Leading participants in current debates over the republican revival espouse skeptical views regarding majoritarianism and populism that potentially undermine the practical realization of democratic ideals. In particular, this aversion to majority rule and populist politics potentially obstructs efforts to address the dire problem of proliferating inequality that plagues contemporary democracies. This essay focuses on recent books by Philip Pettit and Nadia Urbinati that manifest such anxieties over majority rule and populism; it accentuates certain ideological and historical mischaracterizations committed by each author when they criticize majoritarianism and populist politics; and it explores more directly democratic institutional alternatives to their primarily elite-mediated political prescriptions drawn from Athenian democracy and the Roman Republic. Urbinati understands herself to be a critic of Pettit’s republicanism, but I will demonstrate that her socio-political project shares much in common with Pettit’s institutional model of republican legitimation. Both authors, as it were, stack the deck in favor of models of representative government centered on elections and qualified by anti-majoritarian measures; models that debilitate rather than encourage the kinds of institutional reform necessary to reinvigorate contemporary democracy in an age of wildly expanding economic inequality.
John P. McCormick is Professor of Political Science. His research and teaching interests include political thought in Renaissance Florence (specifically, Guicciardini and Machiavelli), 19th and 20th century continental political and social theory (with a focus on Weimar Germany and Central European emigres to the US), the philosophy and sociology of law, the normative dimensions of European integration, and contemporary democratic theory. He is the author of Carl Schmitt's Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology (Cambridge, 1997), and Weber, Habermas and Transformations of the European State: Constitutional, Social and Supranational Democracy (Cambridge, 2006). Professor McCormick has published numerous articles in scholarly journals such as the American Political Science Review (1992, 1999, 2001, 2006) and Political Theory (1994, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2006).