Yes, of course you must study the images too. What's up with that? They were not included here to simply amuse your pet mouse!

Procedural Versus Authentic Democracy

Democracy, in its true sense, has two related halves: the procedural and the authentic (or substantive) where the former is the means to the latter.

In a capitalist democracy, like this one, the tendency is to emphasize the procedural at the expense of the authentic because it serves the interests of the capitalist class (as will be evident shortly). However, one without the other simply reduces democracy to a well-meaning but empty slogan.[1] The first half refers to majority rule (but qualified by a bill of rights that protects minorities) and the accompanying institutional processes of rule of law, voting, elections, term-limits, legislative representation, and so on. This narrowly defined understanding of democracy can be labeled as procedural democracy.

Authentic (Substantive) Democracy

Democracy, however, also has a broader substantive meaning (second half), as captured, for example, by the Preamble to the U.S. Declaration of Independence. To quote the key sentence: “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all [Persons] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” (Of course, even as one turns to that document, one cannot help but imagine how great that document could have really been if only its architects had at the same time not refused to consider other peoples, such as the enslaved African Americans and the Aboriginal Americans, worthy of these same rights; instead they even went on to label the latter as “merciless Indian Savages,” and made them the source of one more grievance among the many listed by the document against the British Crown.)

Authentic democracy then, in essence, is about equitably securing access for all human beings to the four fundamental needs: food, shelter, health, and security. (See development for further elaboration on these needs.) One cannot be certain whether President Abraham Lincoln had authentic democracy or procedural democracy in mind when he concluded his short but powerful speech (which we have come to know as The Gettysburg Address and fittingly reproduced on the Lincoln Monument in Washington, D.C. [2]) that he delivered several months following the culmination of one of the most horrific battles of the U.S. Civil War, at Gettysburg—a small rural town in south central Pennsylvania where over a period of just three days, July 1 through July 3, 1863, General George G. Meade’s Union Army and General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces fought an unplanned battle that consumed perhaps seven thousand lives but with thousands upon thousands more wounded, captured, or missing—with the words “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” but they certainly capture what a truly democratic government, which, remember, is constituted from and funded by a vast majority of ordinary tax payers, should be concerned with uppermost: the promotion of, both, procedural and authentic democracy.

In practice, authentic democracy finds expression, along two fronts: First, in all those tax-payer funded expenditures designed to improve the lives and working conditions of all in society. These range from the social safety net to transportation infrastructure (e.g. roads, bridges, and airports), on to social amenities and services (e.g. the postal system, schools, colleges, libraries, and parks)—and which may all be collectively referred to as public wages. Second, it finds expression in all those legislative measures enacted, in spite of politically myopic opposition from the bourgeoisie, at the behest of the lower classes at opportune historical moments—the appropriate people are in Congress and the appropriate person is in the White House—for the purpose of curtailing the excesses of capitalism (constituting a form of class-struggle aimed at resisting the class warfare of the bourgeoisie); such as: the creation of safe working conditions; giving worker’s the right to organize (trade unions) and pursue collective bargaining; protection of the biosphere to ensure access to clean air and water, maintain biological diversity, etc.; creation of agencies to monitor safety in food supply, medicines, health care, air-travel; consumer rights, etc.; establishment of the minimum wage; enactment of child labor laws; the creation of a social safety net (see below); and so on.

In other words, authentic democracy constitutes a form of redistributive justice. Viewed differently, all these are measures that via the so-called “big government” (that bogey man of the capitalist class) severely interfere with that capitalist mandate to maximize profits without regard to the wellbeing of the citizenry or the planet; that is, they help to “humanize” or tame capitalism—and thereby eliminate the potential for its revolutionary overthrow, benefiting, ironically, the entire capitalist class in the process.

Folks, it is important to note that both kinds of democracy are essential for a society to function as a democratic society because both procedural democracy and substantive democracy are dialectically intertwined—one without the other renders both a sham. Of course, as implied here, the very idea of democracy in a capitalist society is problematic. The issue is not only one of the inherent contradictions of the capitalist production system in which the nature of exploitation is rarely if ever transparent (leaving aside the more obvious forms of exploitation ranging from slave labor to underpayment of wages). The problem is that even within the confines of a narrower definition of what authentic democracy implies (one that leaves the basic parameters of the capitalist order unchallenged) the relatively more simpler and accessible matter of making the apparatus of procedural democracy (elections, legislation, etc.) responsive to the agenda of the objective interests of the mass of the citizenry is constantly (and often flagrantly) subjected to subversion by capital and its allies by constantly waging class warfare.

In other words, authentic democracy also concerns the public wage (includes the social safety net), and champions of the public wage will be, more often than not, the masses—at least the self-enlightened among them—and not the capitalist class and its allies. In fact, on the contrary, high on the legislative agenda of the capitalist class in all democracies is the reduction of the public wage, in opposition to what true democracy is supposed to be about. Seen from this standpoint, the function of democracy (in both its senses) in capitalist democratic societies is to mitigate the predatory and destructive tendencies of capitalism (here, see also negative externality) by "humanizing" it.

NOTE: A timeline of key legislation establishing authentic democracy in United States is here.

Socially Responsible Capitalism

Whatever the merits of capitalism as a system of economic production, at the most fundamental level, it is about unsustainable exploitation (of human beings, of the environment, and so on); it is NOT about doing good, regardless of what capitalists will tell you. Reminder: capitalism is not about philanthropy—nor is it primarily about creating jobs (there would be no unemployment, if that was the case)—it is simply about making money, for the sake of making money, in whatever way possible. The capitalist system does not recognize access to food, shelter, health, and security as fundamental human rights; unless they can be a source of profits! One solution that societies have found to the inherently exploitative/destructive tendencies of capitalism is to regulate it so that it does not completely destroy society.

However, from the perspective of capitalism itself, it is possible, up to a point, to engage in capitalist entrepreneurial activity that at the same time does as much as possible to minimize the exploitative/destructive consequences of that activity. This kind of capitalism is usually referred to as "socially responsible capitalism" or sometimes “ethical capitalism.”

Some Examples

(1) News articles on socially responsible capitalism

(b) Carnegie Council ("Is Ethical Capitalism Possible?")

(c) BBC

(a) Share the World's Resources: (Explore the information provided at this site.)

(2) Examples of socially responsible businesses

(a) Publishing: Peter Lang Publishing Group. (A publisher)

(b) Telephone service: Working Assets (A long distance phone carrier)

(c) Banking: SEFCU (This bank which has a branch in the Commons on campus--yes, they provide online banking, and free checking too!)

(d) Music: Marillion (A progressive rock band)

(e) More examples from a news article here:Huffington Post

(f) CNN Money

(g) Clothing (read their FAQ page)

(h) A division of called AmazonSmile

(3) Teaching/ Learning socially responsible capitalism

(a) UCLA School of Business

Now that you know what socially responsible capitalism is, you too can do your part (while you are "waiting for the revolution" that will bring in a better world you desire) to support such enterprises by becoming customers of their business.

Whenever possible, support capitalist enterprises that do NOT consider making profits the first, last, and only reason for their existence--regardless of how those profits are made: destruction of the environment; super-exploitation of labor (including child labor); corrupting the democratic process by paying off politicians, etc.; making/selling harmful products; and so on.

Interpersonal Democracy

In my classes, I also talk about interpersonal democracy, by which I mean interpersonal relations among individuals in a society that are governed by the principle of equality of opportunity for respect, acceptance, and non-discrimination—regardless of age, class, color, ethnicity, gender, and other similar social structural markers. In practice, what this means is that whether you are in the workplace, or on a school campus, or at a shopping facility, or at a sports event, etc., your behavior towards others (regardless of who they are) would be governed by decency, and not what is sometimes called microaggression. You may not have the power to change society for the better by yourself, but you have the power to do no harm to others with your interpersonal interactions with them.

To provide you with an illustration of what is meant by procedural in contrast to authentic democracy in practice (from a U.S. perspective), I have listed in a separate document available via the link in the footnote no. 3 below a timeline of select tax-payer funded programs and services, as well as democratic rights, by year of enabling legislation. As you go through this listing of key legislative examples of procedural versus authentic democracy, please note that the legislative authority indicated refers to the initial legislation and not the subsequent modifications most such legislation have undergone since their original enactment, for good or ill, across various U.S. administrations. Notice also, that, not coincidentally, the original legislation was passed, with rare exception, when Democrats occupied the White House and/or were the majority in the U.S. Congress. In fact, astounding as it may appear today, the enabling legislation for many of these programs and services were enacted during a one-term presidency (technically) of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the architect of the War on Poverty and the Great Society programs. [3] Note: asterisked items concern procedural democracy and the rest relate to authentic democracy, while the letters in brackets after a president’s name refer to their political party, either Democrat [D] or Republican [R]).


[1]. There is another definition of procedural versus substantive (or authentic) democracy available in the literature on political theory. However, for our purposes it remains a narrow definition, compared to the one presented here, in that it does not consider the end goal of procedural democracy, namely, authentic democracy as defined here (and captured by that magnificent phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”). Its focus still remains simply the one half of democracy: procedural democracy as defined here (in other words, it does not deal with means versus ends).

[2] Here is the full text of the Gettysburg Address:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

President Abraham Lincoln / November 19, 1863

[3] The persistent attack by the right-wing think tanks in a capitalist democracy, like this one, on the positive role of government aimed at ensuring authentic democracy for all should be viewed with deepest suspicion—because it is motivated either by ignorance (if supported by the working classes), or cynical self-interest (if supported by the capitalist class and their bourgeois allies). NOTE: A timeline of key legislation establishing authentic democracy in United States is here.