Democracy as a Modally Demanding Value

Noûs 47 (2):504-521 (2013)
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Imperialism seems to be deeply antithetical to democracy. Yet, at least one form of imperialism – what I call “hands-off imperialism" – seems to be perfectly compatible with the kind of self-governance commonly thought to be the hallmark of democracy. The solution to this puzzle is to recognize that democracy involves more than self-governance. Rather, it involves what I call self-rule. Self-rule is an example of what Philip Pettit has called a modally demanding value. Modally demanding values are, roughly, values the instantiation of which depends not only on what actually happens, but on what would happen in certain non-actual circumstances. Self-rule is the modally demanding counterpart of self-governance, since it requires, not merely that the members of a state actually govern themselves, but that they would continue to do so across a range of non-actual situations. Moreover, the value of self-rule (and hence democracy) is not reducible to the value of self-governance. Understanding the modally demanding character of democracy allows us to appreciate what is democratically objectionable about occupation by a foreign power, even if there is no prospect of the foreign power intervening in the governance of the occupied state by its members.
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