Democratic Theory

Course Description: 

This is an advanced course in the normative theory of democracy. Normative political theories focus on the following question: states claim to have a right to rule–can this claim be justified? The anarchist response is, No, there is no such a thing as a justified right to rule. Opponents of the anarchist thesis hold that the claim of states to a right to rule can be justified, and so states can have legitimate authority, at least under certain conditions. Democratic theory insists that the democratic nature of political rule is part of the necessary conditions of the legitimacy of political authority. This course is dedicated to the examination of this claim. We will address the problem of what the claim to a right to rule amounts to, what must be true in order for it to be justified, what role democracy plays in the justification, and in what conception democracy can fulfil its justificatory role. We will also face the issues of the relationship between the normative concept of democracy and the empirical study of democratic systems as well as some issues of the contemporary crisis of democracy, especially the phenomenon of populism and how it is related to the democratic idea.

There are two types of normative democratic theory. The first identifies the virtues of democracy with its capacity better to promote some independent aims (such as advancing collective well-being, securing justice, protecting human rights, or simply maintaining a peaceful and orderly succession in office). The second starts out from the proposition that democracy as a procedure of taking and carrying out collective decisions has some inherent moral virtue.

The course will consider both types of arguments. We will also examine certain alleged paradoxes of democracy: the paradox of voting, the paradox of recognizing the authority of mistaken official decisions, and the paradox of constitutional review as an anti-majoritarian device.