In Democratic Failures and the Ethics of Democracy, political philosopher Adam Lovett argues that when it comes to democratic ideals, the United States is a failed democracy. Specifically, he contends that American democracy has failed to advance equality and self-rule for its citizens—qualities he identifies as essential components of democracy’s intrinsic value. Drawing on rich empirical research, Lovett applies original philosophical analysis to reveal real-world democratic failures and evaluate their philosophical and ethical consequences.
His research locates democratic failures at both the level of political elites and at the level of the masses. At the elite level, elected officials shape policy to prioritize the interests of their supporters, where wealthy individuals and corporations are the most influential. At the mass level, ordinary citizens are motivated to vote not to introduce specific policies but by party identification. By mapping how these failures erode equality and self-rule, he demonstrates that they in fact undermine the ethics of democracy itself. After all, Lovett argues, when a state fails to represent ordinary citizens, those ordinary citizens are not morally obligated to follow the laws of the state.
Because the state fails to achieve democratic values in any meaningful way, its claim to political authority and legitimacy is diminished. However, Lovett does not conclude that American democracy is doomed—he instead proposes solutions from voting only on referendums to delegating aspects of public policy to unelected experts without partisan obligation. These reforms are vital for compelling the state to act on behalf of all citizens, not just the partisan or the powerful. Of interest to political scientists and political philosophers alike, Democratic Failures and the Ethics of Democracy sheds light on an increasingly troubled democratic ethos and proposes solutions for how ordinary citizens can work to save it.
Adam Lovett is a Fellow at the London School of Economics. He is the author of articles in Philosophy & Public Affairs and Politics, Philosophy & Economics, among other journals. This is his first book.
"In this singular synthesis of political science and political philosophy, Adam Lovett exposes how institutions that we call ‘democratic’ fall short of their own democratic ideals and convinces us that we should all care."
~Niko Kolodny, author of The Pecking Order: Social Hierarchy as a Philosophical Problem