This article seeks to explore democratic theory by focusing on the example of agonistic democracy, in which contest between citizens is valued for its potential to render politics more inclusive, more engaging, and more virtuous. Using Connolly and Tully’s inclusivism, Chantal Mouffe’s adversarialism, and David Owen’s perfectionism, the article discusses democratic theory as a critique, a series of normative proposals, and a potential bridge between political theory and public policy. It is this bridge that enables democratic theory to pull together critical and normative discussions with those surrounding public policy and institutional design.
Democratic Theory through an Agonistic Lens
Keynes and Marx, Merchants, and Poets
This article is a history of liquidity presented as interaction between metaphors and theoretical concepts in social contexts. While taking note of Zygmunt Bauman's metaphor “liquid modernity,” the study instead surveys the wider conceptual field. The text turns around mercantile liquidity (liquidity as clarification) and liquidity in modern economics (characteristic of all assets), as well as older metaphors, notably the famous phrase of the Communist Manifesto, “all that is solid melts into air” (Alles Ständische und Stehende verdampft), which is revealed to have resonance in texts by poets, notably Heinrich Heine. The main result is the historical consistency of the field, where liquidity is a promise of knowledge and clarity.
State of the Art
This review article provides an overview of important, recent approaches to conceptual history from scholarship on South Asia. While conceptual history is not a consolidated field in South Asia, the colonial encounter has greatly stimulated interest in conceptual inquiries. Recent scholarship questions the uniformity even of well-researched concepts such as liberalism. It is methodologically innovative in thinking about the influence of economic structures for the development of concepts. Rethinking religious and secular languages, scholars have furthermore stressed the importance of smaller communicative units such as genre or hermeneutical practices to shape ideas e.g. of the political. As part of global and imperial formations, scholars are well aware of the link between power and colonial temporalities. Lastly, they have suggested new sources for conceptual history, such as literature, film, and sound.
In the literature there are two well-established but opposite readings of Arendt: as an agonistic theorist and as a deliberative one. In between these two positions a smaller number of scholars have argued that in Arendt these two dimensions can to a large extent be reconciled. This paper follows this third path but tries to bring it one step further. In particular, it defends the idea that those scholars who have proposed this third reading of Arendt have fallen short of revealing the degree to which deliberation and agonism are, for her, interwoven. Through an original reading of Arendt’s views on judgment, persuasion, distinction and Eichmann’s banality, the paper clarifies why, for her, agonism and deliberation are not only compatible but actually mutually dependent. In other words, it clarifies why she believes that there can be no deliberation without agonism and no agonism without deliberation.
A Democratic Theory Inspired by Albert Camus
Democracy has come under pressure in many countries in recent years. Authoritarian tendencies, populism and the cult of leadership threaten pluralistic societies in Europe and other parts of the world. But democracy is more than just a method of finding a majority; it is inextricably linked to the fight against oppression and injustice in all contexts of life. Especially in times of democratic crisis, it is necessary to focus on its core aspects. The political thinking of French philosopher and writer Albert Camus, who died in 1960, offers the basis for a redefinition of democracy that is linked to and dependent on rebellion. From his reflections, a radical theory of democracy can be derived that is based on the absurdity of the world, its incompleteness, revolt and resistance to authoritarianism, on doubt, dialogue and foreignness.
Christian Ewert and Marion Repetti
What is democratic theory? In this article we treat it as a semiotic code – that is to say, a shared assumption – and argue that democratic theory enables people to think and talk about the idea(s) of democracy. Furthermore, the application of this specific code is highly political. For one, it is embedded in concrete contexts and discourses and used in arguments and narratives. In addition, the application of democratic theory has also substantial consequences on the lives of people. We illustrate this argument by reflecting briefly on Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” and its recodification and consequences in different contexts.
Ali Aslam, David McIvor, and Joel Alden Schlosser
Urgent alarms now warn of the erosion of democratic norms and the decline of democratic institutions. These antidemocratic trends have prompted some democratic theorists to reject the seeming inevitability of democratic forms of government and instead to consider democracy as a fugitive phenomenon. Fugitive democracy, as we argue below, is a theory composed of two parts. First, it includes a robust, normative ideal of democracy and, second, a clear-eyed vision of the historical defeats and generic difficulties attendant to that ideal. This article considers how democratic theorists might respond to the challenges posed by fugitive democracy and the implications of such an understanding for future research in democratic theory.
Laurent J.G. van der Maesen
The challenge of sustainability of all forms of life on this planet concerns directly the actors, agencies, and other forms of the sociopolitical/legal dimension of societies. This has been confirmed by all members of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in the past decade, who said to follow the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN (2015). As argued by Marco Ricceri (2019), with the Paris Agreement in mind, these member states presented a self-imposed and relevant assignment, which will or should function as their frame of reference. His analysis of the recent history of this platform was also based on the current characteristics of the social quality approach which also are relevant for this editorial (IASQ 2019).
Recent discussions by Martha Nussbaum and Steven Wall shed new light on the concept of reasonableness in political liberalism and whether the inclusion of epistemic elements in the concept necessarily makes political liberalism lose its antiperfectionist appeal. This article argues that Nussbaum’s radical solution to eliminate the epistemic component of reasonableness is neither helpful nor necessary. Instead, adopting a revised understanding of epistemic reasonableness in terms of a weak view of rationality that is procedural, external and second-order rather than a strong view that is substantial, internal and first-order can help political liberalism maintain an epistemic dimension in the idea of reasonableness without becoming perfectionist. In addition, political liberalism can defend a stronger account of respect for persons against liberal perfectionism on the basis of the revised understanding of epistemic reasonableness. Both arguments serve to demonstrate the strength of the political liberal project.
The Challenges of Geoengineering
Klaus Radunsky and Tim Cadman
Governments have previously sought to reduce climate-change-inducing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere through mitigation and adaptation activities, with limited success. New approaches are being explored, such as negative emissions technologies, including carbon dioxide removal, as well as solar geoengineering, also known as solar radiation management, or modification. This article outlines these emerging technologies focusing on bioenergy, carbon capture and storage, and stratospheric aerosol injection, and explores some of the challenges they pose. Prevention of emissions and their reliable, safe, and environmentally benign removal remain the best options. Robust governance systems and a careful, unbiased, and knowledge-driven assessment of the risks of these emerging technologies are required before they are implemented any further.