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Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People, Nadia Urbinati

Reviewed by Alexander S. Kirshner



In 2014, a dry economic work about inequality became an international best seller. Our collective anxiety about inequality has, for the moment, elbowed aside others concerns about the fate of real-world democracies. But there is little reason to believe that inequality is the only threat to self-governing regimes. In Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People, a leading political theorist, Nadia Urbinati, adroitly calls our attention to other significant challenges to democracy: the romanticization of technocratic procedures and management, the rise of populist leaders and movements dissatisfied with the back-and-forth of democratic life, and the pacification of political citizenship. It is not difficult to find concrete contemporary examples of each of these troubling trends. By revealing the internal structure of these challenges, Urbinati’s work has set the direction for future debates in democratic theory.

Calling the intellectual sweep of Democracy Disfigured capacious would be an understatement. It grapples with the character of democratic life by zooming from critical discussions of Plato and Rousseau to contemporary theorists such as David Estlund and Philip Pettit and back to Hannah Arendt, Norberto Bobbio, Ernesto Laclau, and Robert Michels. Enlightening exemplars of political conduct are drawn from ancient Athens and R

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