Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

The Democratic Riddle

Topics: Political philosophy
Keywords: Control, Democracy, Legitimacy


Democracy means popular control, by almost all accounts. And by almost all accounts democracy entails legitimacy. But popular control, at least as that is understood in many discussions, does not entail  legitimacy. So something has got to give. Democratic theories divide on what this is, so that the question prompts a taxonomy of approaches. The most appealing answer, so the paper suggests, involves a reinterpretation of the notion of popular control.

There are three plausible assumptions that are commonly made about democracy and that we should be loath to reject; they are axioms of  democratic discussion. Yet those assumptions are inconsistent with one another, and constitute a riddle for democratic theory. This paper presents and motivates those assumptions and shows how standard approaches to democracy resolve the riddle in an unsatisfactory ad hoc
manner, restoring consistency by the blunt rejection of one or another axiom. The paper goes on to outline a different strategy of resolution, involving the reinterpretation rather than the rejection of an assumption, and it uses this to identify a novel way of conceptualizing democracy as a regime of deliberative regulation. Under this conception the assumptions become jointly consistent, while remaining individually plausible.


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