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The Role of Institutions in Overcoming Legitimation Deficits in Contemporary Representative Democracies

Citizenship
Democracy
Institutions
Political Participation
Political Theory
Critical Theory
Normative Theory
Mira Wolf-Bauwens
University of Zurich
Mira Wolf-Bauwens
University of Zurich

Abstract

The very basis of democracy is for it to be a form of self-rule. Thus, even in representative democracies citizens should still have the possibility to co-decide. With declining levels of participation across representative democracies, it has rightly been pointed out that this risk for legitimacy conditions, such as the ‘special agency-relationship’, not to hold any more (cf. Beerbohm, 2102: 18.). Traditionally, this conundrum has been looked at with citizens at the centre of attention to result in varying arguments trying to provide reasons for citizens to participate. Contract theorist establish that citizens have a (contractual) obligation to participate, (classic) republicans hold that citizens’ participation is a matter of citizens being virtuous and deliberation theorists seem to make similar assumptions (e.g. Skinner, Mouffe) In the contemporary context of more and more diverse and large representative democracies, these arguments are weak. In this paper I argue that one of the main reasons for this weakness is that arguments for participation have neglected the role of institutions. I suggest that this weakness needs to be overcome. Hence the guiding question that will be answered in this paper is what ought to be the role of institutions in encouraging and enabling citizens to participate? In answering this question, this paper provides a suggestion for how to close the (normative and actual) gap between institutions and citizens. Building on insights from recognition theory, the relationship between citizens and institutions is analysed as one of mutual recognition. Given the constitutive nature of recognition, it could be argued that in order for citizens and institutions to become co-deciders they need to mutually recognise each other as such. In providing suggestions for what this mutual recognition between citizens and institutions would be characterised by this paper also makes a novel argument for more direct means of participation (in representative democracies).