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Democratic FailureNOMOS LXIII$
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Melissa Schwartzberg and Daniel Viehoff

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781479804788

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479804788.001.0001

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Democratic Theory and Democratic Failure

Democratic Theory and Democratic Failure

A Contextual Approach

(p.141) 5 Democratic Theory and Democratic Failure
Democratic Failure

Yasmin Dawood

NYU Press

Democracies inevitably fail by not living up to their ideals (failure writ small). They may also fail in the more dramatic sense by eroding or collapsing into a non-democratic regime (failure writ large). The task of democratic theory is to establish baselines—ceilings and floors—by which such failures can be identified, conceptualized, and judged. The task of the democratic theorist is thus twofold: to articulate the ideals and principles of democracy while simultaneously considering its failures writ small and large. This dual task, I claim, is aided by the adoption of a contextual approach. A contextual approach views democratic principles as being located within particular configurations of power, institutions, actors, and incentive structures. A contextual approach takes account of the fact that the practice of democracy is highly complex, diverse, and dynamic. When applied to particular circumstances, democratic ideals are contingent and are often in tension with one another. A contextual approach to the dual task of democratic theory is attentive to both the promise and the perils of democracy.

Keywords:   contextual approach, democratic theory, democratic failure, ceilings and floors

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