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Simone Chambers is a Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Irvine.  A political philosopher who specializes in democracy studies, she is widely published on such topics as deliberative democracy, constitutionalism, referendums, the digital public sphere, rhetoric, civility, and the work of Jürgen Habermas and John Rawls.

Event details of Annual Political Theory Lecture: ‘How Can the People Rule? Majority Rule and the Rise of Populism’
Date 23 May 2022
Time 16:00 -18:00

Prof. Chambers is the author of Reasonable Democracy (Cornell, 1996) and co-editor of Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society (Princeton, 2002). She is working on two book projects, The State of Contemporary Democratic Theory a critical survey of new developments in democratic theory and a book of collected essays: Deliberation and the Future of Democracy: A realistic but not realist political theory.

The annual political theory lecture at the Univ. of Amsterdam is named after the Dutch political theorist Jos de Beus. Previous lectures have been delivered by Elizabeth Anderson, Cécile Laborde, and Jan-Werner Mueller. The lecture is organized by the AISSR research program Challenges to Democracy.

There is no registration for this event.


REC C0.02


Populism poses a challenge for democratic theory. Is it possible to rescue the concept of ‘the people’ from its use and abuse at the hands of (especially but not exclusively) right wing populist politics? Has populism simply made plain what some have been saying all along: appeals to the people (the will of the people or the rule of the people) are always dangerous. Here we have the long-standing suspicion that all ideas of a collective agent of democratic rule are incompatible with pluralism and political equality. What I call the populist challenge, then, breaks down into two questions. Is it possible to construct a concept of the people that is non-exclusionary and does justice to the ideals of political equality? Is it possible to think of this non-exclusionary people as ruling in any meaningful way? I answer yes to both questions. Rescuing the people from populism involves rethinking the role and function of majority rule within democratic orders, however. This paper sets out to demote majority rule from its privileged place within democratic theory without giving up on the ideal that the people can rule through (among other things) voting.

After a brief discussion of the populist reliance on majoritarian procedures, the first part of the paper canvases several responses to populism including left populism, minimalist theories of democracy, and liberal proceduralist theories.  I ultimately endorse a deliberative proceduralist view that articulates what Habermas calls “communicatively fluid sovereignty.”

The final section of the paper seeks to concretize and illustrate fluid popular sovereignty using referendums as an example.