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  • Republicanism or Modern Natural Right?The Question of the Origins of Modern Representative Democracy and the Political Thought of Giuseppe Duso
  • Miguel Vatter (bio)

Introduction: Duso's Contribution to the Contemporary Debate on Representative Democracy

Giuseppe Duso's work in political theory during recent decades has focused on the contradictions or aporiae implicit in the very idea of representative democracy. This theme is not surprising coming from a theorist who began his career as a scholar of Fichte and Hegel in the 1970s and went on to introduce the work of Weber and Schmitt into the post-Marxist debate in the 1980s. But unlike Schmitt and other more recent critics of modern liberal democracy, Duso's project is an attempt to save democracy "beyond democracy,"1 that is, beyond its current representative form, to give a participatory role in political life back to the people.

Duso's central critique of modern representative democracy is based on the following claim: "the theoretical system that is constitutive of power and of its legitimacy assigns the modern concept of equality a function that [End Page 99] requires, in a self-contradictory manner, the depoliticization and the loss of political relevance of the equal subjects: the equal dignity of men must therefore be found beyond the political function of equality" (Duso 2004a, 136).2 By locating the state's legitimacy in its capacity to formulate and execute the sovereign will of the people, modern systems of representative democracy paradoxically deny the people their political power. Duso strives to illustrate that an antinomy structures the very concept of "power of the people": as soon as a people constitute themselves into a sovereign collective subject, they lose all real political power. But whereas previous critics of representative democracy, from Schmitt to Schumpeter, point out the incompatibility between parliamentary representation and popular sovereignty, Duso sees a deeper affinity between these two concepts, which, in combination, have the ability to depoliticize the lives of individuals.

For his critique, Duso adopts a historical and theoretical standpoint that exists outside the tradition of modern political thought, which has produced the discourse of modern representative democracy.3 This position grows out of the political thought of Althusius, one of the last representatives of monarchomachist thought in the early seventeenth century.4 Monarchomachs were Lutheran and Calvinist political thinkers who argued for the people's right of resistance against tyrannical kings who issue laws and commands that contradict the divine and natural laws. If I understand Duso correctly, it is in Althusius's theory that he hopes to find an alternative conception of "the equal dignity of men . . . beyond the political function of equality" characteristic of modern representative democracies. Duso argues that Althusius allows us to "[t]hink the plurality of the people and its real presence before those who govern, because the people was understood as composed of parts, and citizens expressed themselves through these parts, through which they received their determinate reality; and the actions of government were not imputable to the collective subject, but only to the person who governed" (Duso 2004a, 136).5 In other words, Althusius is one of the last political thinkers to maintain the medieval distinction between "government" and "power" where "government" means the guidance of the community oriented by attention to divine justice and natural law, both of which are taken to precede the constitution of the state. In this system the people do not govern themselves, but that is [End Page 100] precisely why they are better equipped to stand against their governors and resist unjust commands. On the contrary, in modern democracies the people are believed to have all the power, and through their elected representative bodies, they are said to govern themselves. But for this reason, according to Duso, the people can no longer represent their real differences and plurality, just as they must give up their right to resist their own representatives as a condition of their election.

In this article I aim to do three things. First, I present in more detail what I take to be the historico-philosophical basis of Duso's claim that modern representative democracy is involved in insuperable aporias (section 1). This claim depends...


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pp. 99-120
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