Beppe Grillo speaking to crowd

The False Friends of Democracy

A Sydney Ideas co-presented with Sydney Democracy Network (SDN) and Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre (SSSHARC), this event will analyse the forces that are tearing apart democracies worldwide.

Nadia Urbinati, one of Italy's most distinguished scholars, will analyse the main forces that are nowadays tearing apart more than a few democracies around the world, Italy included. In an unusual twist, Nadia Urbinati will concentrate less on the overt enemies of democracy than on those who pose as its friends: for instance, technocrats wedded to expert procedures; demagogues who make glib appeals to 'the people', and media platforms bent on turning politics into a sensational spectator sport and citizens into fans of opposing teams. 

According to Urbinati, these false 'friends' of democracy are disfiguring democracy. They need to be exposed, and countered, by recognising that in a well-functioning democracy politics is an unending struggle to make publicly visible the issues that citizens deem central to their lives. The making and unmaking of public opinion is central: just as important as organising votes or mobilising parliamentary support for government decisions. 

Drawing on Italian and other examples, Urbinati will make a spirited defence of the political importance of public opinion making and the need to recognise that in a democracy bitter conflicts and messy compromises are normal, and to be welcomed by citizens and representatives alike.

This event was held at the University of Sydney on Tuesday 17 April 2018.


Nadia Urbinati, Kyriakos Tsakopoulos Professor of Political Theory and Hellenic Studies at Columbia University, New York, is a political theorist who specializes in modern and contemporary political thought and the democratic and anti-democratic traditions. In 2008 the President of the Italian Republic awarded Professor Urbinati the Commendatore della Repubblica (Commander of the Italian Republic) "for her contribution to the study of democracy and the diffusion of Italian liberal and democratic thought abroad." Professor Urbinati is also an editorial contributor of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and publishes articles in the culture section of the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 ore. Before arriving at Columbia, Professor Urbinati served as visiting professor at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, and as a lecturer at Princeton University. 

Image (at top): Giovanni Favia

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