Democracy, said the 18th century political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a form of government where the ‘general will’ is sovereign. That is, democracies are different from other forms of government because they are governed in the interest of all the people and the laws that exist in them apply equally to all.
But who gets to decide what is in the general interest? In representative democracies like ours, where power is shared between central and devolved administrations, this task becomes more complex than ever. For power is not just handed on to the representatives we vote for. It is delegated to agencies and actors who shape our lives unaccountably in myriad ways. Newspapers, television and online media shape opinion and channel information in ways that have long been recognised to be anything but objective. Through the planning system hugely important decisions about how the land on which we live is divided up and exploited are made, in ways that, according to some, consistently favour some interests at the expense of others.
Instead of executive powers and the ‘fourth estate’ being conduits for the general will, or arenas in which it is determined, the suspicion is, inevitably, that they are conduits for wills of their own. So, in complex societies like ours, in what sense can we be said to live in a democracy? And what might democracy mean in the future within such a society in which devolution becomes an increasingly important force?
For this Cafe, we’re joined by Dr Richard Cowell (Planning and Geography, Cardiff University), Prof. Karin Wahl-Jorgenson (Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University) and artist Sara Rees to debate these issues. The event is on 16 April 2013 from 8.00pm in the Cafe Bar at the Gate.
If you’re tweeting about this event, the hashtag is #cpcdemo.