Nonideal democratic authority: The case of undemocratic elections
Empirical research has transformed our understanding of autocratic institutions (Gandhi, 2008; Magaloni, 2006; Schedler, 2009). Yet democratic theorists remain laser-focused on ideal democracies, often contending that political equality is necessary to generate democratic authority (Buchanan, 2002; Christiano, 2008; Estlund, 2008; Kolodny, 2014B; Shapiro, 2002; Viehoff, 2014B, Waldron, 1999). Those analyses neglect most nonideal democracies and autocracies – regimes featuring inequality and practices like gerrymandering. This essay fills that fundamental gap, outlining the difficulties of applying theories of democratic authority to nonideal regimes and challenging long-standing views about democratic authority. Focusing on autocrats that lose elections (for example, Sri Lanka, 2015), I outline the democratic authority of nonideal, flawed procedures. Flawed elections are unjustifiably biased toward incumbents. But under certain conditions, ignoring an incumbent’s loss would require not treating one’s fellow citizens as equals. Under those conditions, therefore, citizens are bound to obey those electoral outcomes – that is, flawed procedures can possess democratic authority.
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