Social Phenomenology as a Factor of Self-organization of Democracy


Department of Philosophy, Ivan Franko National University of Lviv, 1 Universytetska Street, Lviv, 79007, Ukraine

The study investigates the self-organizational bases of democracy. The author proves that social phenomenology is the self-organizational basis of democracy. The main idea of the article is that the self-organization of democracy has a phenomenological dimension. It is established that the self-organization bases of democracy are such structural elements of social phenomenology of democracy as social feelings – voluntariness, responsibility, openness, respect, tolerance, solidarity, honesty, humanness, trust, devotion to the ideals of democracy and sacrifice for them. It is substantiated that the elements of social phenomenology of democracy are such values as egalitarianism, rule of law, freedom, justice, the plurality of values, democratic competition, civic peace and cooperation. It is shown that the social phenomenology of democracy is the basis for support of such democratic institutions and procedures as a division of branches of power, fair and free elections, the secrecy of the ballot, deliberation, control over government and multiparty system.

Keywords: aggregate social phenomenology, social phenomenology of democracy, social feelings, democratic values, legitimization


Democracy is a complex socio-political phenomenon, and therefore, to it scientists take apologetic (Sen 1999; Brunkhorst 2009; Ginsburg et al. 2018), or critical position (Zakaras 2010; Hobson 2015; Khmil 2016; Prendergast 2019). That is, democracy, despite its constructive potential in the arrangement of social relations based on the principles of equality, justice and freedom, has some flaws.

Hence the question of the foundations of democracy arises, the reflection of which could potentially create an instrumental basis for the solution of problematic phenomena in democratic societies. From this point of view, the topic of study is relevant and points to the need for a thorough analysis of the essential foundations of democracy, which are the object of this study. Accordingly, the aim of the study is a search for driving factors in the emergence of democracy.

I propose a working hypothesis, which claims that the ‘mechanism’ of the emergence of democracy has a phenomenological nature, not an institutional one, and its possibility is based on citizens’ aggregate phenomenological activity. To check this working hypothesis and achieve the aim of the study I use structurally functional, axiological, phenomenological and self-organizational methods.

The novelty of the article is that the study develops the concept of the self-organizational emergence of democracy based on its social phenomenology. The latter is a unity of democratic ideas, values and social feelings. To my mind, to understand the self-organizational essence of democracy one should proceed from the fact that the immediate carrier of social phenomenology is a person, not the social institutions. The latter function as a sphere of aggregate phenomenological activity of citizens, who based on social phenomenology legitimize or delegitimize them. Therefore, if the social phenomenology of democracy is absent on the interpersonal level, democracy would tend to degrade. From this angle, the possibility of democracy depends on the specifics of the aggregate social phenomenology, which determines the types of self-organization of social relations on the interpersonal level. However, such aggregate social phenomenology is dynamic, uncertain (i.e. self-organizational), because citizens of multimillion society do not negotiate in advance what kind of social phenomenology they would manifest in a specific situation. Such self-organizational aggregate phenomenology is rather a social expectation. Therefore, democracy ‘is built’ not by social institutions, but by citizens, manifesting such aggregate social phenomenology, which legitimizes democratic relations between them.

Scientists use different methodological approaches for the interpretation of the essence of democracy. One can highlight at least three methodological approaches that are used in the explanation of the essence of democracy – І) structurally functional (or procedural), ІІ) axiological and ІІІ) phenomenological.


І. Structurally functional approach to society, introduced by T. Parsons (Parsons 1951: 19–20, 483; Parsons 1971: 4–28) in the understanding of democracy is based on the idea that democracy’s essence is determined as the system of certain institutions and procedures, which presuppose the order of obtaining and use of power. Democratic are those countries in which the separation of power and control over authorities is present. The division of power is one of the bases of the reduction of corruption and adherence to such principles as equality and justice through the avoidance of accumulation of power in the hands of one person or party. ‘The rule of law’ (Ginsburg et al. 2018: 243) is also a democratic mechanism.

The procedural understanding of democracy can be traced, to my mind, in K. Popper’s views. He draws attention to the fact that the plurality of democratic institutions can perform public control over government (Popper 1962: 160–161). At the same time, democracy checks and balances power (ibid. 162), and public control over government is the essence of democracy (ibid. 127, 151). In the aspect of the structurally functional approach, R. Shaw states that the basis of democracy is the voting procedure (Shaw 2009: 341; Shaw 2011: 123, 127). A. Zakaras (2010: 457) draws attention to a lot,1 as an alternative democratic procedure to voting.

The structurally functional approach to the understanding of democracy is formal because it a priori presupposes the mechanic dependence of democratic relations from the aggregation of democratic institutions. But, as C. Hobson thinks, ‘the fallacy of regarding democracy as simply a set of institutions that can be transferred and installed was especially evident in the failed attempts to bring it to Afghanistan and Iraq’ (Hobson 2015: 215). In such a sense the possibility of democracy is provided not by institutional means, but rather by social phenomenology of democracy, which legitimizes certain democratic institutions.

In the context of structural functionalism, societies are analysed through the prism of social institutions, norms and values (Parsons 1951; Parsons 1971). But the latter are only ideal types (Weber 1949: 42–44, 90–107), and therefore, truly democratic institutions do not have independent existence and are only possible based on their ‘phenomenological support’ by citizens.

Democracy is created not by social institutions and structures, but by citizens. Social institutions firstly need support from citizens on the phenomenological level; and secondly, social institutions are represented by the same citizens who are delegated with power and social roles by others. The social roles are enabled only through their social recognition. Hence, not social institutions and structures act in society, but citizens, who are the true carriers of the phenomenology of democracy. Therefore, the true ‘driver of democracy’ are citizens with their aggregate phenomenology of democracy.

The supporter of the institutional interpretation of democracy is also Y. Hazony (2020), who states that there is a need to have at least two legitimate political parties for democracy to work. However, at the same time, the researcher notes that democratic parties should be recognized by one another (Hazony 2020). Therefore, democracy is realized not through the political parties with alternative programs, but through the phenomenological mechanism of recognition of the legitimacy of elections by political opponents. In general, democracy needs the synergic unity of phenomenological and institutional principles. However, proportionally for democracy, the phenomenological basis is more important than the institutional because all democratic institutions have phenomenological grounds that legitimize these institutions.

For the democratic institutions to function properly and the division of the branches of power to exist, for the elections to express real values, the citizens need to be responsible and honest. For the democratic freedoms and pluralism of values to be present tolerance and respect are needed. Democracy demands not only the institutions of democracy, but also voluntariness, solidarity, responsibility, tolerance, honesty, devotion to the ideals of democracy, and even sacrifice for these ideals. In this aspect, one can conclude that the possibility of democracy to a greater extent depends on its social phenomenology, but not on its institutional foundation, although the latter is also a necessary element of democracy.


II. The understanding of democracy based on an axiological approach presupposes the explanation of its essence on the grounds of its basic values. In this context, A. Sen (1999: 3–17) views democracy as a universal value. A. Kłonkowska (2008: 55) notes that among the democratic values freedom, equality, justice, pluralism, responsibility, openness, truth and tolerance are mentioned most frequently. A. Zakaras (2010: 459) among the main democratic values recognizes four – equal consideration of interests, equal recognition, political autonomy and deliberation; C. Hobson’s (2015: 212) main democratic values are freedom and equality; P. Aleksandravičius (2016: 16) mentions freedom; S. Besson (2011: 23) recognizes political equality.

But democratic values do not function separately from the system of social phenomenology of democracy. They are only a constituent element alongside democratic ideas and feelings. Therefore, usually democratic values can be achieved by expressing such feelings as respect, tolerance, responsibility, solidarity, honesty and trust, and at the same time having the worldview beliefs in justice and legitimacy of these values. Thus, it is exactly the social phenomenology of democracy that is the basis for the legitimization of democratic relations.

D. Beetham combines structurally functional and axiological approaches to democracy and believes that there are two essential principles of democracy – the popular control of government and the principle of political equality (Beetham 2009: 282, 288–289, 294). However, such popular control over government demands responsibility from citizens. On the other hand, political equality is possible only based on respect to a person and tolerance to their various identifications. Hence the above-mentioned principles of democracy are based on its social phenomenology.

From this perspective, an open or a closed type of society, the success of economy and politics depends not on their structure and institutions, but on social phenomenology. Mostly, the structures of the majority of societies and their institutions are similar, but the distinctive feature is their democratic ‘quality’. Therefore, the difference between societies is based on their social phenomenology, which expresses the orientation of intelligence and feelings of citizens, with the help of which all forms of social existence are self-organizing.

III. In the phenomenological aspect, several scientists conducted their researches without clearly classifying such an approach as phenomenological. In particular, C. Hobson (2015: 212) emphasizes the humanity of democracy. F. Fukuyama and M. McFaul (2007: 28) point out to such phenomenological mechanism of democracy as a popular consensus. P. Aleksandravičius (2016: 14) highlights the dialogics of democracy, which is important for the pluralism of values, peace and justice. But the dialogue and pluralism of values need tolerance to the identification of the other in the first place. Peace and justice are possible not exclusively because of dialogue, but also because of social phenomenology, which creates the conditions of trust and tolerance.

N. de Oliveira (2010: 218) points out that the democratic model is realized through solidarity and cooperation. Also, researchers note the importance of tolerance and openness to democracy (Hobson 2015: 211; Ginsburg et al. 2018: 241). Researchers also note that among the methods of democratic decision-making are competition of political elites, fair and free elections (Matonytė, Vidūnaitė 2016: 117). In such aspect solidarity, tolerance, cooperation and openness (as elements of social phenomenology of democracy) are even more important bases of self-organization of democracy than the division of the branches of power or multiparty system.


For the substantiation of the main results of the study, I use the phenomenological method, in particular the notion of intentionality of E. Husserl (1982) in the context of its substantive content as an awareness of something.2 On this basis, I develop the idea about the human ‘self’, the structural components of which have an intentional nature. The phenomenological experience of ‘self’ is not only the experience of meanings but also the experience of will, emotions and feelings that are also intentional. That is, firstly, they are always substantive; and secondly, they are realized to a certain degree. Therefore, the human ‘self’ in the phenomenological sense is the synergy of meanings, will, emotions and feelings that have a different degree of intentionality.

Any society for its existence needs collective phenomenological effort. Hence, in collective action, the aggregate phenomenology of citizens is manifested. In such a sense I use the notion of ‘social phenomenology’, ‘aggregate social phenomenology’, ‘social phenomenology of democracy’ that are the unity of collective meanings, will, emotions and feelings during the collective action.

Since for the functioning of social phenomena a phenomenological ground is needed, which is expressed as the aggregate social phenomenology, on this basis I combine the phenomenological method with the concept of self-organization of society. I view social phenomenology in the self-organizational context, as dynamic and uncertain. Such characteristics of social phenomenology depend on the inability to predict (or construct) some ‘stable quality’ of aggregate social phenomenology of citizens who take part in some social activity since such aggregate phenomenology changes during the activity. That is why social reality, in general, tends not to rational construction, but to self-organization based on the aggregate social phenomenology, which is dynamic since any human can instantly change meanings, will, emotions and feelings during the social action.

In general, the logic of the self-organization of phenomena of existence lies in that all phenomena (including social) can self-organize based on their structural elements. In my opinion, the fundamental structural element of any society is a human being, their nature, to be exact, which is a self-organizing factor of emergence of all social phenomena. One of the ways of expressing the nature of humans is a phenomenological dimension. Through the phenomenological dimension of human consciousness, human ‘self’ or individual phenomenology is manifested.

The structure of individual phenomenology that is made of meanings, emotions and feelings is the basis for the formation of social phenomenology on the level of ideas, values and social feelings, in particular democratic. In this aspect, the concept of ‘social phenomenology’ is similar to the idea of the existence of an intersubjective level of reality, which Y. Harari (2017) develops. He draws attention to the phenomenological aspect of social reality that is manifested as the unity of the intersubjective web of meaning and the belief in them (ibid.). In this aspect social phenomenology of democracy has an intersubjective level, based on which democracy establishes self-organizationally.

The aggregate social phenomenology should be interpreted as an intersubjective system3 that combines individual phenomenologies of citizens. In such a sense the aggregate social phenomenology affects social integration, or, on the contrary, social alienation.

Democracy is not an artificial form of social unity that appeared because of various cultural processes, on the contrary, democracy is a natural phenomenological aspiration of humans to social equality and freedom, because due to social inequality and slavery humans experience humiliation and suffering. At the same time, democracy is possible only with the presence of some social phenomenology, which on the interpersonal level is that universal link that self-organizationally structures human relations.

Since the aggregate social phenomenology is variable, dynamic and uncertain, i.e. self-organizational, then social reality tends to coincidence. In particular, N. Taleb talks about the coincidence of social phenomena, who develops the idea of the unpredictability of social being, since ‘almost everything in social life is produced by rare but consequential shocks and jumps…’ (Taleb 2007: xxiv). In such an aspect social reality has a self-organizational dimension that indicates its dynamism, unpredictability and coincidence based on the dynamics of meanings, emotions and feelings that are the basis of social phenomenology, in particular of social phenomenology of democracy.


Social phenomenology of democracy has three basic component levels that are synergically connected. Firstly, the social phenomenology of democracy functions as the system of ideas of the worldview that explains the place of humans in the system of existence and their nature. Secondly, social phenomenology unfolds as a system of values (freedom, equality, justice, solidarity). Thirdly, democracy self-organizes on the interpersonal level as a system of social feelings, which are also the factors of self-organization of democracy since they have intentional nature. Besides, one should bear in mind that ‘at the personal intersubjective level, people interact primarily based on emotions and feelings’ (Hoian, Budz 2020: 78), and therefore the intersubjectivity of emotions and feelings should be taken into consideration when comprehending the essence of social phenomena, in particular the specifics of the functioning of democracy.

Hence, not only democratic laws and institutions are needed for the self-organization of democracy in society, but also social phenomenology, which legitimizes any democratic processes. Democratic procedures of obtaining power on their own cannot provide fair and free elections and prevent the usurpation of power. Transparency, social justice and competitiveness of democratic elections are provided not by procedural ways – the separation of powers, multiparty system, rule of law and secret ballot, but by phenomenological principles. In particular, transparency, social justice and competitiveness as democratic values are ensured by social feelings of honesty, tolerance, responsibility, devotion to ideals of democracy, and also worldview beliefs about the necessity of social equality and social justice.

Democracy is possible as a belief in an independent and free source of power, which is an individual human being. Therefore, it cannot be realized in societies that recognize the source of power in transcendent factors. Monarchy is based on the idea of transcendent factors, the worldview basis of which is the belief that power has a divine origin. Thus, democracy is possible predominantly based on the secularized worldview, within the borders of which a human being is placed as the source of power because they have all the needed grounds – rationality and innate rights (freedom and equality). This is why democracy is impossible without the idea of natural human rights, the substantiating of egalitarian ideas, trust in cognitive possibilities of the human mind, the spreading of ideas of individualism, and values of freedom and justice.

In such an aspect social phenomenology of democracy is the unity of meanings, values and feelings that motivate a person to act democratically. For example, a person votes not mechanically but based on one’s beliefs, worldview, desires, and feelings. Democratic voting happens not mechanically, but morally, at least it should be based on honesty, responsibility, voluntariness, tolerance and humanism. In the basis of true democracy lie such social feelings as openness, integrity, respect, tolerance and trust to government institutions that create the possibility for consensus, dialogue and pluralism of values, and legitimize the democratic worldview at the same time.


In the article, the concept of the self-organizational emergence of democracy is substantiated. It is developed based on the social phenomenology of democracy. The latter by its structural content comprises of democratic ideas, values and social feelings. The functioning of democracy happens based on the aggregate social phenomenology, which the citizens manifest.

In the working hypothesis of the study it was suggested that the self-organizational mechanism of the emergence of democracy has not institutional but phenomenological nature. However, the results of the research show that democracy is a synergic unity of institutional and phenomenological levels with the dominance of the phenomenological one since any structural and institutional dimensions of democracy are based on the social phenomenology of democracy.

Social phenomenology of democracy is a peculiar social capital, based on which democratic relations emerge self-organizationally and democratic institutions and procedures are supported, like fair and free elections, the secrecy of the ballot, division of the branches of power, deliberation, control over government and multiparty system.

Received 14 February 2021

Accepted 2 July 2021


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Socialinė fenomenologija kaip demokratijos saviorganizacijos veiksnys


Atliktas tyrimas nagrinėja demokratijos saviorganizacijos proceso pagrindus. Straipsnio autorius įrodinėja, kad socialinė fenomenologija yra vienas demokratijos saviorganizacinių pagrindų. Esminė autoriaus mintis yra ta, kad demokratijos saviorganizacijos procesas turi fenomenologinį matmenį. Straipsnyje fiksuojama, kad demokratijos saviorganizaciniai pagrindai yra tokie jos socialinės fenomenologijos struktūriniai elementai kaip socialiniai jausmai: savanoriškumas, atsakomybė, atvirumas, pagarba, tolerancija, solidarumas, sąžiningumas, žmogiškumas, pasitikėjimas, atsidavimas demokratijos idealams ir aukojimasis dėl jų. Taip pat įrodoma, kad prie demokratijos socialinės fenomenologijos elementų priskiriamos tokios vertybės kaip egalitarizmas, teisės viršenybė, laisvė, teisingumas, vertybių pliuralizmas, demokratinė konkurencija, pilietinė taika, bendradarbiavimas. Straipsnyje parodoma, kad demokratijos socialinė fenomenologija yra kertinis pamatas tokioms demokratinėms institucijoms ir procesams kaip valdžių atskyrimas, sąžiningi ir laisvi rinkimai, slaptas balsavimas, priimamų sprendimų svarstymas, valstybinės valdžios kontrolė, daugiapartinė sistema.

Raktažodžiai: kompleksinė socialinė fenomenologija, demokratijos socialinė fenomenologija, socialiniai jausmai, demokratinės vertybės, legitimacija