Responsibility and Democratic Rule

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



This dissertation examines whether democratic citizens are responsible for the behavior of their governments. Through careful analysis of the political theory and practice of Henry David Thoreau and Jane Addams, I demonstrate that notions of democracy that are distinctly modern in their emphasis upon plurality and individuality can instill in citizens a sense of responsibility for public life. My analysis also calls attention to several challenges that make ethical democratic citizenship a demanding undertaking. In the final chapters, I construct an account of responsible democratic citizenship that addresses these challenges, drawing upon lessons learned from my discussion of Thoreau and Addams, as well as from more contemporary thinkers. Democratic citizens, I argue, do not fully control the circumstances in which they act, and thus they often become implicated in outcomes to which they have not explicitly consented. If they aspire to be self-ruling, however, they must accept some responsibility for political outcomes that affect their own wellbeing and are affected by their behavior. Furthermore, I argue that citizens are unlikely to recognize and discharge their shared responsibilities unless they cultivate particular attitudes, including curiosity, flexibility, sympathy, humility and courage. These attitudes enable citizens to learn about the problems for which they are responsible and cooperate with others to solve shared problems.





Hanagan, Nora (2011). Responsibility and Democratic Rule. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.