“A democracy is more than a form of government, it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. [….] A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic.”—John Dewey
But the meaning of democracy in the modern world is hardly exhausted by the procedural structures of government. Indeed, the structures of government, being largely administrative, tend to be largely bureaucratic in nature. They tend also to be large, hierarchical, and to some extent corrupt. As such, they are also resistant, for a variety of reasons, to being held responsible by the societies they are supposed to serve. It therefore makes sense to say that modern governmental structures are democratic only to the extent that they are actually responsive to a public discussion and an electoral process in which members of the society in question actually participate. Hence Dewey’s claim, in his early essay ‘The Ethics of Democracy,’ that ‘Democracy is a form of government only because it is a form of moral and spiritual association.’
In other words, a form of government ceases to be democratic insofar as the public life surrounding it ceases to be animated—ethically inspirited—by a concerted attempt on the part of citizens to hold one another responsible for the condition of the government and to hold governmental officials responsible to the governed. The activity of holding rulers and one’s fellow citizens responsible by offering reasons to them and demanding reasons from them places citizens in a moral association with one another—an association the spirit of which is mutual recognition and accountability. By allowing all citizens to express their own most deeply felt commitments and aspirations, as well as their interests, in the public discussion, a genuinely democratic community also implicitly affirms its members as spiritual beings. The spirit of democracy resides in a citizenry that practices accountability and mutual recognition. Where the spirit of democracy is lacking, the rhetoric of democracy becomes mere ideology, a decoration draped over institutions to enhance their authority by disguising their nondemocratic reality.
Democratic discussion cannot proceed from perfect agreement in spiritual outlook, because the most deeply felt commitments expressed in it are various, conflicting, and constantly in flux. Still, many are the citizens who aspire, in expressing their concerns, to bring about a more perfect union by their own lights. The United States of America is full of perfectionists bent on perfecting both themselves and the life that citizens share together. But democracy in this time and place has had to come to terms with a plurality of perfectionisms. American citizens are conscious to the extent to which their ideals of perfection conflict. While modern democracy has deep religious roots, and retains a perfectionist impulse, it should not be viewed as a species of religion. It has become an attempt on the part of human beings to take responsibility for shared arrangements, despite (and in light of) the differences in religious outlook that divide one person from another. Its wise defenders value it without proposing it as an object of worship in its own right. To bow down before democracy, or any other product of human effort, is idolatry.”—Jeffrey Stout (From a transcript—sans notes—of a 2004 lecture, ‘The Spirit of Democracy,’ to general audiences at the University of Tennessee and the University of Notre Dame.)
“Distributed intelligence…refers to an emergent phenomenon that can be traced not to individual minds but rather to the interaction between individual minds and between those minds and their environment. [….] [A] notion of democratic reason as distributed collective intelligence of the people is relevant for the epistemic argument for democracy in a least three ways. First, the idea of collective distributed intelligence is particularly useful to describe democracy as a system channeling the intelligence of the many and turning it into smart outputs. Democratic reason denotes a certain kind of distributed collective intelligence….
The concept of collective distributed intelligence also explains how the individual citizen cognitively unburdens him or herself by letting others, as well as the environment, process parts of the social calculus. From that point of view, the idea of democratic reason as collective distributed intelligence offers an answer to the apparent paradox of the right of the people to rule themselves and the simultaneous belief that they lack the cognitive competence for it.
Finally, combined with the concept of cognitive artifacts that contain the wisdom of the past, the idea of collective intelligence distributed not only through space over people and artifacts but over time as well introduces a temporal dimension to the concept of democratic reason. Democracies can learn, particularly from their own mistakes, how to immunize themselves against the worst forms of cognitive failures and to embody in durable institutions the lessons serve from such past failures and mistakes.”—Hélène Landemore