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Keywords:

  • authorization;
  • democracy;
  • the people;
  • consent;
  • representation

Most of the dominant versions of democratic theory conceive of political decisions as authorized by citizens, either directly or indirectly through their representatives, yet theorists rarely attend directly to the meaning of the concept of authorization itself. Theorists frequently debate the character of democratic authorization, yet they rarely ask the prior question of whether the concept of authorization can properly be applied to democratic citizens' conduct in the first place. After submitting the concept to critical scrutiny, the article reaches the surprising conclusion that, contrary to expectations, contemporary democratic practice cannot, strictly speaking, be properly characterized as a practice of citizen authorization at all. Although incorrect, there is an element of truth in the characterization of democratic decision making as a practice of citizen authorization. Understanding what is true and false in this characterization illuminates the distinctive character of modern democratic politics.