Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Theory of Militant Democracy
by Kirshner, Alexander S., Ph.D., Yale University, 2011, 197; 3467905
Abstract (Summary)

The right to participate politically is the moral foundation of democratic self-government, but in many countries large groups are opposed to democracy. Do democrats have an obligation to respect the political rights of antidemocrats? When is it legitimate to limit citizens' right to participate, for instance, by banning parties? How can democracy be defended without undermining or delegitimizing representative institutions?

This dissertation explores the proceeding questions by integrating examinations of real-world crises in Germany, Turkey, India and the United States, with normative argument, and critical analysis of scholarship by Jeremy Waldron, Nancy Rosenblum, Joshua Cohen, and Michael Walzer, among others. Investigating the ethical questions posed by efforts to defend democracy, I engage with broader debates about the normative character of political partisanship, the limits of democratic tolerance, and the challenges raised by democratic diversity and the global spread of representative forms of government.

My dissertation offers a novel perspective on threats to democracy by drawing out the implications of antidemocrats' right to participate. Traditionally, normative work in this area focused on a single question: can a majority legitimately decide to abolish representative government? Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, famously inveighed against the Hobbesian prospect “that a whole people [could] alienate its freedom and subject itself to a king.” To defend themselves effectively, however, democratic regimes must act before majorities vote democracy down. Accordingly, the fundamental choice democrats face is not whether to obey antidemocratic decisions, but whether it is legitimate to restrict participation before such a decision is taken.

To address the challenges raised by threats to democracy, I define and defend a framework of principles which should guide efforts to safeguard representative government, argue that: (1) all individuals, even antidemocrats, possess an equal claim to participate in democratic decisions; (2) democrats should only limit political participation to deter violations of citizens' core democratic rights; (3) democrats must acknowledge the distinctive risks associated with protecting democracy.

I develop the implications of this approach in several case studies in which individuals have made difficult judgments about whether to protect democracy. The dissertation begins by treating instances in which suspect organizations do not fundamentally threaten the stability of the representative government, but nonetheless violate others' right to participate. I consider whether electoral systems should be designed in ways that discourage antidemocratic action and the plausibility of different justifications for limiting democratic participation. Later chapters examine how democrats might respond when representative regimes are threatened by large antidemocratic movements. In these chapters, I examine the legitimacy of preemptive bans on political parties and the ethics of long-term political exclusion. The successful defense of representative government, I argue, requires democrats to secure conditions allowing all citizens, even opponents of democracy, to participate. Only by acknowledging this fundamental challenge will democrats be able to create defensive institutions and policies that garner sufficient legitimacy to be effective.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Shapiro, Ian
Commitee:
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 72/10, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Law, Philosophy, Political science
Keywords: Democracy, Election law, Militant democracy, Political philosophy
Publication Number: 3467905
ISBN: 978-1-124-80581-8
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