Toward a Minimalist Approach to Democracy: Ideas Excavated from the First Large-scale Referendum in World History
29 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2021 Last revised: 30 Nov 2022
Date Written: August 26, 2021
Why should a state endorse democracy or a more inclusive form of decision-making? This essay provides a normative account without relying on foundational/universalistic value such as liberty and rights. Accordingly, any strong state that claims to rule for the people is obliged to require all its citizens to participate in the process of decision-making and follow the majority choice. I excavate this theory from a forgotten episode in world history: in 1156CE, an imperial Chinese official organized a large-scale referendum, requiring a population of 1.5 million to express their opinion on taxation reform and requesting the court to follow the majority choice. Reconstructing Wang’s historical context, philosophical argument, and quantitative analysis, I show that his ideas offer an interesting addendum to contemporary democracy theories including Jürgen Habermas’s and Judith Shklar’s now influential accounts.
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