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Peter Levine

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic raises questions about the future of democracy and civil society. Some recent predictions seem to use the suffering to score points in ongoing political arguments. As a better example of how to describe the future during a crisis, I cite the prophetic voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. King does not merely predict: he calls for action, joins the action, and makes himself responsible for its success or failure. With these cautions about prediction in mind, I venture two that may guide immediate responses. First, communities may erect or strengthen unjustifiable barriers to outsiders, because boundaries enhance collective action. Second, although the pandemic may not directly change civic behavior, an economic recession will bankrupt some organizations through which people engage.

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Who Governs in Deep Crises?

The Case of Germany

Wolfgang Merkel

Abstract

The Berlin Republic of today is neither Weimar (1918–1932) nor Bonn (1949–1990). It is by all standards the best democracy ever on German soil. Nevertheless, during the COVID-19 crisis there was a shift from democracy as a mode of governance to what the controversial legal theorist Carl Schmitt (1922) affirmingly described as a “state of exception”; a state that is desired and approved by the people (through opinion polls). It was the hour of the executive. The parliament disempowered itself. There was very little, if any, contestation or deliberation during the first eight weeks of the COVID-19 crisis. This article reflects on the implications of this mode of governance on institutions and actors of democracy in Germany, and offers a way of assessing the wellbeing of democracies in times of deep crisis.

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Jean-Paul Gagnon

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Reflecting on Fifty Years of Democratic Theory

Carole Pateman in Conversation with Graham Smith

Carole Pateman and Graham Smith

Carole Pateman reflects on her fifty years of scholarship in conversation with Graham Smith. The discussion focuses particular attention on Pateman’s work on participatory democracy and considers her contributions to debates on political obligation, feminism, basic income, and deliberative democracy.

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Rikki Dean, Jean-Paul Gagnon, and Hans Asenbaum

What is democratic theory? The question is surprisingly infrequently posed. Indeed, the last time this precise question appears in the academic archive was exactly forty years ago, in James Alfred Pennock’s (1979) book Democratic Political Theory. This is an odd discursive silence not observable in other closely aligned fields of thought such as political theory, political science, social theory, philosophy, economic theory, and public policy/administration – each of which have asked the “what is” question of themselves on regular occasion. The premise of this special issue is, therefore, to pose the question anew and break this forty-year silence.

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Derek Edyvane and Demetris Tillyris

‘The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. -Archilochus quoted in Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox, 22

The fragment from the Greek poet Archilochus, quoted in Isaiah Berlin’s essay ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’, serves as a metaphor for the long-standing contrast and rivalry between two radically different approaches to public ethics, each of which is couched in a radically different vision of the structure of moral value. On the one hand, the way of the hedgehog corresponds to the creed of value monism, reflecting a faith in the ultimate unity of the moral universe and belief in the singularity, tidiness and completeness of moral and political purposes. On the other hand, the way of the fox corresponds to the nemesis of monism, the philosophical tradition of value pluralism, to which this collection of essays is devoted. This dissenting countermovement, which emerges most clearly in the writings of Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire, Bernard Williams and John Gray, is fuelled by an appreciation of the perpetuity of plurality and conflict and, correspondingly, by the conviction that visions of moral unity and harmony are incoherent and implausible. In the view of the value pluralists, ‘there is no completeness and no perfection to be found in morality’ (Hampshire 1989a: 177).

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Editorial

Research Article

Jean-Paul Gagnon and Selen A. Ercan

Democratic Theory’s eleventh issue (6[1], July 2019) features four new research articles as well as an interview, a critical commentary, a practitioner’s note and a book review. It begins with Stephanie Erev’s article, which explains neoliberalism’s assaults on democracy and nature. Working through Hayek, Erev suggests that opposing neoliberal extractivist culture from both the democratic and ecological standpoints “may offer the greatest promise for creative and collaborative struggles toward new worlds and new ways of life” today.

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Andrew Benjamin and Francesco Borghesi

This special issue arose from a workshop on “Peace and Concord from Plato to Lessing”, organised by the editors and which took place at the University of Sydney on 18 and 19 September 2017. Central to the work of both the editors is the relationship between the concepts of ‘concord’, ‘peace’ and ‘dignity’ within a setting created by a concern with the development of a philological anthropology. Their work combines both intellectual history and philosophy, a combination that is reflected in the contents of the special issue of Theoria. The importance of these terms is that they allow for another interpretation of the ethical and the political. Central to both is the location of human being within a larger cultural context. That context demands an approach in which philosophy does not exclude history, and history recognises that it is already informed philosophically. If there is a unifying term, it is ‘culture’. The approach taken within the larger project starts with the centrality of culture as that which demands to be thought. And yet culture is neither tranquil nor unified. As Walter Benjamin argued, there ‘is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism’. Allowing for culture’s centrality entails a reconfiguration of both philosophy and intellectual history.

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Editorial

African Philosophy and Rights

Motsamai Molefe and Chris Allsobrook

A useful way to approach the discourse of rights in African philosophy is in terms of Kwasi Wiredu’s (1996) distinction between cultural particulars and universals. According to Wiredu, cultural particulars are contingent and context-dependent. They fail to hold in all circumstances and for everyone (Wiredu 2005). Cultural universals are transcultural or objective (Wiredu 2005). Examples of cultural particulars include dress styles, religious rituals, social etiquette and so on. One example of a cultural universal is the norm of truth. One may imagine a society with different methods of greeting, dress, and raising children, but one cannot imagine a robust society which rejects the norm of truth as the basis of social practices.

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What is populism? Who is the populist?

A state of the field review (2008-2018)

Jean-Paul Gagnon, Emily Beausoleil, Kyong-Min Son, Cleve Arguelles, Pierrick Chalaye, and Callum N. Johnston

Both “populism” and “populist” have long been considered ill-defined terms, and therefore are regularly misapplied in both scholarly and popular discourses.1 This definitional difficulty is exacerbated by the Babelian confusion of voices on populism, where the term’s meaning differs within and between global regions (e.g. Latin America versus Western Europe); time periods (e.g. 1930s versus the present), and classifications (e.g. left/ right, authoritarian/libertarian, pluralist/antipluralist, as well as strains that muddy these distinctions such as homonationalism, xenophobic feminism and multicultural neonationalism). While useful efforts have been made to navigate the vast and heterogeneous conceptual terrain of populism,2 they rarely engage with each other. The result is a dizzying proliferation of different definitions unaccompanied by an understanding as to how they might speak to each other. And this conceptual fragmentation reinforces, and is reinforced by, diverging assessments of populism which tend to cast it as either “good” or “bad” for democracy (e.g. Dzur and Hendriks 2018; Müller 2015).