The core question of” What is Democracy?” is not only a political or philosophical question, but also the title of a book by the Danish politician and theologian Hal Koch. Koch was instrumental in post war Denmark of forming the Danish concept of democracy.
His main point is, that democracy is not merely a form of governing, but it is a lifestyle and a mindset that each generation must be brought up with. One of the core principals is that democracy is only real, when it is based on a true conversation. Not a stump speech, but actively listening to the points the other person is making. Hal Koch founded the Danish Youth Council, which still exists to this day, along with Krogerup Folk High School. He was also a member of the Danish Parliament Folketinget for many years, elected for the Social Democratic Party.
His thoughts and writings on democracy has shaped the way that the political system of Denmark works. Denmark is used to minority coalition governments that must negotiate a majority for legislation. This might seem odd for many nations, but governments in Denmark have, and still are, surprisingly stable. They are forced to speak to the other parties and cannot govern on their own.
Hal Koch's background as a theologian shone through in the sense that he advocated for humanism and Christianity to walk hand in hand to create stable and free societies. Both would be at a loss without the other. Hal Koch was married to Bodil Koch, and the latter became the first female minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs of Denmark.
Kristian Sloth, general secretary in Danmission, which is co-publisher of What is democracy?, says about democracy: “Democracy is, of course, formal regulations, proceedings, electoral law and decisions about majority and minority rights, and so on. But democracy is also much more than law. The law and the legal aspects provide a framework, but it must be embodied and correspond with everyday living,” says Kristian Sloth and elaborates that democracy is about the way we live and interact with each other: “It will only exist, if conversation takes place. It is expressed in the public debate, in the associations, between neighbors, how you as a citizen meet the others. It’s not about agreeing, but through keeping the dialogue and the conversation going, we are constantly getting a little wiser and at least getting along with each other."
What is democracy has been translated into English to further the writings of Hal Koch, on initiative of Danmission, Krogerup Højskole and The Danish Youth Council (DUF)
Born May 6th, 1904.
Died August 10th, 1963.
Married to Bodil Koch
Hal Koch also had an bearing part in the political and social debate.
He was, in 1940, chosen as president/chairman of the Danish youth association.
In that context, he unfolded lectures and writing activities in defense of the Danish Democrat tradition (e.g. What is Democracy? 1945), as well as in support of the negotiating policy pursued by the Danish government.