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2,234 Descriptions of Democracy

An Update to Democracy’s Ontological Pluralism

Jean-Paul Gagnon

In 2010 Milja Kurki explained that although scholars recognize that democracy is described in a variety of ways, they do not typically engage with its many and diverse descriptions. My aim in this agenda-setting research note is to tackle this quandary by first providing a minimum empirical account of democracy’s descriptions (i.e., a catalogue of 2,234 adjectives that have been used to describe democracy) and secondly by suggesting what democracy studies may gain by compiling this information. I argue that the catalogue of descriptors be applied in four ways: (1) drilling down into the meaning of each description, (2) making taxonomies, (3) rethinking the phenomenology of democracy, and (4) visualizing democracy’s big data. Each of the four applications and their significance is explained in turn. This research note ends by looking back on the catalogue and its four applications.

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Anthony Egan SJ and Ricardo de São João

Race, Class and Power: Harold Wolpe and the Radical Critique of Apartheid, by Steven Friedman. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2015. ISBN 978-1-86914-286-5.

Jan Smuts and the Indian Question, by Vineet Thakur. Pietermaritzburg: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2017. ISBN 978-1-86914-378-7.

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Breaking Barriers and Coded Language

Watching Politics of Race at the Ballpark

Thomas D. Bunting

Drawing on recent literature on political spectatorship, I show how sport, and baseball in particular, can both illuminate and shape American politics. Following the history of racial segregation and immigrant assimilation in baseball, one sees that it mirrors American race politics on the whole. I argue that Jackie Robinson and the desegregation of baseball changed both American politics and the horizons within which citizens think. Although it is tempting to focus on this positive and emergent moment, I argue that for the most part, looking at the history of race in baseball shows instead coded language that reinforces racial stereotypes. This example of baseball and race shows how powerful spectatorship can be in the democratic world. Spectatorship need not be passive but can be an important sphere of activity in democratic life.

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Kyong-Min Son

This article suggests that a “crisis of democracy” can be understood not simply as a deterioration of specific representative institutions but as a repositioning of democratic politics vis-à-vis other principles of social coordination, most notably the capitalist market, and the attendant decline of democratic subjectivity—people’s attunement to claims appealing to the common good. I trace this process to the post–World War II era. I show that the crisis of democracy was shaped by the substantive imperative of fusing democracy with free-market capitalism. Many postwar democratic theorists believed that the welfare state could manage the tension latent in this fusion. But an analysis of Friedrich Hayek’s theory of neoliberal democracy, which recognizes that tension more acutely, reveals that the incorporation of free-market capitalism creates tendencies that undermine democracy from within.

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Jean-Paul Gagnon and Mark Chou

This issue begins with Peter Strandbrink’s argument that “standard liberal democratic theory should be pressed significantly harder to recognize the lexical and conceptual fact that civic political and cognitive participation in mass liberal democracies belong to different theoretical species.” It is by conflating both of these theoretical species, which Strandbrink sees as the dominant tendency in contemporary democratic theory, that we inhibit our ability to critically evaluate “epistocratic theoretical registers.” Further unsettling is Stranbrink’s view that, once separated from each other, neither the theories of civic political or cognitive participation offer much help in dealing with the rise of “alt-facts” or “post-truth” in liberal democratic societies today.

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Peter Standbrink

This article investigates civic-political and cognitive participation as they play out in democratic theory. Its core purpose is to develop a conceptual-normative critique of the presupposition in liberal democratic theory that these logics are mutually reinforcing and complementary. This misunderstanding of a theoretical ambivalence contributes to inhibiting constructive assessment of epistocratic*technocratic frameworks of democratic interpretation and theory. I demonstrate that these logics circulate contrasting views of democratic power and legitimacy and should be disentangled to make sense of liberal democratic theoretical and political spaces. This critique is then fed into a political-epistemological interrogation of post-truth and alt-facts rhetorical registers in contemporary liberal democratic life, concluding that neither logic of participation can harbor this unanticipated and fundamentally nonaligned way of doing liberal democratic democracy.

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Interview

Propaganda’s Role in Liberal Democratic Societies

Jason Stanley and John B. Min

Stanley and Min discuss how propaganda works in liberal democratic societies. Stanley observes that the inability to address the crisis of liberal democracies can be partially explained by contemporary political philosophy’s penchant for idealized theorizing about norms of justice over transitions from injustice to justice. Whereas ancient and modern political philosophers took seriously propaganda and demagoguery of the elites and populists, contemporary political philosophers have tended to theorize about the idealized structures of justice. This leads to a lack of theoretical constructs and explanatory tools by which we can theorize about real-life political problems, such as mass incarceration. Starting with this premise, Stanley provides an explanation of how propaganda works and the mechanisms that enable propaganda. Stanley further theorizes the pernicious effects that elitism, populism, authoritarianism, and “post-truth” have on democratic politics.

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The Lesson of Carl Schmitt’s Realism

The Autonomy and the Primacy of the Political

Attila Gyulai

Political realism claims that politics should be understood as politics and not as a derivative of any other field of human activity. While contemporary realists often argue for the autonomy of politics, this article suggests that only the primacy of politics can be the starting point of political realism. The aim of the article is to expose a conceptual deficiency, namely, the unclear difference between the autonomy and the primacy approach in contemporary realist theory by going back to Carl Schmitt’s contribution to political realism. It will be argued that Schmitt’s concept of the political foreshadowed the ambiguities of contemporary realist theory, exemplified by key authors such as Bernard Williams, Raymond Geuss and Mark Philp.

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Michel Lallement

In La Barrière et le Niveau (1925), the French philosopher Edmond Goblot applied a logic of quality to the social world. The major thesis which Goblot defended at that time was: having no titles or property, the bourgeois class constructed itself superficially through value judgements, building upon commonly shared appreciations, however intrinsically contradictory they may be. If we accept this logical reading found in La Barrière et le Niveau, then two different types of paralogism, useful for sociological theory, merit consideration: paralogisms of criteria and paralogisms of judgement. When interpreted in this way, Goblot’s work presents a threefold theoretical interest: it associates logic and sociology in an original way; it illustrates the heuristic relevance of a social ontology approach, and it provides a grid of sociocultural analysis of the social classes which is still relevant today.

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Polycarp Ikuenobe

This article examines Nnamdi Azikiwe’s idea of mental emancipation as the intellectual foundation for his political philosophy. Mental emancipation involves re-educating Africans to adopt scientific, critical, analytic, and logical modes of thinking. Azikiwe argues that development must involve changing Africans’ intellectual attitudes and educational system. He argues that Western education, through perpetuating negative stereotypes and engendering ‘colonial mentality’, has neither fostered critical and scientific thinking, nor enabled Africans to apply their knowledge for development. Mental emancipation would enable Africans to develop self-confidence, and the critical examination of superstitious beliefs that have hindered Africa’s development. I show that Azikiwe’s ideas have been recaptured by African philosophers like Bodunrin and Wiredu, regarding their critique of aspects of African tradition and prescription for how African philosophy can contribute to development.