The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship

The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship

The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship

The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship


For centuries it has been assumed that democracy must refer to the empowerment of the People's voice. In this pioneering book, Jeffrey Edward Green makes the case for considering the People as an ocular entity rather than a vocal one. Green argues that it is both possible and desirable to understand democracy in terms of what the People gets to see instead of the traditional focus on what it gets to say.

The Eyes of the Peopleexamines democracy from the perspective of everyday citizens in their everyday lives. While it is customary to understand the citizen as a decision-maker, in fact most citizens rarely engage in decision-making and do not even have clear views on most political issues. The ordinary citizen is not a decision-maker but a spectator who watches and listens to the select few empowered to decide. Grounded on this everyday phenomenon of spectatorship,The Eyes of the Peopleconstructs a democratic theory applicable to the way democracy is actually experienced by most people most of the time.

In approaching democracy from the perspective of the People's eyes, Green rediscovers and rehabilitates a forgotten "plebiscitarian" alternative within the history of democratic thought. Building off the contributions of a wide range of thinkers-including Aristotle, Shakespeare, Benjamin Constant, Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, and many others-Green outlines a novel democratic paradigm centered on empowering the People's gaze through forcing politicians to appear in public under conditions they do not fully control.

The Eyes of the Peopleis at once a sweeping overview of the state of democratic theory and a call to rethink the meaning of democracy within the sociological and technological conditions of the twenty-first century.


As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves.

—Abraham Lincoln

1.1 The Eyes of the People

Democracy hitherto has been conceived as an empowerment of the People’s voice. This book is a call to consider the People’s eyes as an organ that might more properly function as a site of popular empowerment.

The dominance of a metaphorics of voice when contemplating the People and the nature of its power within democracy is readily observed. Since as early as the eighth century political theory has been informed by the doctrine vox populi, vox dei: the voice of the People is the voice of God. And if few have ever followed this doctrine to the utmost extent, the inclination to understand popular power in terms of voice is so firmly established as to be an almost universal tenet within the modern tradition of democratic thought. Not only do the best-known democratic institutions— elections and public opinion—easily lend themselves to a metaphorics of voice, but among otherwise diverse approaches within democratic theory there is a pronounced tendency to theorize democracy from the perspective of the People’s voice. Deliberative democrats look at how politicians, advocates, jurists, and other public figures ought to talk with each other and how their deliberations can refine and enlarge the People’s voice. Pluralists have reminded us that there is no single sovereign voice in modern democracy, but a multiplicity of voices that compete and cooperate to produce the harmony that prevails within stable democratic systems. And aggregationists, who focus on the mechanics of voting, choose for their analyses the one moment when the People—or, to be much more accurate, the majority of those who vote—formally expresses itself through voicing a preference about who should hold power.

The perspective of this book is not that the focus on voice is wrong— at least not as it pertains to the political activities of particular individuals and groups—but that, by itself, this focus is too narrow and too productive of a democratic theory out of touch with the way politics is experienced by . . .

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