Democratic Theory

Academic Year: 
Course Description: 

This is an advanced course in the normative theory of democracy. Normative political theories focus on the following question: states claim to have a right to rule–can this claim be justified? The anarchist response is, No, there is no such a thing as a justified right to rule. Opponents of the anarchist thesis hold that the claim of states to a right to rule can be justified, and so states can have legitimate authority, at least under certain conditions. Democratic theory insists that the democratic nature of political rule is part of the necessary conditions of the legitimacy of political authority. This course is dedicated to the examination of this claim. We will address the problem of what the claim to a right to rule amounts to, what must be true in order for it to be justified, what role democracy plays in the justification, and what conception of democracy can fulfil its justificatory role. We will also face the issues of the relationship between the normative concept of democracy and the empirical study of democratic systems as well as some issues of the contemporary crisis of democracy, especially the phenomenon of populism and how it related to the democratic idea.

There are two types of normative democratic theory. The first identifies the virtues of democracy with its capacity better to promote some independent aims (such advancing collective well-being, securing justice, protecting human rights, or simply maintaining a peaceful and orderly succession in office). The second starts out from the proposition that democracy as a procedure of taking and carrying out collective decisions has some inherent moral virtue.

The course will consider both types of arguments. We will also examine certain alleged paradoxes of democracy: the paradox of voting, the paradox of recognizing the authority of mistaken official decisions, and the paradox of constitutional review as an anti-majoritarian device.

Learning Outcomes: 

Deepening the grasp of the ideal of democracy and its role in interpreting the phenomena of the contemporary crisis of democratic systems.
Understanding the nature of arguments in political philosophy and of the way they differ from arguments made in institutional political theory.
Fostering the ability to make such arguments.
Enabling critically to present a philosophical text.


This is a four-credit course for doctoral students in philosophy or Political Science. It continues over the entire academic year; students will get a certificate of attendance in the Fall term, and they will earn the four credits in the Winter term.

As to the format: there will be alternating seminars and lectures, each topic will typically be introduced by seminar discussion of a key reading and concluded by a lecture.

The grade will reflect class participation (50%) and a 4500-5000 words long final essay to be submitted at the end of the Winter term (50%). lass participation includes at least one seminar presentation based on a hand-out.