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Nir Eisikovits

In the last seventy years the nature of war has changed dramatically. Rather than involving two or more national armies fighting in uniform and obeying an orderly chain of command, most organised violence since the end of the Second World War has been asymmetrical, involving a regular army on the one hand and militia or guerrilla forces on the other.1 At the same time, the nature of battle – the intense, adrenaline-fueled close quarters confrontation that has traditionally defined the very heart of our idea of war (Keegan 1983) – is also changing as a result of dramatic advances in our ability to fight remotely. The increasing role of robotic devices and drones in recent conflicts, as well as the exponentially growing potency of cyberwarfare, are changing what it means to do combat. Now, asymmetrical war has been around forever. Defeated armies and weaker parties have often turned to guerrilla tactics against stronger foes. But, in recent decades, asymmetrical war has become the primary form of violence we encounter. Similarly, the history of military technology has always been the history of killing at a growing distance (swords allow more distance than fists, longbows than swords, rifles than longbows and so on). And yet, recent years have seen a qualitative leap in what we can do from far away.

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Mark Chou and Emily Beausoleil

A conventional story is often told about democracy. It is a story that begins somewhere in the West, some millennia ago. From there, or so this telling goes, democracy spread across the continents; traversing from the familiar epicenters of Western civilization—Athens, London, Washington, Versailles—to the exotic and sometimes alien cultural landscapes in the East. The idea that such a model of democracy, based on an essentially Western set of ideals and practices, could one day become universal was perhaps unthinkable to most democrats before the twentieth century. However, today there is very little doubt that democracy on a global scale is both assured and desirable. But there should be no confusion here: this story of democratization, and the projection of democracy’s global future, is one premised on “the export of democratic institutions, developed within a particular cultural context in the West,” that has as its culmination “the end of history” and the triumph of Western liberal democracy in all corners of the globe (Lamont et al. 2015: 1).

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Jean-Paul Gagnon and Mark Chou

This general issue of Democratic Theory begins with an important contribution by George Vasilev (La Trobe University) that reflects on Chantal Mouffe’s notion of democratic agonism. Mouffe has, primarily as part of her critique of deliberative democracy, asserted that consensus necessarily creates exclusion. What is important is that democratic dialogue remains open-ended. For her this means that democrats should view themselves as adversaries rather than antagonists who bring discussions to a close. Vasilev critiques Mouffe’s assertion by arguing that she holds a one-sided understanding of consensus that creates a less credible form of adversarial politics. By crafting a “norm of consensus”, Vasilev thus demonstrates that consensus formation can ensure the very condition of democratic freedom itself. In doing this, Vasilev’s argument brings a fresh perspective to ongoing debates in deliberative and agonistic democracy.

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The Crisis of Democracy

Which Crisis? Which Democracy?

Selen A. Ercan and Jean-Paul Gagnon

The introductory article to this special issue highlights three fundamental yet often neglected questions related to the current diagnosis of a crisis of democracy: What is meant by the term “crisis”? Which democracy is in crisis? And what, if anything, is “new” about the current crisis of democracy? We answer these questions by considering the multi-vocal contribution of purposefully curated short articles in this special issue. We argue that when engaging with the “crisis of democracy” diagnosis, it is important to unpack not only the normative presumptions one has in relation to what democracy is and should be, but also the recent transformations in the way politics is understood and practiced in contemporary societies.

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Egalitarian Liberalism

What Are Its Possible Futures in South Africa?

David Bilchitz and Daryl Glaser

Liberalism is associated by many with the protection of private property and the insulation of economic markets from state intervention. Yet the liberal tradition is very diverse, and some have taken its concern with equality and liberty in radically egalitarian directions that belie the reduction of liberalism to market-fundamentalist ‘neoliberalism’.

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Jean-Paul Gagnon and Mark Chou

The post-1945 world is well documented for its surge in the study of and struggles over “democracy”. The Eurocentric and then Pacific wars were—and continue to be—in part understood as a fight over ideology. Ideas of fascism, nazism, and empire as well as the totality of the state came face to face with ideas like democracy. Considered the panacea to all the world’s political ills, democracy was employed by the West as both stick and carrot. For a system of governance that simply connoted a state restrained by periodic and competitive elections, democracy’s value soon became much more significant. Through the rule of law, statespeople and scholars started equating democracy with the protection of the individual’s civil, political, economic, social, and cultural freedoms. Some also began aligning democracy with sacred principles relating to no harm, nonviolence, antiweaponry, anticolonialism, anticommunism, and antiauthoritarianism—especially during the postwar international meetings of states and, later, the cultural revolutions of the circa 1960s.

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Theorising Race

Imagining Possibilities

Kira Erwin and Gerhard Maré

This special issue emerges from a concern with academic practice around researching and theorising race, racialism and racism; particularly within the current theoretical climate in which race is, in the majority, accepted as a social construct. In public thinking and discourse, however, acceptance of the biological existence of races continues to dominate in many societies. Racial classification also continues in many state practices in South Africa such as the collection of racial demographics though the national census, and through countless private and public officials reporting towards government-stipulated race-based employment acts. These classification practices raise contradictions for the constitutional goal of non-racialism in South Africa. South Africa has also signed and ratified the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Professional Interest/Pages/CERD.aspx), which aims to eliminate racial discrimination in member states. The convention, to which member states are legally bound, raises a number of pressing issues that, to date, are not present in a wider national debate on the continued use of race in South African state policy. For example, there is little recognition by the state of the difficulties associated with identifying a targeted group based on race, nor clarity as to whether these groups are identified through markers based on phenotype, or socio-economic or cultural differences. Nor is there open discussion on the use of terms such as fair and unfair discrimination and how they relate to terms such as distinction and differentiation (see Bossuyt 2000), and the legal consequences of using such terms.

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Lawrence Hamilton

This is the second of two special issues on freedom and power to be published seriatim in Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory. The contributors to this issue analyse the relationship between freedom and power in fascinating ways. Issue 131 was arranged in terms of intellectual historical chronology, focusing on the work of Hobbes, Spinoza, Hegel, Adorno and Arendt, amongst others. This time the contributors are concerned less with intellectual history and more with conceptual, exegetic and contemporary matters.

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Lawrence Hamilton

Ever since Livy proclaimed that ‘freedom is to be in one’s own power’, if not from long before and in other contexts, the relationship between freedom and power has been an enduring concern of social and political theorists. It has withstood even Isaiah Berlin’s sharp distinction between seemingly irreconcilable forms of freedom and much of the subsequent theoretical and philosophical debates that it spawned. The history of political thought is littered with thinkers who have opposed freedom and power, arguing that liberty can only be truly attained free from power and domination (republicans) or in the absence of external impediments imposed by other human beings (liberals); but there are also many examples of arguments that identify a close and intriguing link between them, especially in the sphere of politics, that emanate from radicals and conservatives alike, thinkers such as Machiavelli, Montaigne, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Arendt and Foucault. Moreover, those in the former camp tend to think of freedom in formal and abstract terms, while proponents of the latter eschew this now normal tendency in political philosophy and instead think of freedom in fully substantive, concrete and even materialist terms. Hobbes is an unusual and unique figure as his account of freedom inspires members of both parties, that is those concerned with the formal character of freedom and those troubled by its more substantive components and conditions, which is why it is only right that we start this special issue on freedom and power with an analysis of Hobbes’ account of freedom.

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Carl Knight

The theme of this issue of Theoria is ‘Special Obligations, Rights and National Responsibility’. It arises from a conference held at the University of St Andrews in October 2010 which focused on David Miller’s recent work. The editors are grateful to Alice Pinheiro Walla, Jesse Anne Tomalty, Yann Allard-Tremblay and André Grahle for organising this stimulating event, and to David for graciously agreeing to reply to his commentators both in person at the conference and in print here.