Democracy is a difficult political system because it leads to a fundamental paradox of participation. On one hand, democracy is a political system that empowers all of a country’s citizens to participate in their own governance. At the very least, following the minimalist or procedural conception of democracy of Schumpeter (1947) and others, a democratic government is one in which citizens choose their leaders through competitive elections. On the other hand, this minimalist conception of democracy does not require that the groups or individuals who participate in democratic elections—either as voters or as candidates for office—intend to respect democratic principles. Citizens participating in democratic elections may elect a candidate who, once in office, dismantles democratic institutions. Confronted with this paradox of democratic participation, the solution of most democratic theorists is to say that such a political system has ceased to be a democracy. But the challenge of potentially anti-democratic groups participating in democratic elections is not just a theoretical possibility, it is a practical worry that occupies pro-democracy activists, practitioners, and policymakers the world over.
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