The Hollow Republic: What Can Republicanism Say About It?


Vincent Harting (London School of Economics);

Dušan Rebolj (University College London);

Confirmed Keynote Speakers:

Camila Vergara (Columbia), Lawrence Hamilton (Cambridge), John P. McCormick (Chicago).

*All times are British Summer Time (BST)

Tuesday, 7 September

Session 1: Beyond Elitist Constitutionalism: Popular Power Against Oligarchization

14:00 – 16:00

“Power to the People! On the Limits of Elitist Republicanism and the Promises of Plebeian Institutions” – Camila Vergara (Columbia University)

“Supranational Enforcement of Values: Missing the Corrupt Structure” – Maciej Krogel (European University Institute)


Session 2: Plebeian Leadership, Citizenship and Political Equality

17:00 – 19:00

“Machiavelli, Leadership, and Plebeian Politics” – John P. McCormick (University of Chicago)

“Republican Institutions, Oligarchic Democracy and Norms of Political Equality” – Jessica Kimpell Johnson (University of Virginia)


Wednesday, 8 September

Session 3: Plebeian Representation: Assembling Popular Power

14:00 – 16 :00

“Saving Democracy: The Popular Representative Republic” – Lawrence Hamilton (Universities of the Witwatersrand and Cambridge)

“Evolution or Equipoise? Group Conflict and Group Formation in Neo-Republicanism” – Alfred Moore (University of York)


Session 4: Republicanism and Socialism

17 :00 – 19 :00

“Plutocracy and Republicanism in Eugene Debs” – Tom O’Shea (University of Roehampton)

“Platform Socialism” – James Muldoon (University of Exeter)


Thursday, 9 September

Session 5: Radical Republicanism and the Challenges of Racial Inequality

14 :00 – 16 :00

“A Post-Democratic Public Sphere? Parallel Poleis and the Black Public Sphere” – Chris Barker (American University in Cairo)

“Fealty and Dependence in the Herrenvolk Republic” – John Lawless (Utica College)


Session 6: Radical Republicanism and the Digital Age

17:00 – 19 :00

“Digital Freedom through Data-Owning Democracy?” – Roberta Fischli (University of St. Gallen)

“Digital Domination: Social Media and Contestatory Democracy” – Ugur Aytac (University of Amsterdam)


What can republicanism tell us, and perhaps advise us, about the hollowing-out of democracy? We borrow the phrase from Peter Mair’s 2013 book, where it describes the coincidence between popular indifference to democratic politics and the preference of academics and political practitioners for government by experts and depoliticization in lieu of civic engagement and traditional parliamentary decision-making. While these developments on their own give ample reason for concern to republicans, we think it interesting to ask: if republicanism is a vision of democracy with a concern for freedom as non-domination at its heart, what are other ways in which contemporary democracies may appear hollow to republicans and what do republicans have to say about them? How could we correct these tendencies by thinking outside the traditional liberal constitutionalist box in a way that is compatible with core republican values? Because answers to these questions will be as numerous as the different strands of republicanism being developed, we welcome contributions informed by all these perspectives.

Some of the accounts most recently concerned with these questions belong to the ‘radical’, ‘socialist’, or ‘plebeian’ varieties of republicanism. Their authors acknowledge the systemic tendencies of liberal democratic institutions to produce oligarchic rule, and propose to justify alternative methods of popular control over political issues and over other aspects of social life – e.g. class-specific institutions excluding the wealthy from decision-making, strong recall mechanisms over representatives, systems of councils or popular assemblies endowed with strong constitutional powers, and ways of materializing economic democracy to achieve freedom as non-domination. Another group of republican accounts, which partly overlaps with the former one, re-conceptualizes popular sovereignty and democratic rule beyond traditional liberal frameworks, for example employing the writings of canonical authors like Machiavelli, Rousseau, Marx, and even Foucault. These perspectives tend to further mirror the concerns of popular movements that struggle against various forms of social domination (colonial, patriarchal, racial, etc.) and frame their activity along republican lines. Such accounts can facilitate a straightforward discussion of how republicans should deal with decolonization and other emancipatory struggles. We believe that discussing these alternative approaches to republicanism can contribute
to a richer picture of what is hollowing out democracy today, and how it may be counteracted.

  • We therefore invite contributions addressing questions similar to the following:
  • Are electoral democracies under capitalist relations bound to degenerate into oligarchies? If so, why?
  • What republican democratic innovations could help counteract or overcome oligarchic capture of representative government?
  • Some republicans might also have reason to argue for certain democratic innovations, such as class-specific institutions excluding the rich from decision-making power, or for forms of political practice that
    involve coercive means; but those institutions and practices transgress traditional liberal values (e.g. formal political equality or property rights) held by some other republicans; how to resolve such conflicts of value?
  • While acknowledging the need for established institutional safeguards, what is the proper role, in republicanism, for spontaneous civic involvement and civic virtue?
  • In the time of the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, what does non-domination require of constitutional democracy?
  • How might the history of political thought, and of emancipatory social movements, help us reconceptualize central tenets of republican theory?

Paper Submissions:

Submissions are now closed for this panel.

Conference/Practical information:

This is now an all online panel. Registration will open in May, and participants must register in order to attend.

The year’s registration fees are:
Academics: £45
Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20
Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

A small number of bursaries (for graduate students only) are available. Please state in your application to our panel whether you intend to apply for a bursary.
For any further queries, please also send your questions to and