Illés–Körösényi: The touch of the leader. Representation and responsiveness in plebiscitary leader democracy

June 2023

Gábor Illés & András Körösényi (2023) The touch of the leader: representation and responsiveness in plebiscitary leader democracy, Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2023.2220086

By conjoining theorizing and analyzing existing empirical research results, the article aims at situating representation and responsiveness within the Weberian notion of plebiscitary leader democracy (PLD). In unison with the ‘sensorial turn’ in political theory, it proceeds by adopting the touch metaphor as an analytical lens to help us capture aspects of responsiveness in contemporary PLD. By distinguishing between two forms of touch (‘groping around’ and a ‘continuous light touch’), we map the opportunities of creative leadership to form popular preferences while also showing the boundaries of how far the representative process can constitute the identity and preferences of the represented. Additionally, the article gestures towards the potential normative merits of the touch metaphor by connecting it to the notion of ‘tactfulness’ borrowed from carnal hermeneutics. Situated within the Weberian economy of leadership qualities, tactfulness can help differentiate between more democratic and more authoritarian forms of PLD.