Capitalism and Representative Democracy

  • John Urry
Part of the Contemporary Social Theory book series


It has now become fairly commonplace to maintain that there is a ‘functional fit’ between capitalist social relations and representative (or liberal or bourgeois) democracy. This has been argued by conservatives such as Friedman, who claim that capitalist economic organisation promotes political as well as economic freedom;1 by radicals, such as Macpherson, who maintains both that liberal-democracy is found only in countries with capitalist enterprises and that, with a few exceptions, all countries with such enterprises develop liberal-democratic institutions;2 and by Marxists such as Lenin, who argue that a democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism.3 Yet there are obviously a number of difficulties in these arguments. On the one hand, if we consider all these societies in which the CMP has been dominant, then probably only a minority have in fact been organised in a representative democratic manner. Political democracy, by which I mean universal adult suffrage, a representative parliament to some extent controlling the executive and judiciary, and institutionalised freedoms of election, speech, association, and so on is a twentieth-century phenomenon mainly of Western European and North American capitalism. It did not occur in nineteenth-century capitalism, nor has it developed in large numbers of peripheral capitalist societies.


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Copyright information

© John Urry 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Urry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of LancasterUK

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