Democracy on the lam: Crisis, constitutionalism and extra-legality

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2 Scopus citations


Sheldon S. Wolin's theory of fugitive democracy has been both lauded and criticized for its radical departure from the mainstays of democratic theory: formal institutions, political offices and constitutional arrangements of power. For Wolin, democracy is correctly understood as an ephemeral event that appears unexpectedly when ordinary citizens, united by a shared grievance, collectively interrupt normal political proceedings and reject constitutionalism. This article critically analyzes Wolin's theory in light of a historical phenomenon in which citizens collectively interrupted politics: frontier vigilantism in the American West from 1850 to 1900. Critical of Wolin's wholesale rejection of constitutionalism, the article reveals the potentially legalistic patterns of extra-legal collective action, and it argues for de-fetishizing democratic practice that occurs outside of institutional channels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-284
Number of pages21
JournalContemporary Political Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Constitutionalism
  • Democracy
  • Exception
  • Pluralism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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