Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
Real democracies, as opposed to idealized ones, do not operate only on the basis of categorical interests represented through territorially elected representatives and through functionally selected spokespersons. The interests which are worthy of being represented and supported are not necessarily only those broad enough to claim to represent “the general interest” of society or to be harmonized, with other equally broad interests, to yield “the general interest” (see, e.g., Pizzorno 1981: 255).
Citizens often do not ask from their representatives the elaboration and implementation of political programs for the improvement of the whole society, but rather quite specific policies for the improvement of their personal lot. Workers and other categorical interests often do not ask of their associations the protection and promotion of their broad functional interests, but rather immediate advantages for their fairly narrow categories. Religious, ethnic, and language groups often do not fight for religiously tolerant, multiethnic, and multilingual societies, but for the defense of their own religious, ethnic, and language traditions. Single-issue movements may not care about the wider repercussions of the policies they favor but about the advancement of their (sometimes narrowly defined) interests. While particular interests may be more effectively promoted if couched in universalistic terms – as furthering the welfare of the whole society or as redressing the faulty implementation of universal rights – often they are simply promoted for their own sake, without much concern for competing interests or for the society-wide consequences that their promotion may engender.