Normative democratic theory with a focus on civic engagement is increasingly interested in how participatory instances connect into democratic systems (Dean, Rinne, et al. 2019; Elstub et al. 2018). The deliberative perspective has pioneered this debate and proposes a systemic view that observes how everyday talk and media discourses connect deliberative forums including parliaments, mini-publics, and protest formations (Mansbridge 1999; Mansbridge et al. 2012). While various approaches within the deliberative systems debate can be differentiated (Owen and Smith 2015), they commonly understand deliberative qualities as distributed within a broader system and focus on scaling up democratic deliberation through the transmission from the public to state institutions (Chambers 2012; Dryzek 2009).
Pluralizing the Debate
Dominik Austrup, Marion Repetti, Andreas Avgousti, Th. W. Bottelier, and Antonin Lacelle-Webster
William A. Galston, Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018)
Gergana Dimova, Democracy Beyond Elections: Government Accountability in the Media Age (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)
David Stasavage, The Decline and Rise of Democracy: A Global History from Antiquity to Today (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020)
G. John Ikenberry, A World Safe for Democracy: Liberal Internationalism and the Crises of Global Order (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020)
Cristina Lafont, Democracy without Shortcuts: A Participatory Conception of Deliberative Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)
Jean-Paul Gagnon and Emily Beausoleil
This seventeenth issue of Democratic Theory marks a major shift for the journal: this will be its last general issue until further notice. We have received many excellent special issue proposals and have also developed various special issues internally in order to speak to unfolding events and current scholarly developments. Given the journal has two issues per year, this has meant Democratic Theory no longer has space in the years to come for unsolicited, single-article submissions. We are excited about the direction this takes us, opening as it does far more opportunity for concerted dialogue and collective inquiry on timely themes, particularly given platforms for special issues can be rare in the discipline. We welcome future proposals for special issues and look forward to those already in development contributing to the broader conversations in contemporary democratic theory.
Thinking about the Political with a Capital P
This article intervenes in the debates on reforming EU democracy support by offering a “radical reformist” approach. It departs from the observation that literature lacks a sustained theorization of reform which more effectively considers contestation as the very condition of democracy. As such, in contrast to withdrawing democracy from its contested nature, this article presents a theoretical argument, as informed by Chantal Mouffe’s take on radical democracy, through which the EU more democratically can engage with and support the plurality of different contestations of democracy. In particular, a closer engagement with the radical democratic embrace of the political will allow for better reflection on how EU democracy support already is or can become democratic, empowering and receptive to the way democracy is understood locally.
Two maladies that have been incipient in Liberal Democracy since its birth have finally struck at once. The “tyranny of the majority” and “administrative despotism”—first identified by Alexis de Tocqueville almost two centuries ago—have combined in the form of a new, much more threatening democratic mutation. We are witnessing the rise of “despotic majoritarianism,” in which citizens are simultaneously given less and less say in the political process, just as more and more is being done in their name. This new strain of democratic disease threatens not just the United States but societies across Europe, Latin America, and South Asia. This article explores the nature of despotic majoritarianism, its manifestation today, and how we might combat it.
The Role of Framing and Emotions
Are televised election debates (TEDs) a blessing for democracy, educating citizens and informing them of their electoral options? Or should they be viewed as a curse, presenting superficial, manipulating rhetoric in one-way communication? In this article, I evaluate TEDs from a deliberative point of view, focusing on the potential positive and negative outcomes of framing by politicians, as well as on the pros and cons of displaying emotions in debates. I argue that the use of these two rhetorical devices in TEDs is potentially helpful in inspiring deliberation, perspective-taking and subsequent reflection in both politicians and voters. This leads me to conclude that televised election debates should be critically approached as communicative venues with potential deliberative qualities.
An Anthropologist's Lived Experiences of Indigenous Democratic Cultures
Wade Davis and Jean-Paul Gagnon
Anthropology meets democratic theory in this conversation that explores indigeneity, diversity, and the potentialities of democratic practices as exist in the non-Western world. Wade Davis draws readers into the ethnosphere—the sum total of human knowledge and experience—to highlight the extinction events that are wiping out some half of human ethnic diversity. Gagnon worries over what is lost to how we can understand and practice democracy in this unprecedented, globally occurring, ethnocide.
Liberalism and Its Others
The language we use for democracy matters, the struggles over how it is defined are real, the outcomes are consequential. This is what a conceptual politics approach emphasizes, pointing to the vital role played by contestation in determining which meanings prevail and which are marginalized. Among all the meanings of democracy that exist, it is liberal democracy that stands at the center, it has effectively won conceptual and political battles resulting in its current primacy. In this sense, liberalism is much more deeply baked into contemporary discussions about democracy than some might be comfortable admitting. This is not without cause, as liberal democracy has achieved, and continues to unevenly provide, political, economic, and social goods. In the rush to dig up alternatives, it is important not to lose sight of how and why this liberal conception of democracy has come to dominate and the ways it conditions democratic possibilities.
Podemos and the Analytical Potential of Ocular Democracy
Most citizens of representative democracies do not take political decisions in their everyday lives. Although participation in periodic elections, political parties, or social movements varies, above all, according to socio-economic status, taking a political decision is, in general, a relatively extraordinary event for the vast majority of citizens. The everyday political experience of these citizens is rather structured by watching and listening to political elites. Unlike the tenor of democratic theory, this quotidian mode of passively following politics is ocular democracy's starting point. So far, the debate on ocular democracy has emphasized its shortcomings as a normative theory. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, this article illustrates the potential of ocular democracy as an analytical tool in the context of intra-party democracy. Podemos’ intra-party procedures are analyzed by complementing an institutional perspective with ocular democracy, thus showing how a party leader inclined to appear particularly venturesome undermines ambitious forms of intra-party democracy.
Jean-Paul Gagnon, Hans Asenbaum, Dannica Fleuss, Sonia Bussu, Petra Guasti, Rikki Dean, Pierrick Chalaye, Nardine Alnemr, Friedel Marquardt, and Alexander Weiss
This introductory article to Democratic Theory's special issue on the marginalized democracies of the world begins by presenting the lexical method for understanding democracy. It is argued that the lexical method is better than the normative and analytical methods at finding democracies in the world. The argument then turns to demonstrating, mainly through computational research conducted within the Google Books catalog, that an empirically demonstrable imbalance exists between the democracies mentioned in the literature. The remainder of the argument is given to explaining the value of working to correct this imbalance, which comes in at least three guises: (1) studying marginalized democracies can increase our options for alternative democratic actions and democratic innovations; (2) it leads to a conservation and public outreach project, which is epitomized in an “encyclopedia of the democracies”; and (3) it advocates for a decolonization of democracies’ definitions and practices and decentering academic democratic theory.