Legitimate Opposition


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Alexander S. Kirshner

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The first theory of legitimate opposition in fifty years

In political systems defined by legitimate opposition, those who hold power allow their rivals to peacefully challenge and displace them, and those who have lost power do not seek to sabotage the winners. Legitimate opposition came under assault at the American capitol on January 6, 2021, and is menaced by populists and autocrats across the globe. Alexander Kirshner provides the first sustained theory of legitimate opposition since the Cold War. On the orthodox view, democracy is lost when legitimate opposition is subverted. But efforts to reconcile opposition with democracy fail to identify the value of the frequently imperfect, unfair and inegalitarian real-world practice. Marshaling a revisionist reconstruction of opposition’s history, Kirshner’s book provides a new account of opposition’s value fit for the twenty-first century and shows why, given the difficult conditions of political life, legitimate opposition is an achievement worth defending.

Alexander S. Kirshner is an associate professor of political science at Duke University, where he concentrates on democratic theory. He is the author of A Theory of Militant Democracy.

“Legitimate opposition—an essential political practice aimed at concentrated power—has been hiding in plain sight. Now, at this critical moment, Kirshner brings it forcefully into focus.”—Nancy L. Rosenblum, coauthor of A Lot of People are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy

“In this brilliant book, Alexander S. Kirshner reminds us that representative democracy can hardly be conceived without permanent legitimate opposition and the practice of disagreement and political conflict.”—Nadia Urbinati, author of Me the People

“Alex Kirshner offers the definitive account of how we should understand the ‘legitimate opposition’— one that is realistic, skeptical, and yet preserves the most demanding aspirations for democracy.”—Russell Muirhead, coauthor of A Lot of People Are Saying

"Alexander Kirshner’s Legitimate Opposition offers a subtle, systematic and powerful way to analyze one crucial vulnerability in democracy: opposition by some to democracy itself."—Corey Brettschneider, author of The Oath and the Office
ISBN: 9780300243468
Publication Date: September 20, 2022
296 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
A Theory of Militant Democracy

The Ethics of Combatting Political Extremism

Alexander S. Kirshner

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