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

By Jeffrey Edward Green | Go to book overview

2
The Citizen as Spectator

Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known,
That is most difficult.

—W. B. Yeats


2.1 Seeing the Spectator

Contemporary mass democracy is both a continuation of the democratic tradition that began 2,500 years ago in Athens and a departure from that tradition. While we tend to be quite aware about what is distinctive about mass representative systems on the constitutional level (the institutional structures that define contemporary representative democracy, such as elections, competitive parties, and separation of powers), when it comes to appreciating what is distinctive about the citizen who lives within such a regime, much less has been written or understood. The question of the nature and interests specific to the citizen in a mass representative democracy has not been adequately addressed. For the most part this citizen has been treated either as identical to the participatory citizen constitutive of direct democracy, or as a depoliticized economic agent without any sustained interest in political life. Both accounts deny that there is a distinctive form of citizenship that arises within the modern mass democracies of today: either democratic citizenship is what it has always been—action and speech before a body of coparticipants—or it is not political at all.

Against the reduction of citizenship to these two models, my claim is that mass representative democracy engenders and normalizes a type of citizen that, as a matter of law and abstract principle, has full political rights but, as a matter of practice, experiences politics primarily as a spectator. This type of citizen, which I shall refer to as the citizen-spectator (and also, following Aristotle, as the citizen-being-ruled), occupies an intermediate position between two much more well-known figures within democratic theory. On the one hand, there is the figure of the citizengovernor, or participating citizen, who discusses, acts, joins, protests, takes a stand, legislates, and above all decides—the figure at the center of the most eloquent testimonials to the modern democratic tradition as it has been

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • 1- Ocular Democracy 3
  • 2- The Citizen as Spectator 32
  • 3- Overcoming the Vocal Model of Popular Power 64
  • 4- The Concept of Plebiscitary Democracy- Past, Present, and Future 120
  • 5- Max Weber’s Reinvention of Popular Power and Its Uneasy Legacy 140
  • 6- Putting Candor First- Plebiscitarianism and the Politics of Candor 178
  • 7- Popular Power in Sight 201
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 259
  • Index 275
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