The place and function of custom as a species of law—distinguished from custom as simply polite manners or cherished cultural traditions—has long been a source of research and debate among legal theorists and historians. One school of thought, reflecting the authority of written statute in modern jurisprudence, has relegated custom in a juridical sense to “primitive” societies, whereas proper law belongs to a world of state sovereignty. Other scholars have revisited the continuing validity of custom, including a trenchant body of work on the use (and manipulation) of custom in modern colonial regimes. At the same time, some have seen benefits in the acknowledgment of custom as a source of norms. A 2006 collection of articles, for instance, explored ways in which customary law might serve as a better foundation for the sustainable development of natural resources. As David Bederman has written, “Custom can be a signal strength for any legal system—preliterate or literate, primitive or modern.”
The Meanings and Uses of a Legal Concept in Premodern Europe
An Anthropologist’s Lived Experiences of Indigenous Democratic Cultures
Wade Davis and Jean-Paul Gagnon
Anthropology meets democratic theory in this conversation that explores indigeneity, diversity, and the potentialities of democratic practices as exist in the non-Western world. Wade Davis draws readers into the ethnosphere—the sum total of human knowledge and experience—to highlight the extinction events that are wiping out some half of human ethnic diversity. Gagnon worries over what is lost to how we can understand and practice democracy in this unprecedented, globally occurring, ethnocide.
Liberalism and Its Others
The language we use for democracy matters, the struggles over how it is defined are real, the outcomes are consequential. This is what a conceptual politics approach emphasizes, pointing to the vital role played by contestation in determining which meanings prevail and which are marginalized. Among all the meanings of democracy that exist, it is liberal democracy that stands at the center, it has effectively won conceptual and political battles resulting in its current primacy. In this sense, liberalism is much more deeply baked into contemporary discussions about democracy than some might be comfortable admitting. This is not without cause, as liberal democracy has achieved, and continues to unevenly provide, political, economic, and social goods. In the rush to dig up alternatives, it is important not to lose sight of how and why this liberal conception of democracy has come to dominate and the ways it conditions democratic possibilities.
Podemos and the Analytical Potential of Ocular Democracy
Most citizens of representative democracies do not take political decisions in their everyday lives. Although participation in periodic elections, political parties, or social movements varies, above all, according to socio-economic status, taking a political decision is, in general, a relatively extraordinary event for the vast majority of citizens. The everyday political experience of these citizens is rather structured by watching and listening to political elites. Unlike the tenor of democratic theory, this quotidian mode of passively following politics is ocular democracy’s starting point. So far, the debate on ocular democracy has emphasized its shortcomings as a normative theory. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, this article illustrates the potential of ocular democracy as an analytical tool in the context of intra-party democracy. Podemos’ intra-party procedures are analyzed by complementing an institutional perspective with ocular democracy, thus showing how a party leader inclined to appear particularly venturesome undermines ambitious forms of intra-party democracy.
Jean-Paul Gagnon, Hans Asenbaum, Dannica Fleuss, Sonia Bussu, Petra Guasti, Rikki Dean, Pierrick Chalaye, Nardine Alnemr, Friedel Marquardt, and Alexander Weiss
This introductory article to Democratic Theory’s special issue on the marginalized democracies of the world begins by presenting the lexical method for understanding democracy. It is argued that the lexical method is better than the normative and analytical methods at finding democracies in the world. The argument then turns to demonstrating, mainly through computational research conducted within the Google Books catalog, that an empirically demonstrable imbalance exists between the democracies mentioned in the literature. The remainder of the argument is given to explaining the value of working to correct this imbalance, which comes in at least three guises: (1) studying marginalized democracies can increase our options for alternative democratic actions and democratic innovations; (2) it leads to a conservation and public outreach project, which is epitomized in an “encyclopedia of the democracies”; and (3) it advocates for a decolonization of democracies’ definitions and practices and decentering academic democratic theory.
The Case of Wilhelm Röpke
Phillip Becher, Katrin Becker, Kevin Rösch, and Laura Seelig
Focusing on selected “Western” conceptions of democracy, we expose and normatively evaluate their conflictual meanings. We unpack the white democracy of prominent ordoliberal Wilhelm Röpke, which comprises an elitist bias against the demos, and we discuss different assessments of his 1964 apologia of Apartheid South Africa. Our critical-historical study of Röpke’s marginalized meaning of democracy traces a neglected anti-democratic continuity in his work that is to be contextualized within wider elitist (neo)liberal discourses: from his critique of Nazism in the 1930s to the defense of Apartheid in the 1960s. We provide an alternative, marginalized meaning of democracy that draws on Marxist political science. Such a meaning of democracy helps explain why liberal democratic theory is ill equipped to tackle anti-democratic tendencies re-emerging in liberal-democratic polities.
The Fusing of New Approaches
In part one, I followed the debates and the scholars involved in the big bang of international Begriffsgeschichte. Part 2 takes us from the first encounters between the German and the Anglophone tradition within intellectual history to the more formalized efforts of establishing conceptual history on the international, academic scene. With more scholars joining the debate, the understanding of concepts in language and in context were both broadened and deepened. Case studies from a wider range of European languages added a stronger comparative and transnational perspectives to conceptual history, which would prepare the ground for a conceptual history beyond Europe.
Democratic Praxis in Te Ao Māori
Kylie Smith, Ksenija Napan, Raewyn Perkinson, and Roberta Hunter
Democracy manifests itself in a range of ways and is an imperfect, dynamic struggle for collective decision-making. This article discusses the multifaceted processes of deliberative democratic praxis found in traditional Māori society. Central to decision-making in te ao Māori, hui provide formal and informal structures for deliberative democracy, precedent setting, learning, and transformation through consensus making, inclusive debate, and discussion across all levels of society. Rather than coercion and voting, rangatira relied on a complex mix of customary values and accomplished oratory skills to explore issues in family and community meetings and in public assemblies. Decisions made through inclusive deliberative processes practiced in hui established evident reasoning and responsibility for all community members to uphold the reached consensus. This article claims that practicing deliberative democracy as a fundamental way of life, learned through ongoing active and meaningful participation throughout childhood, improves the integrity of democratic decision-making.
In March 2020, Melvin Richter, one of the founders of international, conceptual history passed away. This sad occasion makes it timely in our journal to reflect on the process that turned national projects within conceptual and intellectual history into an international and transnational enterprise. The text that follows—published in two parts, here and in the next issue—takes a closer look at the intellectual processes that led up to the founding meeting of the association behind our journal, the History of Concepts Group. It follows in the footsteps of Melvin Richter to examine the different encounters, debates and protagonists in the story of international, conceptual history. The text traces the different approaches that were brought to the fore and particularly looks at Melvin Richter's efforts to bridge between an Anglophone tradition of intellectual history and a German tradition of Begriffsgeschichte.
Marie Paxton and Uğur Aytaç
George Robert Bateman, Jr., The Transformative Potential of Participatory Budgeting: Creating an Ideal Democracy.
Garett Jones, 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less.