Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People
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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.
equality to persist—what is crucial is that the people know and believe that their unequal economic power is not a reason for making their political voice unheard. Using procedures must not be felt as futile; withdrawal from the forum and the ballot must not be felt as convenient. The transformation of politics in a forum of opinions amplifies the meaning of citizens’ political presence (or absence). Their power of influencing people’s decisions makes opinions very appealing to political leaders,
proportion of the people who can express their opinion and ideas through the press.” The report ended by declaring concentration bad for democracy and a threat to freedom of the press.173 There is no agreement on the interpretation of this phenomenon. Recently, American scholars of public opinion have dismissed the argument against ownership concentration as 68 Democracy’s Diarchy no longer an issue because of the fragmentation of information and communication that the Internet produces.174
European Union, which was achieved first of all 106 Unpolitical Democracy thanks to a capillary system of regulations able to impose uniformity standards on the diverse national systems of administration. But the endorsement of the bureaucratic mind as internal to democracy has theoretical implications that go beyond these contextual reasons. The older nineteenth-century conceptions of bureaucracy, which focused on strict hierarchy, centralized state control, and homogenizing treatment of
receptive many who learn how “to obey and accept the good intentions of those in charge.”27 13 D E M O C R A C Y D I S F I G U R E D It is not election per se that makes democracy apathetic (the assemblies of ancient democracies were ruled by few rhetoricians and the citizens tended not to participate). Apathy or mass passivity belongs to this regime in an endogenous way since, as the iron law of oligarchy goes, politics is an art of the few, not the many. Yet people’s habituation of “being
communication. This concentration is achieved by making opinion the Trojan Horse that conquers state power. This is achieved thanks to a strong leader. As a matter of fact, impersonation of political power in a leader is not avoidable when representation occurs in a void of political parties (or intermediary bodies) and when procedures are manipulated for the sake of identifying representation with a visible collective sovereign. This observation proves by default the nature of democracy as a