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Theses Doctoral

Assembling the Plebeian Republic. Popular Institutions against Systemic Corruption and Oligarchic Domination

Vergara Gonzalez, Camila

Democracy seems to be in crisis and scholars have started to consider the possibility that “the only game in town” might be rigged. This book theorizes the crisis of democracy from a structural point of view, arguing that liberal representative governments suffer from systemic corruption, a form of political decay that should be understood as the oligarchization of society, and proposes an anti-oligarchic institutional solution based on a radical interpretation of republican constitutional thought.

If one agrees that the minimal normative expectation of liberal democracies is that governments should advance the welfare of the majority within constitutional safeguards, increasing income inequality and the relative immiseration of the majority of citizens would be in itself a deviation from good rule, a sign of corruption. As a way to understand how we could revert the current patterns of political corruption, the book provides an in-depth analysis of the institutional, procedural, and normative innovations to protect political liberty proposed by Niccolò Machiavelli, Nicolas de Condorcet, Rosa Luxemburg, and Hannah Arendt. Because their ideas to institutionalize popular power have consistently been misunderstood, instrumentalized, demonized, or neglected, part of what this project wants to accomplish is to offer a serious engagement with their proposals through a plebeian interpretative lens that renders them as part of the same intellectual tradition. In this way, the book assembles a “B side” of constitutional thought composed of the apparent misfits in a tradition that has been dominated by the impulse to suppress conflict instead of harnessing its liberty-producing properties.

As a way to effectively deal with systemic corruption and oligarchic domination, the book proposes to follow this plebeian constitutionalism and instituionalize popular collective power. A proposed plebeian branch would be autonomous and aimed not at achieving self-government or direct democracy, but rather at an effort to both judge and censor elites who rule. The plebeian branch would consist of two institutions: a decentralized network of radically inclusive local assemblies, empowered to initiate and veto legislation as well as to exercise periodic constituent power, and a delegate, surveillance office able to enforce decisions and impeach public officials. The establishment of primary assemblies at the local level would not only allow ordinary people to push back against oligarchic domination through the political system but also inaugurate an institutional conception of the people as the many assembled locally: a political collective agent operating as a network of political judgment in permanent flow. The people as network would be a political subject with as many brains as assemblies, in which collective learning, reaction against domination, and social change would occur organically and independently from representative government and political parties.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Urbinati, Nadia
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 24, 2019