This course proposes an introduction to some of the central questions in the political theory of democracy. It is based on readings from classical and contemporary authors in the field, but will also require students to engage directly with the material, by participating in a number of structured class debates around each of the questions addressed.
It is divided in three parts. The first focuses on debates that surrounded the theoretical elaboration of three key historical models of democratic government: the controversy over the relative merits of democratic rule in ancient Athens, the pre- and post-revolutionary debates over the notion of ‘popular sovereignty’ in France, and the reflections on the specific nature of the American experiment of popular self-government.
The second part considers some more contemporary debates over the specific nature and value of the democratic form: first by asking whether democracy can be reduced to a mechanism for allowing the peaceful circulation of elites; and second by addressing the question of whether democracy is capable of making ‘rational’ (i.e. ‘good’) political decisions.
Finally, the third part will focus on two more practical issues of implementation: the question of the democratic legitimacy of political representation, and that of its compatibility with constitutionalism.
Far from aiming to take a position on any of the questions we will be discussing, the course aims to deepen the students’ understanding of the contestability of the issues at stake, and therefore to foster debate and controversy both between and within them.
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