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On Mouffe's Agonism

Why It Is Not a Refutation of Consensus

George Vasilev

Chantal Mouffe's conceptualization of a deliberatively forged consensus as a hegemony and her assertion that adversarial politics best nurtures the conditions of freedom have had a profound influence on contemporary democratic thought. This article takes a critical view of this trend, arguing that a norm of consensus is a very precondition, rather than impediment, for the kind of pluralistic democracy Mouffe and other agonists wish to promote. It is asserted that Mouffe's dehistoricized refutation of consensus lacks causal or explanatory relevance to how concrete actors embedded in empirical situations relate to one another and that the very preparedness to find something acceptable about another is at the heart of what it means to treat others justly.

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The Emotional Disturbances of Old Age

On the Articulation of Old-Age Mental Incapacity in Eighteenth-Century Tuscany

Mariana Labarca

This article explores the role attributed to disturbed emotions in the understanding of old-age mental incapacity in eighteenth-century Tuscany. It claims that interdiction procedures provided a fertile forum for the negotiation of what constituted mental incapacity in old age, which progressively involved a discussion on accepted or proper emotional reactions. Delving into the language employed in interdiction narratives, it argues that references to disturbed emotional states were increasingly employed as a means of providing evidence of disordered states of mind. It also suggests that the constituent elements of mental incapacity and the emotional reactions deemed indicative of its presence were dependent on the familial and sociocultural context in which the behavior was identified. Interdictions thus reveal the articulation of a collective, culturally embedded language of mental incapacity that was profoundly entrenched in the formulation of behavioral norms and the shaping of standards of emotional reaction.

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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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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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Systematizing Democratic Systems Approaches

Seven Conceptual Building Blocks

Rikki Dean, Jonathan Rinne, and Brigitte Geissel

The notion that democracy is a system is ever present in democratic theory. However, what it means to think systemically about democracy (as opposed to what it means for a political system to be democratic) is under-elaborated. This article sets out a meta-level framework for thinking systemically about democracy, built upon seven conceptual building blocks, which we term (1) functions, (2) norms, (3) practices, (4) actors, (5) arenas, (6) levels, and (7) interactions. This enables us to systematically structure the debate on democratic systems, highlighting the commonalities and differences between systems approaches, their omissions, and the key questions that remain to be answered. It also enables us to push the debate forward both by demonstrating how a full consideration of all seven building blocks would address issues with existing approaches and by introducing new conceptual clarifications within those building blocks.

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Nancy S. Love, Sanford F. Schram, Anthony J. Langlois, Luis Cabrera, and Carol C. Gould

protections for individual rights from violations by other people and the state, Gould defends rights as “cosmopolitan moral and social norms” that set—or should set—the “goals for transnational institutions of social, political, and economic life” (6). Gould

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The Will of the People?

Carl Schmitt and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on a Key Question in Democratic Theory

Samuel Salzborn

,” so that selfishness becomes the norm and mob rule overrides “the will of the people.” For Schmitt, parliamentarianism is the antithesis of democracy, which for him, as for Rousseau, means absolute homogeneity of the community as well as identity

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The “Moral Effect” of Legalized Lawlessness

Violence in Britain’s Twentieth-Century Empire

Caroline Elkins

concerned.” 11 While the outcome of al-Husayni’s appeal hung in an international balance weighted by the realpolitik of fascism’s advances, so too was it calibrated within liberalism’s framework of permissible norms. These norms did not spring from Europe

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Monique Deveaux

readily carried over into political deliberation itself. As an ideal, democratic deliberation strives to ensure that political equals work through disagreements using norms of reciprocity and public reason; but in reality, power asymmetries and deep

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Alexander Weiss

phenomenon. This article argues, however, that these attempts often apply “bad universalism” by still employing concepts and norms rooted from Western historic experiences and, at the same time, account them universal. A theoretical and conceptual