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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science
- Political Science and International Relations