Nonideal democratic authority: The case of undemocratic elections

Published

Journal Article

© The Author(s) 2017. 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.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kirshner, AS

Published Date

  • August 1, 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 17 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 257 - 276

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1741-3060

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1470-594X

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/1470594X17732068

Citation Source

  • Scopus