World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0001081047
Reproduction Date:

Title: Polyarchy  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Democracy, Representative democracy, Liberal democracy, Charles E. Lindblom, Athenian democracy
Collection: Democracy, Political Science Theories
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


In Western European political science, the term polyarchy (Greek: poly "many", arkhe "rule")[1] was used by Robert Dahl to describe a form of government in which power is invested in multiple people. It takes form of neither dictatorship nor democracy.[2] This form of government was first implemented in the United States and France and was gradually adopted by many other countries (Dahl, pg 234. 1989). According to Dahl, the fundamental democratic principle is “the continuing responsiveness of the government to the preferences of its citizens, considered as political equals” with unimpaired opportunities. (Dahl, 1971) A polyarchy is a state that has certain procedures that are necessary conditions for following the democratic principle.[3][4] In semblance, the word polycracy describes the same form of government,[5] although from a slightly different premise: A polycracy is a state ruled by more than one person, as opposed to monocracy. The word is derived from Greek poly which means "many" and kratos which means "rule" or "strength".


  • Definitions 1
    • A Preface to Democratic Theory 1.1
    • Democracy and its critics 1.2
  • Characteristics 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Sources 5


Dahl's original theory of polyarchal democracy is in his 1956 book, A Preface to Democratic Theory. His theory evolved over the decades, and the description in later writings is somewhat different.

A Preface to Democratic Theory

In this book, Dahl gives eight conditions, which measure the extent to which majority rule is in effect in an organization. These are (p. 84):

  • Every member of the organization performs the acts we assume to constitute an expression of preference among the scheduled alternatives, e.g., voting.
  • In tabulating these expressions (votes), the weight assigned to each individual is identical.
  • The alternative with the greatest number of votes is declared the winning choice.
  • Any member who perceives a set of alternatives, at least one of which he regards as preferable to any of the alternatives presently scheduled, can insert his preferred alternative(s) among those scheduled for voting.
  • All individuals possess identical information about the alternatives.
  • Alternatives (leaders or policies) with the greatest number of votes displace any alternatives (leaders or policies) with fewer votes.
  • The orders of elected officials are executed.
  • Either all interelection decisions are subordinate or executory to those arrived at during the election stage, i.e., elections are in a sense controlling; or new decisions during the interelection period are governed by the preceding seven conditions, operating, however, under rather different institutional circumstances; or both.

Dahl hypothesized that each of these condition can be quantified, and suggested using the term polyarchy to call an organization that scores high on the scales for all the eight conditions. Also, Dahl viewed polyarchy as a system that manages to supply a high level of inclusiveness and a high level of liberalization to its citizens.

Democracy and its critics

In his 1989 book, Democracy and its critics, Dahl gives the following characteristics of a polyarchy (p. 233):

  • Control over governmental decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in elected officials.
  • Elected officials are chosen and peacefully removed in relatively frequent, fair and free elections in which coercion is quite limited.
  • Practically all adults have the right to vote in these elections.
  • Most adults also have the right to run for the public offices for which candidates run in these elections.
  • Citizens have an effectively enforced right to freedom of expression, particularly political expression, including criticism of the officials, the conduct of the government, the prevailing political, economic, and social system, and the dominant ideology.
  • They also have access to alternative sources of information that are not monopolized by the government or any other single group.
  • Finally, they have an effectively enforced right to form and join autonomous associations, including political associations, such as political parties and interest groups, that attempt to influence the government by competing in elections and by other peaceful means.

Dahl's Seven Sets of Conditions for Polyarchy are:

  1. Historical Sequence- peaceful evolution within an independent nation-state
  2. Socioeconomic Order-concentration- a competitive regime cannot be maintained in a country where military forces are accustomed to intervening
  3. Socioeconomic Order-level of development
  4. Provide literacy, education, communication
  5. Create a pluralistic social order
  6. Prevent Inequalities
  7. Equalities and Inequalities
  8. Hegemonic regimes reduce public contestation
  9. Inequalities increase the chance comparative politics will displace hegemony
  10. Subcultures, Cleavage Patterns and, Governmental Effectiveness
  11. The Beliefs of Political Activists- treat them as major independent variables
  12. Foreign Control- foreign domination can affect all the conditions and alter available options
  13. Characteristics

    Polyarchy and its procedures by itself may be insufficient for achieving full democracy. For example, poor people may be unable to participate in the political process. It is thought so, because some authors sees polyarchy as a form of government that is not intended for greater social justice and cultural realization and to allow the repressed to politically participate.[6]

    According to William I. Robinson, it is a system where small group actually rules on behalf of capital, and majority’s decision making is confined to choosing among selective number of elites within tightly controlled elective process. It is a form of consensual domination made possible by the structural domination of the global capital which allowed concentration of political powers.[7]

    Moreover, perceived polyarchies – such as the United States – may bar a substantial number of its citizens from participating in its national electoral process. For example, more than four million U.S. citizens residing in the U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands) are excluded from participating in the election of any voting-member of Congress, which are the political bodies that hold ultimate sovereignty over them. Robinson argues that they are effectively taxed without lawful representation (although the current status of these territories is as a matter of popular consensus in individual cases). [8][9]

    In Preface to Democratic Theory (1956) Dahl argues that an increase in citizen political involvement may not always be beneficial for polyarchy. An increase in the political participation of members of less educated classes, for example, could reduce the support for the basic norms of polyarchy, because members of those classes are more pre-disposed to be authoritarian-minded.[10][11]

    In a discussion of contemporary British foreign policy, Mark Curtis stated that "Polyarchy is generally what British leaders mean when they speak of promoting 'democracy' abroad. This is a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites." [12]

    Also, it is being promoted by the transnational elites in the South as a different form from the authoritarianism and dictatorship to the North as a part of Democracy Promotion.[13] Robinson argues that this is to cultivate transnational elites who will open up their countries following transnational agenda of neoliberalism where transnational capital mobility and globalized circuits of production and distribution is established. For example, it was promoted to Nicaragua, Chile, Haiti, the Philippines, South Africa and the former Soviet Bloc countries.[14]

    See also


    1. ^ polyarchy - Definitions from
    2. ^ Robert Dahl, Polyarchy: participation and opposition, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1971
    3. ^ "Dahl on Democracy and Equal Consideration", by Joshua Cohen
    4. ^ "Citizen participation and democracy in the Netherlands", by Ank Michels (referenced 26 September 2006)
    5. ^
    6. ^ Barry Gills, Joel Rocamora, and Richard Willson(eds), Low Intensity Democracy: Political power and the New World Order, Boulder, Westview, 1993
    7. ^ William I Robinson Globalisation: nine thesis of our epoch, Race & Class 38(2) 1996
    8. ^ Raskin, James B. (2003). Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court Vs. the American People. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 36–38. ISBN 0-415-93439-7
    9. ^ Torruella, Juan R. (1985). The Supreme Court and Puerto Rico: The Doctrine of Separate and Unequal.
    10. ^ Dahl, Preface to Democratic Theory, p. 89
    11. ^ "Citizen participation and democracy in the Netherlands", by Ank Michels (referenced 26 September 2006)
    12. ^ Mark Curtis, Web of Deceit: Britain's Real Role in the World, p. 247, London: Vintage UK Random House. ISBN 0-09-944839-4
    13. ^ William I Robinson Promoting polyarchy: 20 years later, p.228, International Relations 27(2) 2013
    14. ^ William I Robinson Promoting polyarchy: 20 years later, p.230, International Relations 27(2) 2013


    • Robert A. Dahl. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-13425-3 (paper).
    • Robert A. Dahl. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. Yale University Press . ISBN 0-300-01565-8 (paper).
    • Seyom Brown. 1988. New Forces, Old Forces, and the Future of World Politics. Glenview, Il.: Scott Foresman.
    • James N. Rosenau & Ernst-Otto Czempiel. 1992. Governance without Government: Order and Change in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • Robinson, William I., Promoting Polyarchy.
    • Polyarchy : a Manifesto
    • William I. Robinson Globalisation: nine thesis of our epoch, Race & Class 38(2) 1996
    • Barry Gills, Joel Rocamora, and Richard Willson(eds), Low Intensity Democracy: Political power and the New World Order, Boulder, Westview, 1993
    • William I. Robinson Promoting polyarchy: 20 years later International Relations 27(2) 2013
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.