The Future of Democracy

Democracy by its very nature is a fragile form of government, and the transition from an authoritarian to a democratic order is beset with enormous problems. In many countries the process is exacerbated by large-scale inequalities, a lack of resources, including money and time, and an inadequate education and preparation for democratic participation. In countries such as South Africa, this has been made worse by a legacy of racist oppression in which people have been systematically deprived of resources. To assume, then, that a new democratic order of world justice and peace is around the corner and that all that is required of us is some mopping-up operation, would be theoretically foolish, politically fatal, and theologically unsound. However cogent democratic theories might be, they are not self-fulfilling.

Yet the fact remains that we have entered a new historical epoch, for good or ill. We cannot ignore the risks, the current disorder, and the promise of more to come; but all is by no means dark for those who live and work in anticipation that the present democratic transformation will fulfill its promise. The transition to democracy, whether on a national or international scale, will inevitably involve a long and difficult march. But there is no alternative to pressing on in the struggle for a new democratic order in the modern world. What needs constant affirmation, however, is that democracy requires the commitment and participation of all citizens if it is to work properly. This may be an ideal, but it is an ideal that is worth striving for. Perhaps that is why some writers insist that democracy is ultimately dependent upon the development of a spirituality in which human freedom, genuine community, and a willingness to share under-gird political programs and action.


1 On anarchism and other issues related to democracy see the articles in the Dictionary of Ethics, Theology and Society, edited by Paul Barry Clarke and Andrew Linzey (London: Routledge, 1996).

2 The development of Catholic social teaching on this and related matters can best be seen in terms of the papal encyclicals Rerum Novarum (1891) and Centesimus Annus (1991). See Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage, edited by David O'Brien and Thomas A. Shannon (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1992).


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Dorrien, Gary J. (1990). Reconstructing the Common Good: Theology and the Social Order. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis.

Dunn, John, ed. (1992). Democracy: The Unfinished Journey, 508 BC to AD 1993. Oxford:

Oxford University Press. Gifford, Paul, ed. (1995). The Christian Churches and Africa's Democratisation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Hauerwas, Stanley (1981). A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian

Social Ethic. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. Held, David, ed. (1993). Prospects for Democracy. Cambridge: Polity.

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Charles Scribner's Sons. Provost, James, and Walf, Knut (1992). The Tabu of Democracy within the Church. London: SCM.

Witte, John, ed. (1993). Christianity and Democracy in Global Context. Boulder, Col.: Westview.

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