Democracy’s critical infrastructure: Rethinking intermediary powers

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Ever since the 19th century, political parties and free media were widely deemed indispensable for the proper functioning of representative democracy. They constituted what one might call the critical infrastructure of democracy, an infrastructure which enabled citizens to use their basic rights effectively and also to reach each other (and be reached). Both intermediary institutions are undergoing major structural transformations today (or might disappear altogether, if processes of ‘disintermediation’ continue). It has proven difficult to judge these changes, partly because we lack a proper account of the distinctive normative roles of intermediary institutions beyond standard claims of ‘connecting citizens to the political system’. The essay argues that intermediary powers remain indispensable in staging political conflict, in providing external and internal pluralism and in properly structuring political time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-282
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophy and Social Criticism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • intermediary institutions
  • internal democracy
  • pluralism
  • political parties
  • professional media


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