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David Thunder

Welcome to David Thunder's website! Dr. David Thunder, hailing from Dublin, Ireland, is a political philosopher and a permanent Research Fellow at the University of Navarra’s Institute for Culture and Society in Pamplona, Spain. His research has been supported by two major grants awarded by the Spanish government in recognition of an outstanding research career: a Ramón y Cajal fellowship (2017-2021) and an I3 research consolidation grant (2022-24). David earned his BA and MA in philosophy at University College Dublin, and his Ph.D. in political science at the University of Notre Dame. He has held several research and teaching positions, including Visiting Assistant Professor in Political Theory at Bucknell University (2006-07) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Princeton University’s James Madison Program (2008-09), before joining the University of Navarra. 

David's research, which aims to develop an ethically rich and psychologically plausible theory of politics and social organisation, exposes the limitations of top-down, Statist models of order and the advantages of bottom-up, community-based approaches to the governance of social life. His working hypothesis is that a federated political and social order granting generous leeway for self-regulation by local and municipal associations and communities, can provide a promising framework for solving social problems and living dignified, flourishing human lives.


David’s academic writings include The Polycentric Republic: A Theory of Civil Order for Free and Diverse Societies (forthcoming with Routledge in 2024), Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life (Cambridge University Press, 2014), The Ethics of Citizenship in the 21st Century (edited volume, Springer, 2017), and numerous articles in leading academic journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, Political Theory, and Journal of Business Ethics. He is also co-editor (with Pablo Paniagua) of Polycentric Governance and the Good Society, forthcoming with Lexington Books.


David's passion for the study of freedom goes hand in hand with a passion for promoting a deeper understanding of freedom and its preconditions beyond the "ivory tower." He has given many talks to non-academic audiences, provided advice to elected politicians and political movements, published dozens of op eds on current affairs issues in newspapers such as The Irish Times and El Mundo and digital media platforms such as The Conversation, Mercatornet and the Clingendael Spectator, and conducted dozens of media interviews, including guest appearances on Newstalk (an Irish radio station), TV3's Tonight Show (in Ireland), and GB News. Last but not least, David runs a blog about issues affecting freedom in the West, called The Freedom Blog.  

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David Thunder

Political Philosophy Researcher & Lecturer
Institute for Culture and Society
University of Navarra




MA & Ph.D in Political Science


MA in Philosophy


BA in French and Philosophy

University of Notre Dame

University College Dublin

University College Dublin

Academic Positions

Research Fellow



Visiting Assistant Professor


Visiting Assistant Professor


Postdoctoral Research Fellow

University of Navarra - Institute for Culture and Society

Villanova University - Department of Political Science 

Villanova University - Matthew J Ryan Center

Princeton University - James Madison Program, Dept of Politics


Junior Visiting Fellow

Witherspoon Institute, Princeton


Visiting Assistant Professor

Bucknell University - Department of Political Science

Skills & Experiences

  • Leadership and Project Management

  • Academic Writing and Publishing

  • Writing for popular audiences

  • Public Speaking

  • Critical and Creative Thinking

  • Conducting Media Interviews

  • Political Consulting

  • Video Editing (Adobe Premiere Pro)

  • 4 Languages (English, Spanish, French, Italian)

Awards & Certificates


Ramón y Cajal Research Grant



I3 Certificate & Research Consolidation Grant


Two sexenio certificates

Grant awarded by the Spanish government in recognition of an outstanding research trajectory, to support research costs for 4 years, and co-finance my salary for the duration of 5 years. €200K in total.

I won this certificate and consolidation grant from the Spanish government in recognition of outstanding research. €100K in total.  


Official certification by ANECA (National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation of Spain) of 12 years of research activity and publications



Research Interests

  • Ethics of citizenship in modern societies​​

  • Democracy, self-government and federalism

  • Theory and practice of popular sovereignty

  • Polycentric governance, freedom and human flourishing in social organisations and practices

  • The value and practice of free speech in an era of Big Data and social media

Select Publications 

Please find below a selection of my academic publications (for a more complete list, click here). I have published two single-author books, one with Cambridge University Press, and another forthcoming with Routledge; two edited volumes; thirteen book chapters; and eleven articles in peer-reviewed journals like American Journal of Political Science, Political Theory and Journal of Business Ethics. Click on these icons right here to download my publications.


  • The Polycentric Republic: A Theory of Civil Order for Free and Diverse Societies. Routledge, forthcoming in 2024.

“The Polycentric Republic reanimates a fine tradition of theorizing about the possibility of a non-sovereign, pluralist political order. In reviving the critique of sovereignty and articulating a promising alternative to the sovereign State, Thunder artfully synthesises insights from contemporary social science with a neo-Aristotelian account of human flourishing that draws sustenance from the ground-breaking work of Alasdair MacIntyre. This book is a “must read” for anyone looking for a hopeful alternative to the political status quo in our time of growing political troubles.”

Kelvin Knight, Reader in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University & author of Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre (Polity, 2007)

“This book is a methodical effort to articulate an alternative governance doctrine, based both on contemporary developments in political philosophy, and on insights from the new institutionalist revolution which has taken place in the second half of the 20th century. It is not only a work of intellectual synthesis but also a work of theoretical and institutional imagination. Moreover, it is a real contribution to the applied-level efforts to respond to the acute crisis of governance afflicting 21st century societies.”

Paul Dragos Aligica, Senior Research Fellow in the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at George Mason University & author of Institutional Diversity and Political Economy: The Ostroms and Beyond (Oxford University Press 2014).

“Thunder makes the most detailed and powerful case anyone has yet made…that we should give our deepest ethical commitments full play in what we do as citizens. Not only does personal ethical integrity require it; liberal democracy is in danger if citizens wall off the role of citizen from the norms and values that make for a worthy human life. Citizenship and the Pursuit of the Worthy Life is the ‘against the grain’ book that those of us who do not buy the separationist thesis have long been looking for.”

"David Thunder makes an excellent case for the wholeness of citizenship, in which the best citizen and the best person come together. His analysis is useful whether one agrees or not and is stated so agreeably that all can admire its clarity and persuasiveness."

German sociologist Robert Michels argued that any large and complex organization, be it a political party, a trade union, or a State, inexorably tends to embody oligarchic forms of rule, no matter how formally democratic its constitution may be, since it is not practical for large and complex organisations to be ruled equally by all of their members. Michels referred to this tendency as the “iron law of oligarchy.” The iron law of oligarchy explains why most democratic states, no matter how many participatory mechanisms they create, end up with a dramatic power imbalance between officeholders and ordinary citizens. As long as we assume the model of a single sovereign government ruling over the affairs of a large multitude, any institutional reform we try, such as “direct democracy” or citizen assemblies, will have limited success at tempering the effects of the iron law of oligarchy. However, as I will argue in this book, a form of “bottom-up” and authentically polycentric federalism consistent with a robust dispersal of power across the territorial and non-territorial units of the federation can go a long way toward mitigating (though not nullifying) the oligarchic tendencies latent in complex organizations.

Edited Volumes

  • Polycentric Governance and the Good Society: A Normative and Philosophical Investigation. Co-edited with Pablo Paniagua. Forthcoming in 2024 with Lexington Books.

“This is a unique contribution that brings together both the practical and the ethical case for polycentric governance. It offers an inspiring ethical vision of polycentricity as a philosophy for life in diverse and complex societies.”

Journal Articles

  • “A Rawlsian Argument Against the Duty of Civility.” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 50, no. 3 (July 2006), pp. 676-690.

Book Chapters

Book Translation:

  • “An Ethical Case for Bottom-Up, Polycentric Governance in a Complex Society.” In Polycentric Governance and the Good Society: A Normative and Philosophical Investigation. Co-edited by David Thunder and Pablo Paniagua. Forthcoming with Lexington Books.


Media Contributions

Please find below a few samples of my media contributions. I have written dozens of op eds for newspapers like The Irish Times and El Mundo, as well as online media like Spiked, Gript, Mercatornet, The Conversation, and The Clingendael Spectator.

Op Eds

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Youtube Row Raises Serious Questions on Censorship by Tech Giants

Irish Times, 22nd July 2019

"If we do not find a way to decentralise content-moderating functions and separate them from commercial incentives, then the prejudices of a handful of tech giants and their staff will determine which opinions get aired and debated on social media, and which do not."


Europe's New Digital Wallet: Guarantor of Digital Security or Backdoor to Tyranny?

Mercatornet, 16th November 2023

"It would be highly naive to assume that a programmable Europe-wide digital ID, controlled by a centralised bureaucracy would not, sooner or later, be exploited to “nudge” (or shove) people into complying with the policies that happen to be favoured by the “powers that be”. 


Is the Pandemic Turning the West into China?

Clingendael Spectator, 29th September 2021

"The Covid-19 pandemic is a 'stress test' for Western democracies. According to political philosopher David Thunder, the West is failing this test as the dividing line between Chinese collectivism and European individualism has begun to blur."


Populism Not Going Away Anytime Soon

The Irish Times, 23rd January 2019

"Populists, though they hardly offer convincing political solutions, are right to point out the chronic dysfunctions of our technocratic and quasi-oligarchic political institutions."


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The Case Against the Sovereign State: In Conversation with David Thunder

The Governance Podcast (King's College London), 17th February 2020

David Thunder (University of Navarra) argues that many modern political theorists, from Hobbes to Rawls, overstate the importance of state sovereignty. He envisions an alternative, polycentric form of social organisation that can support one’s freedom to flourish. Tune in for his argument in this episode of the Governance Podcast led by Billy Christmas (King’s College London).

The Truth Behind Ireland's Riots

Redacted, 29th November 2023

What's the truth behind the explosion of violence in Dubln, Ireland over the past few days? Academic Researcher David Thunder joins us to talk about Ireland's devastating immigration policies and lax policing which led us to the recent spate of violence.

Has France Criminalised Medical Debate?

Pandemic Podcast, 17th March 2024

Is France silencing free speech in healthcare? A controversial new law criminalises "inciting" someone to receive or reject medical treatments. We talk to David Thunder about the chilling effect this could have on open discourse, scientific debate, and personal choice in healthcare.

The Rise of Soft Despotism in the West

Epoch Times, 30th November 2023

Alexis de Tocqueville, in his masterpiece Democracy in America, predicted that modern governments, in promising citizens comfort and security, could become what he called "soft despots." In this clip from my interview with the Epoch Times, I discuss this concept and its relevance to modern democracy.

The Freedom Blog

In The Freedom Blog, I offer independent analysis of issues that affect the fate of freedom in the West. Please find below a few sample posts to whet your appetite!


Why Attempting to Purge the Web of "Misinformation" and "Disinformation" Is a Fool's Errand

"In the real, non-ideal world of mediocre and shallow thinkers, cowards, selfish careerists, and the occasional scoundrel, political and scientific censorship never works out in the way envisaged by its public advocates. In the non-ideal world of imperfect knowledge and corruptible character, censorship is just as likely to frustrate the pursuit of truth as to facilitate it."


Nine Reasons Governments Must Reject Proposed Amendments to International Health Regulations

"This is an organisation that has already shown its regressive, inhumane and anti-scientific colours during and after the Covid pandemic, including failing to warn citizens about the incompleteness of safety data for mRNA vaccines, warmly praising China’s cruel and draconian lockdowns, and enthusiastically supporting a global bio-surveillance regime modelled on the EU's digital Covid certificate."


Irish Government's Attempt to Redefine the Family Backfires, Spectacularly

"In light of the government’s dramatic policy failures in housing, healthcare and immigration, the resounding “No” vote that echoed up and down the country was not just a rejection of these constitutional amendments: it was also a clear vote of no confidence in Ireland’s political Establishment."

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President von der Leyen's WEF Speech Shows She Will Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

"She could have used her unique position of leadership to underline the true nature of the threat of disinformation, which is a threat coming from all directions - not just from malicious private actors, but from governments that run “information” campaigns designed to harness people’s primal instincts, most notably fear and solidarity, in support of their preferred policies."


A Populist-Libertarian Manifesto

"Below, I propose a collection of principles that might be good candidates for the platform of a pro-freedom, pro-limited government party."

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It's Time To Give Power Back to the People. But How?

"There is no way to completely guarantee that people will always be taken seriously by their representatives. However, you can greatly reduce the risks of domination and alienation by introducing decentralising reforms, to bring centres of power and decision-making closer to the people."

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