The Freedom Center and Spring 2023 FC Talks series presents Christian F. Rostbøll (University of Copenhagen).

Rostbøll is a Professor of Political Theory at the University of Copenhagen and holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University. He is the author of Democratic Respect: Populism, Resentment, and the Struggle for Recognition (Cambridge University Press, 2023), Deliberative Freedom (2008,) and numerous articles on political and democratic theory, as well as co-editor of Compromise and Disagreement in Contemporary Political Theory (2018).

Abstract: Political polarization is typically seen as bad for democracy. However, existing evaluations of how polarization affects democracy operate with too unified understandings of both polarization and democracy. Polarization cannot be understood as one phenomenon, and its different kinds affect different parts of the democratic system in distinct ways. First, we must distinguish between degrees and kinds of polarization. Second, we must consider whether people have good reasons for their polarizing behavior or whether it is entirely irrational. If people have good reasons for their polarizing behavior, the problem lies elsewhere than in polarization itself. Third, we must distinguish between the content of polarized opinions and the process of opinion formation. Both can be assessed with democratic criteria, but they raise different questions. Finally, it matters for democratic evaluation where polarization occurs, and thus, we must differentiate between different sites of polarization – civil society, election campaigns, and legislatures.