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University of Oregon

1. Busk, Larry. Democracy in Spite of the Demos: Arendt, the Democratic Turn, and Critical Theory.

Degree: 2019, University of Oregon

This dissertation examines the limits of the figure of democracy as a critical category in contemporary political philosophy. I frame the analysis around a structural tension in the work of several authors who rely on democracy as a theoretical foundation, which I call “the elitist-populist ambivalence.” This theoretical tendency regards democracy as a categorical imperative—a foundational normative principle and an end in itself—but simultaneously delimits the composition of the demos by disqualifying certain political actors from the status of the political, thereby violating the parameters of a categorical imperative by specifying conditions. In other words, the democratic turn appeals to formal concepts but decides the political content in advance. It advocates democracy on its own terms, democracy in spite of the demos. But if democracy has normative purchase only under certain conditions, then our critical political theory must be based on these conditions rather than the figure of democracy. The project focuses on three main bodies of literature: the work of Hannah Arendt, the tradition of radical democracy (exemplified by Jacques Rancière, Chantal Mouffe, and Ernesto Laclau), and early Frankfurt School critical theory (Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse). Though Arendt betrays no particular attachment to the term “democracy,” her work is of interest to this project because it represents a stark expression of the elitist-populist ambivalence: a political ontology based on democratic iconography and a simultaneous delimitation of who should count as the demos. The discussion of Rancière, Mouffe, and Laclau explores the ways in which these figures reproduce not only Arendt’s democratic motifs but also her constitutive exclusion. Albeit with divergent political commitments, they both appeal to democracy in spite of the demos. Finally, Adorno and Marcuse provide an alternative to the categorical imperative of democracy. By critically confronting the social mediations of pervasive popular ignorance and irrationality, the early Frankfurt School displaces the normative force of the figure of democracy by a critique of the actually existing demos. This critique, I argue, allows us to steer a theoretical course between the perils of elitism and the equivocations of populism. Advisors/Committee Members: Zambrana, Rocio (advisor).

Subjects/Keywords: Arendt; Climate Change; Critical Theory; Democracy; Populism

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APA · Chicago · MLA · Vancouver · CSE | Export to Zotero / EndNote / Reference Manager

APA (6th Edition):

Busk, L. (2019). Democracy in Spite of the Demos: Arendt, the Democratic Turn, and Critical Theory. (Thesis). University of Oregon. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/1794/24517

Note: this citation may be lacking information needed for this citation format:
Not specified: Masters Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Busk, Larry. “Democracy in Spite of the Demos: Arendt, the Democratic Turn, and Critical Theory.” 2019. Thesis, University of Oregon. Accessed May 25, 2019. http://hdl.handle.net/1794/24517.

Note: this citation may be lacking information needed for this citation format:
Not specified: Masters Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Busk, Larry. “Democracy in Spite of the Demos: Arendt, the Democratic Turn, and Critical Theory.” 2019. Web. 25 May 2019.

Vancouver:

Busk L. Democracy in Spite of the Demos: Arendt, the Democratic Turn, and Critical Theory. [Internet] [Thesis]. University of Oregon; 2019. [cited 2019 May 25]. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/24517.

Note: this citation may be lacking information needed for this citation format:
Not specified: Masters Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation

Council of Science Editors:

Busk L. Democracy in Spite of the Demos: Arendt, the Democratic Turn, and Critical Theory. [Thesis]. University of Oregon; 2019. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/24517

Note: this citation may be lacking information needed for this citation format:
Not specified: Masters Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation

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