Defending What is Yet to Come: Towards a Critical Theory of Democratic Defense



This dissertation project engages with the idea of defending democracy against purported pressures from ‘extremist’ and ‘populist’ political actors. I ask how the idea of democratic defense, especially its ‘militant’ variation, has become reduced to the safeguarding of particular institutional manifestations of the liberal democratic status quo, and explore pathways for a critical retheorization.

Theories of democratic defense tend to isolate a particular actualization of the liberal-democratic state from external pressures to secure solid grounding for defensive measures. This conservatism becomes problematic once it is acknowledged that these actualizations are enmeshed in the pressures, tensions, and contradictions facing the idea of democracy today. To avoid perpetuating the deficiencies that produce democracy’s crises, it is imperative to ask how democratic defense could be conceived in the absence of an unproblematic foundation.

To approach this question, I reconstruct how a shift away from theorizations of the socially embedded democratic subject enabled the idea of democratic defense as the legalist-statist safeguarding of specific institutional arrangements. Departing from this reconstruction, I introduce alternative theorizations of the democratic subject with particular emphasis on early Frankfurt School thought. This allows me to construct pathways for critical theories of democratic defense which seek to salvage the unheeded emancipatory potentials of the status quo while not mistaking it for solid ground.

Populärvetenskaplig beskrivning

This dissertation engages with the idea that democracies should be able to defend themselves against anti-democratic actors. I explore the history of this idea to show that it primarily refers to the defense of liberal democratic institutions. I argue that because these institutions are not exempt from anti-democratic tendencies, democratic defense should not exclusively rely on them. Drawing on the so-called Frankfurt School, I suggest a theory of democratic defense that takes the idea of the democratic subject seriously. In this way, I construct a critical theory of democratic defense that is able to distinguish between those aspects of liberal democracy that should be defended and those that should be radically transformed.
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Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Statsvetenskap