Democracy without Politics

Democracy without Politics

Steven Bilakovics
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 312
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Democracy without Politics
    Book Description:

    For many years in Western democracies, politics and politicians have been thought of with contempt by the majority of citizens. Bilakovics argues that democratic society's openness makes political argument and persuasion seem absurd, yet he calls on us to recognize ourselves as citizens still capable of persuading and being persuaded in turn.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06293-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction: Democracy as Self-Subverting
    (pp. 1-27)

    “Politics” has probably always been something of a dirty word. In America today it seems exclusively and irretrievably so. Polling data over the past half century has made clear the American people’s increasing “dissatisfaction” with their politics and “distrust” of their government. Perhaps the most striking trend in more than three decades of the General Social Survey, for example, is the deterioration of “confidence” in political institutions and processes (even as opinions on a wide array of other issues have remained remarkably static).¹ When one considers this trend in conjunction with the long-term decline in political participation, from voting rates...

  4. CHAPTER 1 “More than Kings yet Less than Men”: Tocqueville on the New Extremes of Democratic Society
    (pp. 28-73)

    Not yet two hundred years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville described the “great social revolution” of democracy as “irresistible” and “already so powerful that it cannot be stopped.” Throughout the Christian world democracy had “destroyed feudalism and vanquished kings”; in America the empire of democracy held “no less sway over civil society than over government.” The advance of democracy, as Tocqueville famously put it, seemed no less than a “providential fact”: “It is universal, durable, and daily proves itself to be beyond the reach of man’s powers.”¹

    Today many argue that if anything is inevitable, it is the decline and loss...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Civilization without the Discontents: Tocqueville on Democracy as the Social State of Nature
    (pp. 74-124)

    In America today, freedom has taken on two polar opposite meanings. This is the conclusion put forward recently by moral psychologist C. Fred Alford, based upon a series of interviews he conducted with primarily young Americans. Alford finds that most of the people he spoke with associate freedom with “the possession of money and power, or they devalue freedom compared to money and power.” The formal freedoms embodied in the Bill of Rights, for example, are largely dismissed as “effete” and “mere symbols”; “real freedom” requires “total control,” and control requires power and money. Being permitted to say what one...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Regime of Revolution: Claude Lefort on History, Nature, and Convention after the Democratic Revolution
    (pp. 125-174)

    Conventional wisdom holds that from the end of Reconstruction to the start of the Great Depression a “laissez-faire orthodoxy” reigned in America.¹ More a way of life than merely an economic system, capitalism was taken as the ordering and animating principle of society. Market competition and the liberty of contract constituted a symbolic order within which all spheres of life were represented and evaluated. The contract stood, historian Eric Foner writes, as “an all-purpose metaphor for proper social relationships” and no less than “the embodiment of free will and voluntary action,” the liberty of contract was elevated “from one element...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Political Phoenix: Sheldon Wolin on the Limits and Limitlessness of Democracy
    (pp. 175-218)

    Tocqueville famously warns of “the danger that religion courts when it joins forces with power.” As long as “a religion rests solely on sentiments that console man in his misery, it can win the affection of the human race. But when it embraces the bitter passions of this world,” or when it “joins forces with political powers of any kind,” religion itself descends into bitterness and particularity. The unequal exchange is one of transcendent moral authority for temporal political power. Tocqueville thus offers the paradox that “diminishing religion’s apparent strength could actually make it more powerful.” The separation of church...

  8. Conclusion: Despotism and Democratic Silence
    (pp. 219-236)

    In his classic work of social commentary, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that we are living in—or fast approaching—something like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Postman famously juxtaposes the mode of domination characteristic of this dystopia to that of Orwell’s 1984: “Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history. As [Huxley] saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” Such oppression is less...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 239-294)
  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 295-296)
  11. Index
    (pp. 297-303)