In March 2020, Melvin Richter, one of the founders of international, conceptual history passed away. This sad occasion makes it timely in our journal to reflect on the process that turned national projects within conceptual and intellectual history into an international and transnational enterprise. The text that follows—published in two parts, here and in the next issue—takes a closer look at the intellectual processes that led up to the founding meeting of the association behind our journal, the History of Concepts Group. It follows in the footsteps of Melvin Richter to examine the different encounters, debates and protagonists in the story of international, conceptual history. The text traces the different approaches that were brought to the fore and particularly looks at Melvin Richter’s efforts to bridge between an Anglophone tradition of intellectual history and a German tradition of Begriffsgeschichte.
Marie Paxton and Uğur Aytaç
George Robert Bateman, Jr., The Transformative Potential of Participatory Budgeting: Creating an Ideal Democracy.
Garett Jones, 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less.
An Analysis of the Newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun
Makoto Harris Takao
This article challenges claims that the Japanese neologism shūkyō (as a translation for “religion”) lacked an established nature prior to the twentieth century and had little to do with experiences of the urban masses. It accordingly problematizes the term as a largely legal concept, highlighting historical newspapers as underutilized sources that offer insight into Meiji popular discourse and attendant conceptualizations of “religion.” This article endorses a shift in both our chronological understanding of shūkyō’s conceptual history as well as its sociocultural mobility. By expanding the milieu understood as being familiar with debates on a range of “religious” issues, this article thereby offers a counter-narrative in which regular use of shūkyō begins to clearly emerge from the mid-1880s, exponentially increasing with the following decades.
Thematizing the Activity of Politics in the Plenary Debates of the German Bundestag
This article discusses the ways of conceptualizing politics in parliamentary debates. When the politics-vocabulary is ubiquitous in them, which kind of speech act lies in emphasizing the political aspect? Focusing on thematized uses allows us to identify conceptual revisions in the politics-vocabulary in digitalized plenary debates of the German Bundestag from 1949 to 2017. My fourfold scheme for conceptualizing politics (polity, policy, politicization, politicking) provides the analytical apparatus. The units of analysis in this study are compound words around politics written as single words, a German language specialty. Their frequency has remarkably risen in the Bundestag debates, and the search engine can easily find them. This research interest allows me to speculate with changes in the understanding and appreciation of politics in postwar (West)Germany.
A Critical Analysis of John Keane’s The New Despotism (Harvard University Press, 2020)
In his latest opus, The New Despotism, John Keane continues to challenge existing wisdom in the field of democratic theory and comparative political studies. One of the key insights of the book is that there is nothing inherently democratic about democratic innovations and procedures, and thus they can be used to prop up despotisms, rather than usher in democracy. While this insight comports with existing misgivings about elections, the book stands out in the way it explains the sustainability of using the democratic procedures in the new despotisms. For democratic procedures to further the aims of the new despotisms, the condition of “voluntary servitude” needs to be met. “Voluntary servitude” means that people willingly give in to political slavery, and become accomplices in maintaining the illusion that democratic procedures are implemented (215–222). Keane’s achievement is that he creates an analytical ecosystem of interlinked assumptions, observations, conditions, and other logical connectors, which make his model of the new despotism so robust.
Altman, David. 2018. Citizenship and Contemporary Direct Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dyck, Joshua, and Edward Lascher. 2019. Initiatives without Engagement: A Realistic Appraisal of Direct Democracy’s Secondary Effects. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Hollander, Saskia. 2019. The Politics of Referendum Use in European Democracies. London: Palgrave MacMillan.
Matsusaka, John G. 2020. Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Emily Beausoleil and Jean-Paul Gagnon
This 16th issue of Democratic Theory features three articles, a trialogue (our first), two review essays, and two book reviews.
The Conceptual Innovation of “Self-Management” in Soviet Estonia
The term “economic self-management” (in Estonian, isemajandamine ) stood at the center of economic and political debates in Soviet Estonia in 1987–1988. This article traces its transformation from an economic term to a political concept, reconstructing the intellectual resources that the reformers were drawing on in this process. Navigating the constraints of Soviet discourse, reform-minded academics in Soviet Estonia radically expanded the original meaning of isemajandamine, which ultimately provided an argumentative platform for declaring the republic’s “sovereignty” within the Soviet Union. The article brings out the linguistic, political, and transnational dimensions of this conceptual innovation, which started in 1987 and was completed when the law on the “economic independence” of the Baltic republics was adopted by the Soviet Union in 1989.
Against Functional and Global Solutions to the Boundary Problem in Democratic Theory
The boundary problem holds that, whatever the theory of democratic legitimacy, the initial act of constituting the demos can never be considered met by it. Many contemporary attempts to solve the boundary problem can be understood as falling into two categories: functional demos views and global demos views. This article argues against both views. Functional demos views exacerbate the legitimacy puzzle posed by the boundary problem, while a global democracy cannot be held democratically accountable by its citizens. In the place of global demos and functional demos views, we ought to examine the democratic legitimacy of polities in light of the standards of pluralist democracy. Pluralist democracy is a non-ideal conception of democracy that recognizes democratic procedures to be historically grounded, non-ideal, and problem-oriented.
The Preconditions for an Egalitarian, Multispecies, World
Sue Donaldson, Janneke Vink, and Jean-Paul Gagnon
Sue Donaldson, Janneke Vink, and Jean-Paul Gagnon discuss the problem of anthropocentric democratic theory and the preconditions needed to realize a (corrective) interspecies democracy. Donaldson proposes the formal involvement of nonhuman animals in political institutions—a revolutionary task; Vink argues for changes to the law that would cover nonhuman animals with inviolable political rights; and Gagnon advises a personal change to dietary choices (veganism) and ethical orientations (do no harm). Together, the three proposals point to a future position where humans can participate in a multispecies world in which nonhuman others are freed from our tyrannical grasp.