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In Our Name

The Ethics of Democracy

Eric Beerbohm

Publication Year: 2012

When a government in a democracy acts in our name, are we, as citizens, responsible for those acts? What if the government commits a moral crime? The protestor's slogan--"Not in our name!"--testifies to the need to separate ourselves from the wrongs of our leaders. Yet the idea that individual citizens might bear a special responsibility for political wrongdoing is deeply puzzling for ordinary morality and leading theories of democracy. In Our Name explains how citizens may be morally exposed to the failures of their representatives and state institutions, and how complicity is the professional hazard of democratic citizenship. Confronting the ethical challenges that citizens are faced with in a self-governing democracy, Eric Beerbohm proposes institutional remedies for dealing with them.

Beerbohm questions prevailing theories of democracy for failing to account for our dual position as both citizens and subjects. Showing that the obligation to participate in the democratic process is even greater when we risk serving as accomplices to wrongdoing, Beerbohm argues for a distinctive division of labor between citizens and their representatives that charges lawmakers with the responsibility of incorporating their constituents' moral principles into their reasoning about policy. Grappling with the practical issues of democratic decision making, In Our Name engages with political science, law, and psychology to envision mechanisms for citizens seeking to avoid democratic complicity.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Soon after I turned eighteen, I entered a California voting booth. The voting machine—with its crowded rows of analogue levers—emitted unsettling sounds. On the ballot was an initiative with a slogan from the Great American Pastime. I am not entirely sure how I voted on the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” Initiative. An initiative this momentous deserved a proportionately weighty justification. I may have flipped the switch on that machine in a...

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pp. 1-24

Search for the moment you came to believe that your state was committing a crime. You suspected this for some time. At some point your suspicion hardened into a belief. Then it dawned on you that you live in and have some modicum of control over a democratic, unjust state. Your state tortured individuals. Or it engaged in an unjustified war. Or it failed to insure individuals against severe deprivation. When you arrived at this belief, there is...

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Chapter 1 How to Value Democracy

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pp. 25-50

Our experience of democracy is intensely personal. As individual citizens, we don’t interact with a system of decision making in a wholesale way. We interact with individuals in the retail of ordinary politics—we challenge those individuals on the opposing side at a town meeting, we provide identification to the polling official who directs us to the voting booth, we wonder about the authenticity of the lawmaker seeking our vote. There is nothing impersonal about being unjustly treated by a democratic society...

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Chapter 2 Paper Stones: The Ethics of Participation

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pp. 51-81

Voting is coercive, an exercise of power over one another, an imposition of terms.1 This refrain has become something of an article of faith. In democratic theory it is almost universally accepted. It can seem too obvious to deserve a sustained defense. From the institutional point of view, verses like “elections have consequences” have intuitive force. In a democracy all power originates from a solitary act in a vestibule. Piles of votes empower...

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Chapter 3 Philosophers-Citizens

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pp. 82-104

It is tempting to treat citizens as philosophers with a second job. If democracy is to respect us as equally worthy deliberators, how else can we proceed? An ideal of citizenship that involves anything less can seem condescending. A popular way to avoid the reductio of philosopher-rulers is to insist upon philosopher-citizens. I have in mind the citizen who musters all the cognitive...

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Chapter 4 Superdeliberators

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pp. 105-124

Characters in novels fall in and out of love. On-screen actors get into an unusual number of car chases. And the imagined citizen of democratic theory deliberates about pressing public issues a lot.1 She attends citizen juries, deliberative polls, study circles, town halls, public hearings, and urban tent meetings. We can celebrate this appetite for justification. The idea of ordinary citizens publicly giving and demanding reasons is deeply morally appealing...

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Chapter 5 What Is It Like to Be a Citizen?

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pp. 125-141

How does the individual citizen experience the political world from the inside? We don’t view ourselves as mere preference containers for a focus group. We flinch at the idea that we are spectators. Yet we don’t see ourselves as engaging in straightforward self-rule. I think that our self-conception as citizens provides raw but necessary data for a theory of citizenship. For an imperfect analogy, consider the strangely compelling question: “...

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Chapter 6 Democracy’s Ethics of Belief

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pp. 142-165

The American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce strongly believed in free trade, and he wanted his conviction to stay that way. Fearing that Peirce may give up this conviction, a friend implored him to stop reading the newspaper. “You are not a special student of political economy,” he said; “you might, therefore, easily be deceived by fallacious arguments upon the subject.”1 His friend’s insistence was not subtle. Exposed to counterarguments, Peirce may change his mind: “You would be led to believe in protection..

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Chapter 7 The Division of Democratic Labor

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pp. 166-192

Suppose that you come to form the belief that your elected representative endorses public policies that pass the bar of justice. You recognize that your representative is not your equal on decision making at the intersection of policy and morality. She devotes an enormous amount of time and energy to reasoning about legislation. She can anticipate the consequences of law making that I would invariably miss. Her expertise isn’t supernal. She derives it from her institutional role—the time she is given to reflect...

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Chapter 8 Representing Principles

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pp. 193-225

Aristotle conceived of democracy as a ruling partnership among relative equals.1 The ancient approach was to look for one, all-purpose epistemic virtue for the political domain. We lack a word in our vocabulary that picks out a distinctive political expertise—a teché for modern democracy. This is no accident. The model of an agency relationship gets its purchase from its ability to divide up cognitive labor—to permit knowledge specialization by political actors. You could spend all your life informing yourself...

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Chapter 9 Democratic Complicity

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pp. 226-251

We often hear blanket liabilities issued for democratic citizens. They are said to rightly have, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “owned” and “authorized” the actions of their government.1 This view alleges a strict connection between citizens and any injustice downstream from a shared coercive structure. Responsibility for the profile of political acts and underlying ground rules, on this view, attaches to ordinary citizens. Once we find ourselves...

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Chapter 10 Not in My Name: Macrodemocratic Design

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pp. 252-277

The democratic polity cannot act in my name by fiat. To earn this moral power, its procedures must be structured in certain ways. I argued that the state has license to act in my name only if I bear partial responsibility for its actions. The reverse of this analysis also holds. It would be a mistake to assume that the citizen can “un-name” herself by mere declaration. Democratic life would be simple if I could assert that an elected official is...

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pp. 278-286

Your favorite theory of justice likely accuses your state of serious wrongdoing. When you reflect on its verdicts—that your institutions are objectionably large or small, unjustly bellicose or pacific—how do things seem, from the inside? Do you think of yourself as a “maker,” as this fictional author charges you? We began with the unexplained thought that there is something..


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pp. 287-326


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pp. 327-342


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pp. 343-352

E-ISBN-13: 9781400842384
E-ISBN-10: 1400842387
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691154619
Print-ISBN-10: 0691154619

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Course Book