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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Identity and Challenges to Democracy

Section Number
Section Chair
Soetkin Verhaegen
Stockholm University
Section Co-Chair
Aleksandra Sojka
Universidad de Granada

Robert Dahl has famously argued that democracy has undergone major transformations from its very inception until today, among others, from the democratic city-states to the nation-states, from small-scale polities to mass democracies. A shared identity among the people of a polity constitutes the cornerstone of the legitimacy of majoritarian decision-making, as perceived by citizens of a democratic system. Feeling part of the same community makes majoritarian decisions acceptable to the minority. To the contrary, a failure to generate such feelings of commonality precludes solidarity and challenges the legitimacy of democratic institutions. This brings us to the key question of whether we might be facing a new transformation of democracy, in particular concerning the identity-democracy nexus.

The context of this question is that identity and identity politics seem to play a vital role in phenomena closely related with today’s challenges to democracy. As growing numbers of the citizenry in democratic countries are disillusioned with liberal democracy, they become increasingly tempted by populist politics, paroles of protectionism, and demands for secessionism (and jingoist responses to more autonomy and decentralization), as well as attacks on minority rights. The discourse of single and narrow identities enters into elected positions of members of populist, authoritarian, and anti-pluralist parties and influences current political and societal debates.

Against this backdrop, this Section aims to look at the role of identity for the perceived legitimacy of democratic systems. While a shared identity is traditionally regarded as the basis for a legitimate democratic system, identity politics are currently used to challenge the legitimacy of liberal democratic systems. Political leaders in democracies often appeal to (nativist, majoritarian or ethnic) identity, as they limit free mass media, radicalize public discourse against pluralism, and undermine the system of checks and balances in order to escape institutional control on their rule. At the same time, the more traditional link between identity and legitimacy underlies political campaigns to “exit” from larger polities. These campaigns often appeal to the sentiments of narrowly defined identity combined with mobilization against minorities or perceived oppression by the majority group.

Panel List

Code Title Details
P047Challenges of European Identification View Panel Details
P142EU Cohesion Policy, Solidarity and European Identity View Panel Details
P205Identities in the Context of Populism View Panel Details
P415Social Movements and Mobilization of Political Identities View Panel Details
P496Transformations of National Identity in Europe View Panel Details
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