Democracy and the Social Question

In a time of mounting challenges to democracy worldwide, scholars, politicians and citizens pay increasing attention to “the social question”. To fight the resurgence of authoritarianism and recreate confidence in democracy, it is not enough to support rule of law and elections. A stable democracy also requires economic security and social integration. It diminishes hostility between groups and increases toleration in society.

Still, many democratic theorists hesitate to include the social question in the concept of democracy. Haunted by the spectre of socialism, they argue that doing so undermines democracy: it satisfies material needs at the expense of political freedom, it confuses democracy with the ideological substance of politics and/or it reduces democracy to bureaucracy.

This monograph examines the underlying assumptions behind these arguments, and shows that they rely on an overly reductionist understanding of democracy; as ideational, procedural and discursive respectively. The central thrust is that by redefining democracy as a political lifeform (in Montesquieu’s sense of the term), it is possible to integrate the social question in the concept of democracy without falling prey to said dilemmas.

The renewed international interest in a social defense of democracy places this project at the forefront of existing research on the crisis of democracy. The intention is not only to offer new knowledge on the conceptual link between democracy and the social question, and so fill a lacuna in contemporary democratic theory. In a more general and long-term perspective, the book aims to contribute to better theoretical tools to understand and evaluate trends of democratic decline and renewal, including variation in democratic resilience.

Principal Investgator: Sofia Näsström

Period: 2023

Funding: SEK 1 983 000 from Riksbankens Jubileumsfond 

Last modified: 2024-02-05