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Alexander Weiss

Abstract

This article sketches a theoretical framework and research agenda for what is labeled as “Comparative Democratic Theory.” It is introduced as an approach to democratic theory which is informed by conceptual and methodological debates from “Comparative Political Theory” (CPT) as well as from insights from a global history of democratic thought. The inclusion of CPT perspectives into democratic theory is motivated by what is diagnosed as a conceptual blindness in Western democratic theory. When following this approach, however, the two extremes of unjustified universalism and normatively problematic relativism both must be avoided. To do so, a mode of sound abstraction is proposed, using the term “constellation,” and a discussion of aims and benefits of Comparative Democratic Theory is presented.

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Decolonising Borders

Re-imagining Strangeness and Spaces

John Sodiq Sanni

Abstract

This paper seeks to address the problem of strangeness within the context of migration in Africa. I draw on historical realities that inform existing international and African discourses on migration. I hope to show that most African countries have unconsciously bought into international arguments that drive the legitimacy of building walls, visible and invisible, and the promotion of stringent migration policies that minimise the influx of African immigrants. I draw on political and philosophical positions of African thinkers like Kwame Nkrumah, among others, in my theorisation of strangeness and the need to dispel the potential negative conception of strangeness within Africa's migration policies. I juxtapose these positions with Western political theories with the hope of emphasizing African humanism as a key conception worth considering when decolonising borders.

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Jean-Paul Gagnon

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Samuel Moyn and Jean-Paul Gagnon

Interview in Brief

Samuel Moyn provides insight into how the history of democracy can continue its globalization. There is a growing belief that the currently acceptable fund of ideas has not served the recent past well which is why an expansion, a planetary one, of democracy's ideas is necessary – especially now as we move deeper into the shadow of declining American/Western imperialism and ideology. Deciding which of democracy's intellectual traditions to privilege is driven by a mix of forced necessity and choice: finding salient ground for democracy is likely only possible in poisoned traditions including European ones.

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Francesco Maria Scanni and Francesco Compolongo

Abstract

The 2008 crisis and economic transformations (globalisation and financialisation) fuelled significant political phenomena, such as a deep distrust of politics, electoral volatility and the decline of bipolarity and/or bipartisanship in the face of growing outsider party affirmation. In this context, the dialectical model of the Gramscian ‘social totality’ provides an analytical tool capable of analysing those ‘transition’ phases characterised by a fracturing ‘dominant historical bloc’, in itself a precursor to an organic crisis of traditional political parties’ separation of social classes.

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The Limits of Liberal Democracy

Prospects for Democratizing Democracy

Viviana Asara

Abstract

This critical commentary discusses Stephan Lessenich's recent work on democracy. It argues that—to understand the structural boundaries of welfare capitalist democracy—we must critically unearth the limits of liberal democracy. This article first maintains that the absence of an economic democratization dimension is an outcome of liberal democracy's shrinking of the meaning of the political. It next claims that defining democracy in terms of rights does not duly consider how these unfolded historically and recently, nor clarifies their relation with negative freedom. The article then contends that the environmentally destructive dialectic of democracy and the belittlement of reproductive work stem from the constitution of a narrowly defined economic sphere, from which “reproductive activities” are excluded. Finally, the text reflects on what “democratizing democracy” should entail.

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Neoliberalism, Hedonism and the Dying Public

Reclaiming Political Agency through the Exercise of Courage

Grant M. Sharratt and Erik Wisniewski

Abstract

While the pursuit of hedonism is legitimated by neoliberal governmentality, its disciplining and isolating forces prevent individuals from being fulfilled by their pursuit of pleasure. Concomitantly, this hedonism (pursuing pleasure to avoid pain) causes individuals to withdraw from public political life. In this article we argue that, instead of attempting to pursue pleasure through the experience of material comfort, individuals ought to orient themselves towards membership in substantive political associations. Further, we argue that it is through such membership that one can attain genuine fulfilment, while simultaneously reclaiming agency, both on individual and collective terms. Though individuals must be willing to take on the risk of pain, their membership in substantive political associations provides genuine fulfilment, while also allowing for the construction of new worlds through political action.

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Neoliberalism, the Left and the Rise of the Far Right

On the Political and Ideological Implications of Capitalism's Subordination of Democracy

Costas Panayotakis

Abstract

After analyzing the tension between capitalism and liberal democracy, this article explores two ways that the political left has tried to navigate this tension. Both these strategies prevent parties of the left and the center-left from exposing capitalism's undemocratic implications, while also helping to discredit political democracy. Unable to unify working people and ordinary citizens against the suffering that capitalism inflicts on them, the left inadvertently makes it possible for the far right to channel people's discontent in ways that attack liberal democracy and turn working people against each other. Last but not least, the discrediting of democracy that results from these processes gives rise to a vicious cycle by also encouraging the adoption of neoliberal policies, which further intensify the subordination of democratically elected governments to capitalist interests.

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Professor Anna Stilz and Interviewed by Dr Christine Hobden

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Tolerating the Conditionally Tolerant

The Uneasy Case of Salvation Religions

William A. Edmundson

Abstract

How can a tolerant, liberal political culture tolerate the presence of only conditionally tolerant illiberal sub-cultures while remaining true to its principles of tolerance? The problem falls within the intersection of two developments in the thinking of two of the leading anglophone philosophers of the last half-century, Bernard Williams and John Rawls. Rawls, particularly, struggled with the problem of how a liberal society might stably survive the clash of plural sub-cultures that a liberal society – unless it is oppressively coercive – must itself foster and allow to flourish. And he separately struggled with the problem of how liberal peoples might peacefully share the planet with illiberal, but “decent” peoples elsewhere. This article shows that Rawls's two solutions do not easily mix, and argues that state-approved early education must do more than merely to inform children that losing their faith will not land them in jail.