The Eyes of the People: Democracy in an Age of Spectatorship

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For centuries it has been assumed that democracy must refer to the empowerment of the People's voice. In this pioneering book, Jeffrey Edward Green makes the case for considering the People as an ocular entity rather than a vocal one. Green argues that it is both possible and desirable to understand democracy in terms of what the People gets to see instead of the traditional focus on what it gets to say.

The Eyes of the People examines democracy from the perspective of everyday citizens in their everyday lives. While it is customary to understand the citizen as a decision-maker, in fact most citizens rarely engage in decision-making and do not even have clear views on most political issues. The ordinary citizen is not a decision-maker but a spectator who watches and listens to the select few empowered to decide. Grounded on this everyday phenomenon of spectatorship, The Eyes of the People constructs a democratic theory applicable to the way democracy is actually experienced by most people most of the time.

In approaching democracy from the perspective of the People's eyes, Green rediscovers and rehabilitates a forgotten "plebiscitarian" alternative within the history of democratic thought. Building off the contributions of a wide range of thinkers-including Aristotle, Shakespeare, Benjamin Constant, Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, and many others-Green outlines a novel democratic paradigm centered on empowering the People's gaze through forcing politicians to appear in public under conditions they do not fully control.

The Eyes of the People is at once a sweeping overview of the state of democratic theory and a call to rethink the meaning of democracy within the sociological and technological conditions of the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A singularly brave attempt at defending as normatively appealing the ideal of plebiscitary democracy held in suspicion by most democratic theorists...the book proposes a bold new theory that aims to break from the kind of utopianism, or as Green sometimes even less charitably suggests, anachronism of many deliberative and participatory theories...The strength of Green's book, in the end, is to point out the ways in which contemporary normative theory needs to enrich its vocabulary and conception of popular sovereignty."—Political Communication

"Green's book is remarkable...his rather stunning reorienting of democratic theory away from voice and towards sight renders the book in the literature of landmark democratic theory."—New Political Science

"A thought-provoking first book, Jeffrey Green's Eyes of the People constitutes an ambitious attempt to overturn the intellectual mainstream of modern democratic theory...readers can turn fruitfully to Green's book for fascinating reconstructions of a vast range of political thinkers from Aristotle to Carl Schmitt."—Radical Philosophy

"The book is clear and well written...students at all levels and faculty should find the book engaging. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—CHOICE

"The Eyes of the People is an erudite and imaginative intervention into contemporary democratic theory and contribution to a burgeoning literature on the place of aesthetics and the senses in democratic politics. Jeffrey Green's notion of 'spectatorship democracy' is bound to provoke lively debate: Is it the long-sought-for approximation of direct, ancient democracy in a world of indirect, representative governments? Or is it a pessimistic restriction of democratic possibilities in the contemporary world? Either way, the book is a thought-provoking and illuminating read."—John P. McCormick, Professor of Political Science, The University of Chicago

"In this rigorous and provocative work, Jeffrey Green defends a very different understanding of democracy. According to Green, the passive citizen who watches political life, should, far from being disparaged, be seen as a central actor in democratic governance, possessed of dignity. I expect this book will become both the canonical defense of plebiscitary democracy and a text that is central to broader contemporary debates about the meaning and value of democracy."—Corey Brettschneider, Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, Brown University

"Jeffrey Green's The Eyes of the People is a bold and brilliant contribution to democratic theory. Citizens today are much more likely to watch politics than to participate in it. Instead of simply lamenting this fact, Green reflects on it in a highly original manner. Ultimately he finds in our shared spectatorship a new and hitherto unrecognized potential for popular empowerment."—Bryan Garsten, Professor of Political Science, Yale University

"This is a deeply intelligent, eye-opening book. Trenchant, bracing, and beautifully written, it shows us how to see democracy's future in an age when politics for most citizens must be more about spectacle than deliberative action. That Green defends a theory of politics—plebiscitary democracy—most would dismiss is a surprise; that he does it so convincingly is an education, and ultimately an act of hope."—Russell Muirhead, Associate Professor of Government, Dartmouth College

"A courageous book that mounts a spirited critique of democratic theory and offers an intriguing alternative....[A]n original and provocative work"—Perspectives on Politics

"Green's writing is notably fluent, finely wrought and well signposted, the latter quality particularly welcome for readers without a political science background."—Holly Arden, Monash University, Visual Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195372649
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/31/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Edward Green is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. The author of scholarly essays on various topics including political apathy, disenchantment, and ignorance, Green has taught previously at Harvard and at Gothenburg University in Sweden.

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Table of Contents

1. Ocular Democracy
2. The Citizen as Spectator
3. Overcoming the Vocal Model of Popular Power
4. The Concept of Plebiscitary Democracy: Past, Present, and Future
5. Max Weber's Reinvention of Popular Power and Its Uneasy Legacy
6. Putting Candor First: Plebiscitarianism and the Politics of Candor
7. Popular Power in Sight

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