

This key argument is deeply ambiguous; it covers several disparate options. We do not want to eliminate any of them from the list altogether; the best solution, then, would be to try to rank these options in some definite order. The chapter concludes by laying out the idea of a ranking procedure that would be acceptable to all the voters: the theme advanced here is that we should go to the basic practice itself (as outlined in the three democratic institutions and their various rationales, as found in Condorcet and Duncan Black and others) to try to establish an internal ground, one that can be located in the practice itself, for deciding on a ranking; the resultant ranking of options, if it could successfully be achieved, would thereby become part of the very justification for having and relying on democratic institutions.

Keywords:   Duncan Black, Marquis de Condorcet, contested voting, democratic institutions, democratic procedures, majority rule, options, ranking, universal franchise

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