Constituting political freedom and the democratic way of life

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2008-12

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Bilakovics, Steven Philip

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Abstract

My project uncovers and explores the democratic sources of political cynicism. I contest the conventional view that the expanding gap between the near-universal acclaim accorded democratic principles and the near-total absence of democratic political practices is a product of either “market society” or liberal political systems. Instead, I argue that the particular form of the contemporary contempt for all-things-political - the reflexive assumption that politics is necessarily corrupt and even absurd - is inscribed in modern democratic culture. In relation to the sublime freedom and equality of the idea of democratic openness, democratic political action and association cannot but be experienced as impoverished and unfree. In this sense, I argue that democracy is self-subverting, undermining the possibility of political argument and reform. I conclude by sketching out a prescription in the American context for robust democracy based upon this diagnosis. By rhetorically reorienting self-perceptions about what we are doing when we engage in politics around the elevated but not transcendent notion of participating in an ongoing constitutional project, we can transform our anti-political dispositions. Beyond issues of political legitimacy, I argue that the symbolic order of the Constitution might foster political vitality by framing a politics experienced as potentially meaningful and worthy of respect. One might say that I offer Madisonian means to Jeffersonian ends.

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