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Defining the demos


  • Ben Saunders

    () (University of Stirling, UK)


Until relatively recently, few democrats had much to say about the constitution of the ‘demos' that ought to rule. A number of recent writers have, however, argued that all those whose interests are affected must be enfranchised if decision-making is to be fully democratic. This article criticizes this approach, arguing that it misunderstands democracy. Democratic procedures are about the agency of the people so only agents can be enfranchised, yet not all bearers of interests are also agents. If we focus on agency, rather than who is affected, then this leads us to focus on the permissible limits of action, rather than who makes the decision. Just as individual sovereignty is ordinarily limited by the requirement not to injure others, we may apply similar restrictions to what a demos can permissibly do. Thus, any collection of individuals may choose to regulate their affairs collectively for mutual benefit, but should be prohibited from imposing negative externalities on outsiders. On this view, the constitution or definition of the demos is arbitrary, from the democratic point of view. Moreover, democracy does not require the expansion of the franchise, unless injuries cannot be avoided.

Suggested Citation

  • Ben Saunders, 2012. "Defining the demos," Politics, Philosophy & Economics, , vol. 11(3), pages 280-301, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:pophec:v:11:y:2012:i:3:p:280-301

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