Democracy, Elites and Power: John Dewey Reconsidered

This essay demonstrates that the management and contestability of power is central to Dewey's understanding of democracy and provides a middle ground between two opposite poles within democratic theory: Either the masses become the genuine danger to democratic governance or elites are described as bent on controlling the masses . Yet, the answer to managing the relationship between them and the demos is never forthcoming. I argue that Dewey's response to Lippmann for how we ought to conceive of the relationship between citizens and elites if power is not to become arbitrary is located within a larger framework that avoids the problematic distinction Wolin draws between the demos and representative government. For Dewey, the legitimacy of decision-making, and, indeed, the security of freedom, is determined not merely by our actual involvement, but the extent to which non-participation does not preclude the future contestability of power
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DOI doi:10.1057/cpt.2008.25
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