Professor of Political Philosophy, Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences
Democracy is the rule of the people, and if you want to know the will of the people, just take a poll. This is the view shared by many citizens of contemporary states all over the world. It is sustained by democracy indices emphasizing the role of free and fair elections in distinguishing democracies from non-democracies. It is promoted by a new wave of politicians from Italy to Ukraine who promise to reclaim democracy by leaving all major political decisions to popular vote.
But how did we get to this common understanding of democracy? It has been well known since Aristotle that elections are an oligarchic rather than democratic institution, and majority rule has been constantly derided as a disfiguration of the meaning of democracy. In this talk, Greg Yudin demonstrates how our thinking about democracy is latently shaped by a tradition that emerged in the 19th century and was heavily theorized during the interwar period. It is the doctrine of plebiscitary democracy, which receded from the public sphere due to its association with dictatorial regimes in Europe, but has continued to influence our vision of liberal democracy. Yudin reconstructs how plebiscitarian regimes were intended to combine democracy with monarchy and dictatorship, and argues that they are becoming particularly robust now with the rise of digital political technologies. In conclusion, he asks what it takes today to think democracy beyond plebiscitarianism, and what the viable political alternatives for democratic politics are.
Greg Yudin is a Professor of Political Philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. His main fields of research are the theory of democracy and economic philosophy, with special emphasis on the use of public opinion polling as a political technology. His book Public Opinion, or The Power of Numbers was published in Russian in 2020. He is also a regular contributor to major Russian media outlets, such as Republic and The Project.