Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy

By Nadia Urbinati | Go to book overview

Conclusion:
A Surplus of Politics

This book has inquired into the conditions that make representation democratic, a mode of political participation that can activate a variety of forms of citizen control and oversight. I have argued that representative democracy is an original form of government that is not identical with electoral democracy. Rather than use a polemic strategy, I tried to illuminate the unquestioned assumptions about immediacy and existential presence that underwrite the idea that direct democracy is always the more democratic political form and representation an expedient or second best. I built on the seminal works of Hanna Pitkin and Bernard Manin to demonstrate that political representation is a circular process (susceptible to friction) between state institutions and social practices. As such, representative democracy is neither aristocratic nor a defective substitute for direct democracy, but a way for democracy to constantly recreate itself and improve. Popular sovereignty, understood as an as if regulating principle guiding citizens' political judgment and action, is a central motor for democratizing representation.

I used a genealogical approach to illustrate this theory of representative democracy. Indeed, scholars of political institutions agree that the main tenets of representative government were established in the eighteenth century in order to curb democracy and build a limited and therefore responsible government. The picture I drew shows that things are bit more complicated. The idea of representative

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