Democracy, citizenship and utopia

Francis, Kevin (1988) Democracy, citizenship and utopia. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In this work I attempt to explore and correct a misconception of democracy. Standard accounts of democracy, I argue in Chapter One, adopt a functional/normative approach and focus upon either the institutional mechanisms for the fair and peaceful resolution of conflicts, or upon the moral opportunities of citizenship which the Liberal Democratic State provides, or upon the intrinsic benefits of political participation. The adoption of these perspectives leads to an account of democracy in which the citizen is seen as the holder of nominal political power. That this obstructs our understanding of democracy can be seen by asking what would be required in order to further democratise political agency, independently of extending democratic practice into non-expressly political life-spheres. The answer to this question requires a conception of the citizen as exercising effective political power; and only from this point can we construct the institutions within which such power is to be exercised. This is referred to as a 'bottom-up' perspective of democracy.
The problem of democracy which confronts us is thus conceptual. The task is that of elaborating a concept of democracy which is centred on the citizen as the holder and exerciser of effective political power; i.e. one grounded on a 'rich' conception of citizenship.
The argument of the thesis develops as follows. In Chapter Two I consider whether the justification of government is to be sought for solely in its good consequences or whether political participation is a necessary element. Here, I develop J S Mill's argument by considering the rule of a benevolent despot which would obviate the need for a protective function in political participation. The argument forms the ground for a critique of the instrumentalist view of political participation.
In Chapter Three I begin the reconceptualisation of democracy by constructing non-functional models of democracy; models which are ordered according to the effective and formal power held by the individual citizen and which take the minimum expression of political power to be 'anterior popular consent'. The three models generated are termed Minimal, Medial and Maximal Democracies. The construction of these models restricts its focus to a central theme of democratic theory: the legislative process. This refusal to address the problem of the democratisation of executive, administrative and judicial powers both aids clarity and serves to emphasise the enormity of the project of democratisation. The models presuppose no given socio-economic context.
Chapter Four seeks to clarify some of the sources of confusion in the conceptualisation of medial and maximal democracy by examining three non-minimal models: Robert Paul Wolff's model of an 'Instant Direct Democracy'; Jean-Jacques Rousseau's theory of the sovereignty of the general will; and the democratic practice of classical Athens. Both Wolff and Rousseau, it is argued, present medial and not maximal models of democracy. Our understanding of democracy, I argue, is underpinned by a conception of the responsible exercise of power.
In Chapter Five I construct the reflective model of medial democracy: that of democracy as popular assent. The project here is essentially Rawlsian: of using the model to examine and refine our intuitions regarding democracy, thereby achieving a 'reflective equilibrium'. The model assumes an elective legislature which generates, discusses and revises, and approves or rejects legislative proposals; but that the ultimate power of enactment rests with the citizenry: popular assent must be secured before such proposals can become law. The reflective model envisages concentrating this power of assent in randomly chosen sub-sets of the citizen-body. This provides an opportunity for all citizens to exercise effective political power, but not conjointly. This places in a position of therapeutic trust those citizens chosen to confer or withhold assent for any given legislative proposal. The reflective model is thus analogous to the familiar practice of jury service. The question of whether all citizens should be invited to exercise effective political power is thus brought into sharp relief; and the tensions between the twin demands of democratic equality and democratic utility are explored.
Chapter Six pursues that question through the attempt to sketch the characteristics of a rich conception of citizenship. The approach adopted is to ask what would have to be the case for citizenship to be considered a worthwhile activity. Mill's theory of lower and higher pleasures is adapted for this purpose. Neither the rich conception of citizenship, nor the consideration of political judgment which follows, conclusively resolves the tension between the demands of democratic equality and democratic utility.
The attempt to elaborate a bottom-up theory of democracy, grounded on a conception of the citizen as the holder and exerciser of effective political power, represents a radical challenge to the pluralist conception of the Liberal Democratic State. That challenge, however, need not be external to liberalism. In Chapter Seven I argue that the eunomic strain of utopian thought, as represented by Thomas More's Utopia, offers a competing liberal conception of the State. This chapter thus examines some central issues in and critiques of utopian thought. The analysis of the Utopia is set within the context of More's life and leads to the identification of the 'utopian project' as the attempt to stimulate the desire for political reform by extending the bounds of plausibility with respect to political possibilities. The chapter concludes with the attempt to defend utopianism against both its liberal pluralist and its Marxian critics and argues that there is a need for a utopian element within Marxian socialism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Supervisor's Name: Downie, Professor Robin
Date of Award: 1988
Depositing User: Adam Swann
Unique ID: glathesis:1988-30647
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2018 10:29
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2018 10:29

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