16th Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Shelley

Cain Shelley, London School of Economics and Political Science.

The Politics of Property-Owning Democracy


The general thrust of the now burgeoning literature on property-owning democracy (POD) – to tackle the sources of structural economic domination rather than merely ameliorate its worst effects and to envision a world in which drudge labour has been eliminated and the fair value of the political liberties is secured – is certainly to be commended. But in this paper, I argue that if liberal-egalitarians and republicans of all stripes are really going to begin to counter the undesirable aspects of our economies that they document and object to, certain anti-democratic tendencies embedded in many of the contributions to the POD debate to date are in need of correction. Taking Alan Thomas’ recent Republic of Equals as an example, I claim that despite seeming keen to stress the reality of ‘reasonable disagreement’, many supporters of POD in fact display a tendency to ignore the conflict, disagreement and pluralism over the content of justice that is constitutive of the political as such and display an over-confidence in their ability to speak on behalf of all citizens about the specific shape of the just society. After criticizing what I claim are these anti-democratic tendencies amongst proponents of POD, I briefly suggest that one way to begin to address this problem would be for political philosophers to shift their normative focus away from the distant future and towards more pressing concerns regarding reclaiming political power in the present. If politics is fundamentally about -amongst other things – both disagreement and power, then it is only when theorists of POD begin to pay sufficient attention to both of these areas that we can come to talk of ‘the politics of property-owning democracy’.