Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Though democracy has achieved widespread global popularity, its meaning has become increasingly vacuous and citizen confidence in democratic governments continues to erode. I respond to this tension by articulating a vision of democracy inspired by anti-authoritarian theory and social movement practice. By anti-authoritarian, I mean a commitment to individual liberty, a skepticism toward centralized power, and a belief in the capacity of self-organization. This dissertation fosters a conversation between an anti-authoritarian perspective and democratic theory: What would an account of democracy that begins from these three commitments look like? In the first two chapters, I develop an anti-authoritarian account of freedom and power. In Chapter I, mobilizing insights from libertarians and republicans, I offer an account of freedom that is divorced from self-sovereignty and committed to non-domination. In Chapter II, utilizing work in anarchist anthropology, I show why freedom as non-domination is incompatible with the state, and that an alternative to the statist organization of power is possible. While a centripetal logic unifies society's power in a Leviathan, a centrifugal logic disperses power across many non-sovereign nodes. In the second half of the dissertation, in order to elaborate what centrifugal power may look like in our contemporary context, I focus on two core anti-authoritarian social movement practices: direct action and networked organization. In Chapter III, I argue that direct action, a practice that enacts collective power, is democratic to the extent that it upsets power inequalities and domination, and creates spaces for others to exercise political power. In Chapter IV, I argue that networks enable two ends that are often thought to be in tension: coordination, and self-governance, on the one hand, and diversity and pluralism, on the other. In contrast to representative elections and directly democratic assemblies, however, networks do not require a well-defined people, a centralized decision-making body, or even a single, unifying decision. Throughout the dissertation, I argue against the platitude of the "democratic state" in favor of a democracy against the state. I conclude by re-imagining democracy as the dispersion of power.
Bernhardt, Brian Carl, "Beyond the Democratic State: Anti-Authoritarian Interventions in Democratic Theory" (2014). Political Science Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 2.