Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Democratic Legitimacy and the Politics of Rights

A comparative analysis of the conceptual relationship between democracy and rights in contemporary political theories

Iivi Anna Masso

Doctoral dissertation, July 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social and Moral Philosophy.

Democratic Legitimacy and the Politics of Rights is a research in normative political theory, based on comparative analysis of contemporary democratic theories, classified roughly as conventional liberal, deliberative democratic and radical democratic. Its focus is on the conceptual relationship between alternative sources of democratic legitimacy: democratic inclusion and liberal rights. The relationship between rights and democracy is studied through the following questions: are rights to be seen as external constraints to democracy or as objects of democratic decision making processes? Are individual rights threatened by public participation in politics; do constitutionally protected rights limit the inclusiveness of democratic processes? Are liberal values such as individuality, autonomy and liberty; and democratic values such as equality, inclusion and popular sovereignty mutually conflictual or supportive? Analyzing feminist critique of liberal discourse, the dissertation also raises the question about Enlightenment ideals in current political debates: are the universal norms of liberal democracy inherently dependent on the rationalist "grand narratives" of modernity and incompatible with the ideal of diversity?

Part I of the thesis introduces the sources of democratic legitimacy as presented in the alternative democratic models. Part II analyses how the relationship between rights and democracy is theorized in them. Part III contains arguments by feminists and radical democrats against the tenets of universalist liberal democratic models and responds to that critique by partly endorsing, partly rejecting it. The central argument promoted in the thesis is that while the deconstruction of modern rationalism indicates that rights are political constructions as opposed to externally given moral constraints to politics, this insight does not delegitimize the politics of universal rights as an inherent part of democratic institutions. The research indicates that democracy and universal individual rights are mutually interdependent rather than oppositional; and that democracy is more dependent on an unconditional protection of universal individual rights when it is conceived as inclusive, participatory and plural; as opposed to robust majoritarian rule.

The central concepts are: liberalism, democracy, legitimacy, deliberation, inclusion, equality, diversity, conflict, public sphere, rights, individualism, universalism and contextuality. The authors discussed are e.g. John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, Seyla Benhabib, Iris Young, Chantal Mouffe and Stephen Holmes. The research focuses on contemporary political theory, but the more classical work of John S. Mill, Benjamin Constant, Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt is also included.

The title page of the publication

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Last updated 15.05.2006

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