Deutsche Vereinigung für Politikwissenschaft

Keynote Lecture by Cristina Lafont:

"Democracy without Shortcuts: Rescuing Democracy from Populism and Technocracy" (14.09.2021)

„Wir haben die Wahl! Politik in Zeiten von Unsicherheit und Autokratisierung“
28. Wissenschaftlicher Kongress der DVPW, 14.-16. September 2021

Democracy without Shortcuts: Rescuing Democracy from Populism and Technocracy

The current crisis of democracy fuels the impression that democratic societies are stuck between populism and technocracy, between the rule of experts and mob rule. For all their differences, populism and technocracy are equally incompatible with democracy. Contrary to the democratic commitment to give all citizens an equal say in political decisions, populism and technocracy expect citizens to blindly defer to the decisions of others. In this time of crisis, it is therefore crucial to defend the possibility of genuine democracy against the sort of exclusions involved in populism and technocracy. Unfortunately, many popular conceptions of democracy tacitly rely on populist or technocratic assumptions that threaten the democratic ideal of inclusion. I justify this claim in two steps. First, I analyze deep pluralist, epistocratic, and lottocratic conceptions of democracy. I show that each of these conceptions offers institutional “shortcuts” in an attempt to solve well-known problems of democratic governance such as overcoming disagreements, citizens’ political ignorance, or poor-quality deliberation. However, instead of actually addressing the problems, the proffered solutions end up simply expecting citizens to blindly defer to actors over whose decisions they cannot exercise democratic control. Herein lies their anti-democratic core. In a second step, I analyze the roots of the requirement for blind deference in each of these conceptions. I show that deep pluralist conceptions justify the requirement of blind deference on populist grounds, epistocratic conceptions justify it on technocratic grounds, and lottocratic conceptions justify it on technopopulist grounds. I contend that democratic theorists and practitioners won’t contribute to democratic improvements unless they recognize and reject these sorts of latent technocratic and populist assumptions. To illustrate this claim, I focus on current efforts to design and organize citizens’ assemblies and other deliberative minipublics. These new forms of citizen participation offer promising venues for democratization. However, they may have a positive or a negative impact upon democracy. It all depends upon whether they are designed in line with technocratic, populist or genuine democratic aims.


About Cristina Lafont:

Cristina Lafont is Harold H. and Virginia Anderson Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University where she is Chair of the philosophy department and Director of the Program in Critical Theory. She received her Ph.D. in 1992 from the University of Frankfurt. In 2011 she held the Spinoza Chair at the University of Amsterdam and in 2012-13 she was Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. She is the author of Democracy without Shortcuts. A Participatory Conception of Deliberative Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2020; German edition: Unverkürzte Demokratie, Suhrkamp Verlag, 2021); Global Governance and Human Rights (Spinoza Lecture Series, van Gorcum, 2012); Heidegger, Language, and World-disclosure (Cambridge University Press, 2000), The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy (MIT Press, 1999), and co-editor of Critical Theory in Critical Times: Transforming the Global Political and Economic Order (Columbia University Press, 2017) and the Habermas Handbook (Columbia University Press, 2017).