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Who’s Afraid of the Imperative Mandate?

Massimiliano Tomba


The imperative mandate is a medieval institution that arose in a context in which power was not monopolized by the state, but rather distributed in a plurality of municipalities and assemblies with specific political authority. This system, based on the plurality of the authority of assemblies, is incompatible with the modern state. Indeed, it is explicitly forbidden in many modern Western constitutions. Yet the imperative mandate appears in numerous events throughout modernity that have challenged the principles of the nation-state. It emerges today in populist movements as a response to the crisis of the representative democracy. This essay locates the insurgent legacy of the imperative mandate in the Paris Commune, in the German councils, and in the Zapatistas’ practice of mandar obedeciendo (rule by obeying), in order to consider possible democratic alternatives to representative democracy and the crisis of the nation-state.   




imperative mandate, populism, direct democracy, pluralism