Dossier Politics Society History

Inventing, Reinventing, Questioning Democracy

by Mélanie Cournil , 25 July 2016

How can we define democracy today? What role does or should the people play in the democratic process ? Through its summer selection, Books&Ideas offers to rediscover a group of four interviews and reviews, published in 2015 and 2016, which have tackled these questions through the prism of history, philosophy and political sciences.

In one of his latest books (Vox Populi. Une histoire du vote avant le suffrage universel, Seuil, 2014), Olivier Christin sheds light on the processes of voting and election in the Middle Ages, processes which are nowadays often associated with democratic practices. The author reminds us that the vote, though a prerequisite of democracy, did not historically pertain to it. He argues that the experiments conducted during the Middle Ages should not be now understood as the first step towards electoral democracy. Rather, his analysis focuses on these medieval political practices as a series of reflections on the validity of the vote, on the majority rule and on the legitimacy of the electorate.

The interview of Audrey Tang, a young Taiwanese « open source civic hacker », lays emphasis on the recent use of new technological tools in social protests to promote democracy in a more open, collaborative fashion. She explains how worldwide access to information thanks to the internet helped both promoting social movements which had already been formed and prompting ordinary people to commit to a social or political cause.

In La Démocratie sans « Demos », PUF, 2011, Catherine Colliot-Thélène offers a historical approach of the concept of democracy that clarifies the political role of the people. Dismissing the myth that democracy is the government of the people, by the people, the author rather insists on the political negotiations between the individual and the power. She argues, claiming that democracy should be understood in the way that it allows the people to conquer new rights.

Finally, Sophie Cœuré analyses the practice of mass surveillance in both democracies and dictatorships, stressing the specific features that differentiate the former from the latter them: the identity of those being surveilled, the purpose of such a surveillance and the legal framework within which it is allowed. Addressing the controversial use of new technologies in mass surveillance, the author tempers the fear that they may pose a real threat to civil liberties.

Dossier's Articles

by Mélanie Cournil, 25 July 2016

To quote this article :

Mélanie Cournil, « Inventing, Reinventing, Questioning Democracy », Books and Ideas , 25 July 2016. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL :

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