Is infrequent voting the most we can expect from a free citizenry? Would democracy be more robust if our political discourse were more deliberative? John Medearis’s trenchant and trend-bucking work of political philosophy argues that democracies face significant challenges that go beyond civic lethargy and unreasonable debate. Democracy is inherently a fragile state of affairs, he reminds us. Revisiting fundamental questions about the system in theory and practice, Why Democracy Is Oppositional helps us see why preserving democracy has always been—and will always be—a struggle.
As citizens of democracies seek political control over their destinies, they confront forces that threaten to dominate their lives. These forces may take the form of runaway financial markets, powerful special interests, expanding militaries, or dysfunctional legislatures. But citizens of democracies help create the very institutions that overwhelm them. Hostile threats do not generally come from the outside but are the product of citizens’ own collective activities. Medearis contends that democratic action perpetually arises to reclaim egalitarian control over social forces and institutions that have become alienated from large numbers of citizens. Democracy is therefore necessarily oppositional. Concerted, contentious political activities of all kinds are fundamental to it, while consensus and easy compromise are rarities.
Recovering insights from political theorists such as Karl Marx and John Dewey, Why Democracy Is Oppositional addresses contemporary issues ranging from the global financial crisis and economic inequality to drone warfare and mass incarceration.
John Medearis takes the best of contemporary political theory and brings it face to face with the lived experience of real politics. The result is a fresh, new approach to democratic theory.
Medearis argues that democratic practices and movements always produce unintended impediments to democracy, which in turn spur and sustain other movements and practices against those impediments, and so on. This is not an argument for a kind of political stasis. The struggle with the alienated products of our activity is simply a condition of our existence that, in this case, also signifies a relentless desire for equality and freedom. This formulation means that the institutional results of any movement at any time are provisional rather than enduring and that there is no meaningful distinction to be made between democracy as an ideal and as a practice. Clearly written and carefully argued, this book upends deliberative and elite democratic theories and lays the groundwork for a necessary advance over existing participatory and agonistic theories of democracy.
- 272 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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