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Democracy and its Discontents


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy 60 EC, specialisation Philosophical Perspectives on Politics and the Economy.


In this seminar we will discuss the meaning and significance of democracy, the rule of the people. What would it mean for the people to rule themselves? What is it to speak of a “will of the people”, and how can it be known or identified? And who are "the people" to begin with? We will consider a variety of theoretical perspectives on democracy, and discuss some of the contemporary challenges democratic theorists face.
Topics for discussion include: are citizens competent to govern themselves? is liberal democracy a contradiction in terms? What is populism? Can a democracy legitimate its own boundaries?

Course objectives

This course aims to give students an understanding of the most important strands of democratic theory and some of the challenges these theories face in the contemporary world.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the most important strands of democratic theory;

  • some of the challenges these theories face in the contemporary world.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically analyse recent literature in democratic theory;

  • identify, articulate and critically assess key concepts and arguments in this area.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Participation and weekly discussion notes (graded pass/not pass; a pass is required to complete the course)

  • Midterm paper (40%)

  • Final paper (60%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of two subtests (midterm paper, final paper). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once, consisting of a paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

This year’s reading list will be made available at the beginning of the course. Previous lists included works such as:

  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 2012. The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Trans. John T. Scott. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

  • Schmitt, Carl. 1988. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

  • Achen, Christopher H. and Larry M. Bartels. 2016. Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  • Meckstroth, Christopher. The Struggle for Democracy: Paradoxes of Progress and the Politics of Change. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.