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.
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