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Democracy Disfigured

Democracy Disfigured

Nadia Urbinati
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Democracy Disfigured
    Book Description:

    InDemocracy Disfigured,Nadia Urbinati diagnoses the ills that beset the body politic in an age of hyper-partisanship and media monopolies and offers a spirited defense of the messy compromises and contentious outcomes that define democracy. Urbinati identifies three types of democratic disfiguration: the unpolitical, the populist, and the plebiscitarian. Each undermines a crucial division that a well-functioning democracy must preserve: the wall separating the free forum of public opinion from governmental institutions that enact the will of the people. Unpolitical democracy delegitimizes political opinion in favor of expertise. Populist democracy radically polarizes the public forum in which opinion is debated. And plebiscitary democracy overvalues the aesthetic and nonrational aspects of opinion. For Urbinati, democracy entails a permanent struggle to make visible the issues that citizens deem central to their lives. Opinion is thus a form of action as important as the mechanisms that organize votes and mobilize decisions. Urbinati focuses less on the overt enemies of democracy than on those who pose as its friends: technocrats wedded to procedure, demagogues who make glib appeals to "the people," and media operatives who, given their preference, would turn governance into a spectator sport and citizens into fans of opposing teams.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72638-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    The figure is a shape that is externally identifiable, a composite of observable characteristics and the configuration of a person’s distinctive features that enable recognition. Each of us has his or her phenotype thanks to which others recognize us. Our figure is thus precious to us because the traits composing it are meant to make our appearance unique, different from others. In this book I use the analogy with body figure to explore some disfigurements of democracy. The analogy of the “body” in political thought is as old as reflection on politics. Theories of political legitimacy have been developed as...

  4. 1 Democracyʹs Diarchy
    (pp. 16-80)

    The identification of democracy with “the force of numbers” has traditionally attracted skeptics and detractors of democracy. After having derided the idea that government can be resolved as a numerical issue, Vilfredo Pareto wrote: “We need not linger on the fiction of ‘popular representation’—poppycock grinds no flour. Let us go on and see what substance underlines the various forms of power in the governing classes…. The differences lie principally … in the relative proportions of force and consent.”¹ For Pareto, number was simply a clever means to use force through consent, and democracy was the most effective way to...

  5. 2 Unpolitical Democracy
    (pp. 81-127)

    The first source of the unbalance of the diarchic powers I detect and analyze is what I take to be an unpolitical reinterpretation of the procedural system of democracy. This phenomenon is not merely academic, although I do concentrate essentially on scholarly literature and treat it as a theoretical issue. Unpolitical democracy is the name of a complex family that includes both proposals of extending the domains in which nonpartisan decisions are made and proposals that advance a conception of democratic authority that receives legitimacy from the quality of the outcomes that its procedures allow. I list these approaches under...

  6. 3 The Populist Power
    (pp. 128-170)

    Whereas theorists of epistemic democracy give the “crowd” the virtue of wisdom, theorists of populism give it a mobilizing virtue. The former feature the citizen as a member of a jury who listens to the voice of reason, not opinion. The latter instead feature the citizen as a member of a “we” whose unity some leaders concoct as a hegemonic opinion that claims it speaks for the will of the whole. While in the former case the political process is deemed representative of the public insofar as it is disembodied from social interests or ideologies, in the latter the social...

  7. 4 The Plebiscite of the Audience and the Politics of Passivity
    (pp. 171-227)

    When coupled with mass society and mass media communication, appeal to the people can facilitate a plebiscitarian transformation of democracy: “plebiscitarianism promises to restore the notion of the People as a meaningful concept of collective identity within contemporary political life” and does so by rendering it in its collective capacity “a mass spectator of political elites.”¹ Yet when leaders go to the people directly they radicalize issues and make parties’ bargaining more difficult; this makes the terrain of politics naturally fertile for leader activism, which does not, however, entail people activism.² “Certainly, when the representation of the parliament collapses and...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 228-242)

    In this book I have detected some mutations of democracy and examined them as disfigurements of the democratic diarchy of will and opinion. In its representative form, I argued, democracy is a system in which the power of authorizing the use of force as a last resort is exercised in the name of and on behalf of the people by virtue of the procedure of elections, which entails that institutions and political leaders cannot ignore what citizens think, say, and want outside the voting booth. In this government, the sovereign power is not simply the authorized will contained in the...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 243-298)
    (pp. 299-300)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 301-307)