Stoic Democrats? Anti-politics, élite cynicism and the policy process

John Boswell, Jack Corbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


ABSTRACT: Disenchantment with politics appears to be proliferating throughout contemporary liberal democracies, as outlined in the growing literature on anti-politics. Overwhelmingly, this literature has focused on the disaffection citizens express towards the policy process. Here, using policy-making on the issue of obesity in Australia and Britain as a case study, we show that disenchantment is not limited to citizen outsiders; the élite policy actors at the core of the process are cynical, too. Indeed, we unveil an élite cast of ‘stoic democrats’ who see little reward for their continual efforts. We also point to the limits of stoicism highlighted by this ‘extreme’ case, as some élites begin to challenge the legitimacy of formal policy processes, subvert their norms, or ignore them altogether, all in search of more direct impact. We conclude that the literature on anti-politics would benefit from paying greater attention to the potential challenge élite cynicism presents to democratic governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1388-1405
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of European Public Policy
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 26 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-politics
  • deliberation
  • network governance
  • obesity
  • wicked problems

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