introDuCtion
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tracing thE Ethical turn
The​ category​ of​ ethics​ is​ ascendant​ in​ recent​ democratic​
thought—that​much​is​clear.​Even​a​brief​review​of​contem-
porary​political​theory​reveals​a​development​notable​enough​
to​have​garnered​a​name:​the​“turn​to​ethics.”1​This​phrase,​
though​helpful,​is​also​misleading​since​it​suggests​a​unified​
phenomenon,​an​implication​belied​by​the​multiple,​compet-
ing​understandings​of​ethics​and​ethos​that​shape​the​current​
conversation.​The​prevalence​of​an​ethical​vocabulary​is​un-
deniable,​but​this​signals​less​the​pursuit​of​a​common​purpose​
than​a​struggle​over​signification.
Still,​ one​ feature​ of​ contemporary​ democratic​ theory’s​
multivalent​obsession​with​ethics​is​striking.​Again​and​again,​
across​work​taking​inspiration​from​highly​disparate​sources,​
ethics​emerges​as​an​indispensable​treatment​for​a​crippled​
democratic​politics.2​That​is,​despite​divergent​conceptions,​
ethics​is​cast​as​a​response​to​(sometimes​ill-​specified)​prob-
lems​plaguing​democracy​today.​Ethics​is​figured​repeatedly​
as​an​animating​supplement​to​politics,​supplying​democracy​
with​something​it​cannot​give​itself​but​urgently​requires.​In-
deed,​perhaps​the​only​belief​uniting​the​diverse​work​identi-
fied​with​the​turn​to​ethics​is​the​conviction​that​ethics​con-
stitutes​that​missing​something​that​can​help​cure​what​ails​
democratic​life.​This​conviction​increasingly​circulates​in​non-
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