13 February 2010

Articles: "Sceptical Democracy" and sceptical authoritarianism

Vittorio Bufacchi, "Sceptical Democracy" ("Politics", 21 [1], February 2001: pp. 23-30):


Abstract: "Two extreme philosophical positions pose a constant threat to democracy. Those who believe in the certainty of their beliefs (totalitarianism) and those who deny the existence of any truth (nihilism and post-modernity) uphold these anti-democratic positions. Squeezed between these two polarities we find liberal democracy. One of the distinctive properties of liberal democracy is its endorsement of a political definition of scepticism. The aim of this article is to explore the relationship between liberal democracy and scepticism."

Excerpt: "It is regrettable that for many sympathisers of liberal democracy, scepticism is a dirty word. The aim of this article is to suggest that the rehabilitation of scepticism is long overdue. If democracy is going to defend itself from anti-democratic threats, it is imperative for democratic theory to embrace a political definition of scepticism. [...] On one side, anti-democratic thought is entertained by those who attack the spiritual decay of democracy for its inability to ground society on infallible foundations. At the other extreme, democracy is dismissed for being at best a culturally relative notion, and at worst an instrument of Western cultural imperialism. [...] Nihilism, cynicism and relativism are as cancerous to democracy as the arrogance or nostalgia for certainty."

Bufacchi's article spurred a number of responses, among them Thom Brooks' "A Defence of Sceptical Authoritarianism" ("Politics", 22 [3], September 2002: pp. 152-62):


Abstract: "Vittorio Bufacchi argued in this journal that democracy was under threat from two extreme philosophical positions: totalitarianism and nihilism. Sandwiched between these polarities is liberal democracy. Bufacchi believes that one of liberal democracy's distinctive properties is an endorsement of scepticism, which he then attempts to illuminate. In contrast, this article will argue that an authoritarian government bound by a constitution permitting civil liberties might also adopt political scepticism. This removes the aforementioned distinctiveness of liberal democracy in this regard and, in addition, leads us toward a rethinking of the possibility of a more plausible consideration of democracy."

I haven't been able to access the full text of the latter article.

In 2008, Thom Brooks also contributed a chapter asking "Is Plato's Political Philosophy Anti-Democratic?" to my edited volume "Anti-Democratic Thought", published by Imprint Academic. The full text can be read here:


Vittorio Bufacchi is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at University College Cork.

Thom Brooks is now Reader in Political and Legal Philosophy at the University of Newcastle.

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