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Tanner Lecture: Active and Passive Citizens II: Active Democracy

Richard Tuck, Harvard University

November 7, 2019 · 4:30 pm6:30 pm · 101 Friend Center

The University Center for Human Values

Tanner Lectures on Human Value II

Richard Tuck will address the question of “Active and Passive Citizens,” in two Tanner lectures on November 6 and 7. The idea that democracy rests ultimately on majority voting plays remarkably little part in most current theories of democracy.  Instead, they stress (to take only a few examples) the importance of deliberation; or of bodies of rights which constrain democratic legislation; or of sortition rather than election as a means of choosing delegates to an assembly.  Even when majority voting is defended, as it is by the so-called “epistemic democrats,” it is only as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.  This would have astonished the early theorists of modern democracy, to whom universal suffrage and majoritarian voting were the sole criteria for democratic politics.

In these lectures, Professor Tuck will attempt to defend the old view, and to show that democratic politics is essentially a matter of agency.  The title comes from the distinction the Abbé Sieyès made between “active” citizens, the electorate, and “passive’ citizens, who enjoyed all other legal rights, who could make their views known, and who were “represented” by the institutions of the state; the modern theories have turned us all, in this sense, effectively into “passive” citizens. In his first lecture, Professor Tuck will contrast Rousseau and Sieyès; in the second, he will defend an “agentive” reading of Rousseau against modern critics of this kind of theory.


Simone Chambers – Professor of Political Science, The University of California, Irvine

Joshua Cohen –Distinguished Senior Fellow, The University of California, Berkeley

John Ferejohn – Samuel Tilden Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Melissa Schwartzberg – Silver Professor of Politics, New York University

Co-sponsored by James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions (JMP); Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA); Department of History; Department of Politics

November 6: “Active and Passive Citizens I: Rousseau and Sieyès”

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