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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal The Philosophical Journal
Title of proceedings The Philosophical Journal


Nadia Urbinati recurrently has warned about the dangers of theorizing democracy in aesthetic terms in her writings. She sees most aesthetic elements of politics as harmful for the very project of democracy itself. In Democracy Disfigured (2014) and other writings she urges that in a democracy the people ought to be conceptualized as organized around the principles of voice and written law and not as an audience enthralled by the aesthetic or visual and theatrical representation of the sovereign. She levels her critique of an aesthetic take on democracy primarily at Jeffrey Green’s model of ocular democracy and its plebiscitarian undercurrent. While echoing Urbinati’s concerns about Green’s model of democracy, this article argues for an aesthetics of democracy that is detached from plebiscitary undercurrents and that points to the democratic value of aesthetic judgment and aesthetic experience in terms of citizen’s freedom and participatory-critical engagement, by insisting on the fundamental political meaning of the sensual (pertaining to aesthetics writ large): that who, why and how something can become publicly recognizable rests on aesthetic sensibilities that belong to a democratic conception of citizenship. The article suggests that these considerations could be compatible with Urbinati’s conceptualization of political opinion, provided that this conception acknowledges that the aesthetic can take over some of the critical and participatory functions, which the epistemic and political functions of public opinion are supposed to fulfill.