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Political theory and public opinion: against democratic restraint

Baderin, A. (2016) Political theory and public opinion: against democratic restraint. Politics, Philosophy and Economics, 15 (3). pp. 209-233. ISSN 1741-3060

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1177/1470594X15621044


How should political theorists go about their work if they are democrats? Given their democratic commitments, should they develop theories that are responsive to the views and concerns of their fellow citizens at large? Is there a balance to be struck, within political theory, between truth seeking and democratic responsiveness? The article addresses this question about the relationship between political theory, public opinion and democracy. I criticize the way in which some political theorists have appealed to the value of democratic legitimacy in an attempt to justify a more opinion-sensitive approach to their work. Specifically, I identify a problematic model in the existing literature, which I term ‘democratic restraint’: an approach on which the theorist moderates her normative principles in response to evidence about public attitudes in order to enhance the legitimacy of her account. This model renders the discipline newly vulnerable to an otherwise misguided objection that political theory seeks to pre-empt democratic politics. I trace the problem with the democratic restraint model to its flawed underlying conception of democratic legitimacy. The article then outlines a more appealing ‘democratic underlabourer’ view of the status of political theory and draws out the implications of this alternative account for the role of public opinion.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
ID Code:79479

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