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Democracy Disfigured

Democracy Disfigured

Opinion, Truth, and the People

Nadia Urbinati

ISBN 9780674725133

Publication date: 02/25/2014

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In Democracy 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 the 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.

Praise

  • A beautifully wrought reflection on the ‘disfigurement’ of democracy. Deploying the ancient analogy and image of the body—as in ‘body politic’—Urbinati traces the theoretical sources and consequences of three deformations that have been introduced over time: the epistemic, the populist, and the plebiscitarian. All, the author argues, are ‘negative mutations of the procedural character of democracy.’

    —Terence Ball, Arizona State University

Author

  • Nadia Urbinati is the Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. She is the author of several books, including Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People (Harvard); The Tyranny of the Moderns; Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy; and Mill on Democracy: From the Athenian Polis to Representative Government, which won the David and Elaine Spitz Prize for the best book in democratic theory.

Book Details

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

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