John Dewey on Public Office and Representative Democracy

Kirstine Zinck Pedersen*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Recent decades have seen rising interest in John Dewey’s political philosophy, often in discussions of the presumed crisis of democracy, rising populism in Western political systems, or the triumph of neoliberalism. This paper presents a rare reading of Dewey as a theorist of office and political representation, where it is only meaningful to approach ‘the public’ in terms of public offices organised through the state. In Dewey’s understanding of democracy, public office is extended to the citizen, who must be educated to participate in public engagement and who has a duty to vote not as a private person but as a representative of the public interest. From this perspective, a democracy must be judged by the extent to which it is able to secure both its traditional public officers’ and its citizens’ representative functions, character, and conduct rather than by its ideas, for instance, of freedom of speech or public will.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)75-95
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 20 November 2019


  • John Dewey
  • Public office
  • Representative democracy
  • The public
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Walter Lippmann

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