Citizens as Militant Democrats, Or: Just How Intolerant Should the People Be?

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Militant democracy calls for pre-emptive measures against political actors who use democratic institutions to undermine or outright abolish a democratic political system. Born in the context of interwar fascism, militant democracy has recently been revived by political and legal theorists concerned about the rise of authoritarian right-wing populists. A long-standing charge against militant democracy—also articulated with renewed force in our era—is that, as a top-down way to deal with the intolerant, militant democracy is inherently elitist and bears uncomfortable similarities with technocracy (also understood as an intolerant form of governance). But while it is true that militant democracy relies on state institutions to preserve democracy, it by no means excludes citizen engagement: “courts or the people” is a false choice. On the other hand, citizens engaged in militant democracy must take on the difficult task of distinguishing very clearly between democratic essentials under threat and political questions about which citizens might reasonably disagree. While citizen assemblies are not the answer to all of contemporary democracies’ travails, they might be very helpful in clarifying such distinctions for wide audiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-98
Number of pages14
JournalCritical Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • citizens’ assemblies
  • democracy
  • militant democracy
  • technocracy


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