Formal democracy and effective democracy: structure vs process

Oct 2011
I had given a short look to Kaleidis' Byzantine Republic, but for the most part, what I write here does not rely on his book.
I had been reading on Byzantine Empire for quite some time now, and I noticed something interesting about its politics. Namely, while it was - in theory - an absolute monarchy, with Emperor having unlimited power, in practice that was not so. Populace of Constantinople was extremely politically active, and they were more than happy to diss and even overthrow the Emperors they did not like. Insulting the Emperor was essentially a pastime of the people in Constantinople, especially at hippodrome, and it is easy to make a list of insulting nicknames - Julian "the Violator", Leo I "The Butcher", Zeno "The Barbarian", Constantine V "Dung-named", Michael III "The Drunkard", Michael VII "Minus a quarter", John II "The Handsome" (he was ugly)... This is in stark contrast with modern "democratic" Europe, where majority of countries treats insults to the head of state as a criminal offence. Further, every coronation involved presenting the Emperor to the people of Constantinople, who would then acclaim him - a clear indication of political legitimacy originating from the people.

Yet today, it is taken mostly for granted that democracy requires representative structure - if you have structures, you have democracy, if you do not have them, you do not have democracy. But as can be seen from Byzantine example, political culture and process is far more important than structure. It is thus entirely possible to have democratic structure, without system actually being a democracy - in essence, a reverse of Byzantine system.
The Byzantine Republic


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
Modern governments are really run on a day to day basis by civil servants who are presumably hired and promoted by merit. Above them is a layer of political appointees appointed by the party in power. If it's a "democratic" government the party in power is elected by the citizens who vote. The parties themselves are private organizations; associations of people who have certain policy objectives. If there is only one party, is it a democracy?. Does good government require a democracy? Japan and Singapore are effectively one party states, not by law, but by custom. They provide effective government which respects the rights the of the people. If a government doesn't respect the rights of the people we can say its not democratic and the people have a right to overthrow it. But in these cases the civil services can still keep the wheels turning and avoid anarchy.