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Democracy without Politics

Democracy without Politics

Steven Bilakovics

ISBN 9780674058224

Publication date: 02/09/2012

In Western democracies today, politics and politicians are held in contempt by the majority of citizens. Steven Bilakovics argues that this disdain of politics follows neither from the discontents of our liberal political system nor from the preoccupations of a consumer society. Rather, extending Tocqueville’s analysis of the modern democratic way of life, he traces the sources of political cynicism to democracy itself.

Democratic society’s defining openness—its promise of transcendent freedom and unlimited power—renders the everyday politics of argument and persuasion absurd by comparison. Persuasion is devalued relative to the norms of free-market competition and patriotic community, assertions of self-interest and self-expression take the place of arguing together, and political life is diminished by the absence of mediating talk. Bilakovics identifies this trend across the political landscape—in the clashing authenticities of the "culture war," the perennial pursuit of the political outsider to set things right again, the call for a postpartisan politics, rising demands on government alongside falling expectations of what government can do, and in a political rhetoric that is at once petty and hyperbolic. To reform democratic politics and ameliorate its pathologies, Bilakovics calls on us to overcome our anti-political prejudice and rethink robust democracy as the citizen's practice of persuading and being persuaded in turn.


  • Addressing the peculiar seesaw of cynicism and idealism that characterizes American politics, Steven Bilakovics provocatively suggests that our current anti-political prejudices flow not from some extra-political source (such as neoliberal economics or fundamentalist religion) but from the spirit of democracy itself. Democracy without Politics is a masterful reworking of Tocqueville's theses concerning equality, freedom, and democratic openness. It illuminates, in a radically original way, our ongoing love affair with democratic ideals and our growing impatience with--even contempt for--democratic politics. A must-read.

    —Dana Villa, University of Notre Dame


  • Steven Bilakovics is a Postdoctoral Associate in Political Science at Yale University.

Book Details

  • 314 pages
  • 1 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press