Date of Award

Summer 6-5-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Steven Vanderheiden

Second Advisor

Michaele Ferguson

Third Advisor

David Mapel


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.