Sovereign and misinformed: Brexit as an exercise in democracy

One major point of discussion in the aftermath of the British vote to leave the European Union is whether the referendum constitutes a powerful example of what democracy is all about. While leave supporters, euro-sceptics in other EU member states, xenophobic US presidential candidates, and many political commentators agree that this is indeed the case, some voices, particularly from academia, have questioned the suitability of this tool – and of any form of direct democracy more in general – for dealing with once-in-a-lifetime-decisions like the one on continued membership of the EU. Someone has even gone as far as proposing, as a way to deal with the recent rise of certain forces across the political spectrum, to ‘weed out’ ignorant individuals from the electorate. Has someone then really waged war on ‘stupid people’? As soon as the first commentaries on Brexit poured in, these arguments have been branded as nothing but new expressions of the old-fashioned elitism by intellectuals – those ‘experts’ mocked publicly by Michael Gove – who have been unable, once more, to communicate effectively with a large part of the general public. Shouldn’t then these experts just ‘suck it up’ because the ‘people have spoken’ but not in the way they wanted to? Aren’t ‘the people’ sovereign in a democracy, and hasn’t Brexit been a prime expression of it?

Well, that depends. If you are one of many – with Schumpeter, Dahl, Sartori, Waldron, to name but a few – with a purely formal conception of democracy as merely constituting the ‘rules of the (political) game’ in which the majority decides, then indeed the vote of the 23rd of June constitutes a very successful instance of the democratic principle at work. No doubt about it ...

Zum vollständigen Artikel

Cookies helfen bei der Bereitstellung unserer Dienste. Durch die Nutzung erklären Sie sich mit der Cookie-Setzung einverstanden. Mehr OK