Synopses & Reviews
In Democracy Disfigured,
Nadia Urbinati diagnoses the ills that beset the body politic in an age of hyper-partisanship and media monopolies and offers a spirited defense of the messy compromises and contentious outcomes that define democracy.
Urbinati identifies three types of democratic disfiguration: the unpolitical, the populist, and the plebiscitarian. Each undermines a crucial division that a well-functioning democracy must preserve: the wall separating the free forum of public opinion from the governmental institutions that enact the will of the people. Unpolitical democracy delegitimizes political opinion in favor of expertise. Populist democracy radically polarizes the public forum in which opinion is debated. And plebiscitary democracy overvalues the aesthetic and nonrational aspects of opinion. For Urbinati, democracy entails a permanent struggle to make visible the issues that citizens deem central to their lives. Opinion is thus a form of action as important as the mechanisms that organize votes and mobilize decisions.
Urbinati focuses less on the overt enemies of democracy than on those who pose as its friends: technocrats wedded to procedure, demagogues who make glib appeals to "the people," and media operatives who, given their preference, would turn governance into a spectator sport and citizens into fans of opposing teams.
A beautifully wrought reflection on the 'disfigurement' of democracy. Deploying the ancient analogy and image of the body--as in 'body politic'--Urbinati
traces the theoretical sources and consequences of three deformations that have been introduced over time: the epistemic, the populist, and the plebiscitarian. All, the author argues, are 'negative mutations of the procedural character of democracy.'
Terence Ball, Arizona State University
Urbinati's book is sure to unsettle current debates, with its provocative critique of democratic 'disfigurations' and the theories that she says misjudge them--either by depoliticizing public opinion, neglecting the danger of its populist manipulation, or reducing it to citizen voyeurism. John Medearis, University of California, Riverside
Nadia Urbinati diagnoses the ills besetting the body politic and offers a defense of the messy compromises that define democracy. She focuses less on democracy's enemies than on those who pose as its friends: technocrats, partisan demagogues, and media operatives who turn governance into a spectator sport of winners, losers, and fans.
About the Author
Nadia Urbinati is Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory and Hellenic Studies at Columbia University.