A conventional story is often told about democracy. It is a story that begins somewhere in the West, some millennia ago. From there, or so this telling goes, democracy spread across the continents; traversing from the familiar epicenters of Western civilization—Athens, London, Washington, Versailles—to the exotic and sometimes alien cultural landscapes in the East. The idea that such a model of democracy, based on an essentially Western set of ideals and practices, could one day become universal was perhaps unthinkable to most democrats before the twentieth century. However, today there is very little doubt that democracy on a global scale is both assured and desirable. But there should be no confusion here: this story of democratization, and the projection of democracy’s global future, is one premised on “the export of democratic institutions, developed within a particular cultural context in the West,” that has as its culmination “the end of history” and the triumph of Western liberal democracy in all corners of the globe (Lamont et al. 2015: 1).
Mark Chou and Emily Beausoleil
Democratic Theory in a Time of Defiance
Jean-Paul Gagnon and Emily Beausoleil
The field of democratic theory is blossoming with strategies to resist violence against democracy and to revivify those democratic institutions that would benefit from conceptual and/or practical reform. We find ourselves not in a period of democratic despondency and political disarray, as less circumspect cynics would have it, but rather in a vitalizing time of defiance. There is power in this. To defy in the name of democracy is to oppose “truthiness,” confront arbitrary decision making, disobey illogic, and dissent from any policy that will, to use Dewey’s phraseology, constitute treason to our democratic ways of life. A time of defiance invites us all to be daring in our compassion for each other, bold in how we explore and care for the many—and diverse—meanings of democracy, audacious in our gentleness toward the earth, and courageous in our advocacy for that paradoxical but poignant practice of democratizing democracy wheresoever and whensoever this need should arise.
A state of the field review (2008-2018)
Jean-Paul Gagnon, Emily Beausoleil, Kyong-Min Son, Cleve Arguelles, Pierrick Chalaye and Callum N. Johnston
Both “populism” and “populist” have long been considered ill-defined terms, and therefore are regularly misapplied in both scholarly and popular discourses.1 This definitional difficulty is exacerbated by the Babelian confusion of voices on populism, where the term’s meaning differs within and between global regions (e.g. Latin America versus Western Europe); time periods (e.g. 1930s versus the present), and classifications (e.g. left/ right, authoritarian/libertarian, pluralist/antipluralist, as well as strains that muddy these distinctions such as homonationalism, xenophobic feminism and multicultural neonationalism). While useful efforts have been made to navigate the vast and heterogeneous conceptual terrain of populism,2 they rarely engage with each other. The result is a dizzying proliferation of different definitions unaccompanied by an understanding as to how they might speak to each other. And this conceptual fragmentation reinforces, and is reinforced by, diverging assessments of populism which tend to cast it as either “good” or “bad” for democracy (e.g. Dzur and Hendriks 2018; Müller 2015).