Democracy has functioned both as a legitimizing norm and as a practice of resistance. The tension between the two has resurfaced in the recent popular uprisings that took the form of occupations of public squares. This article focuses on the occupation of Syntagma Square in Athens and the Aganaktismenoi movement that enacted it. The event of the occupation turned Syntagma Square into a stage of a “real democracy,” redefining in the process not only basic political notions like that of “public space” and “citizenship” but the political imagination. In this respect, Syntagma Square became a site for the emergence of an emancipatory politics that pointed beyond the current model of liberal democracy. However, the failure of the movement to achieve its goals and withstand repression offers the occasion for some critical reflections on the project of a “real democracy,” the positive political prescription uniting the squares movement.
The Aganaktismenoi of Greece and the Squares Movement(s)
Taking Stock and Looking Ahead - Selen A. Ercan with André Bächtiger
Selen A. Ercan and André Bächtiger
Deliberative democracy is a growing branch of democratic theory. It suggests understanding and assessing democracy in terms of the quality of communication among citizens, politicians, as well as between citizens and politicians. In this interview, drawing on his extensive research on deliberative practice within and beyond parliaments, André Bächtiger reflects on the development of the field over the last two decades, the relationship between normative theory and empirical research, and the prospects for practicing deliberation in populist times.
Political Representation beyond Representative Democracy
At a time when representative democracies are in deep crisis, this article examines the debate over representation as it appears in contemporary Marxist and poststructuralist political thought. The article discusses, more specifically, Ernesto Laclau’s defense of political representation and pits this against Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s vision of an “absolute democracy” beyond representation, in order to chart a path between and beyond both contrasting positions. The crux of the argument is that in participatory democracies political governance becomes a common affair: a public good accessible to all members of a community on the basis of equality. Such a democratic regime contrasts with both representative democracies, where the assembled demos is excluded from any effective participation in the everyday exercise of major political power, as well as direct democracy, where the collective sovereign would be fully present to itself, total and undivided. Common political representation is open to all, inclusive, participatory, and accountable.
Allan C. Hutchinson and Joel Colón-Ríos
The relationship between democracy and constitutions is a long and fractious one. Those who lean towards the constitutionalist side have tended to perceive democracy as a threat to political order and the preservation of important values, whereas those who take a more democratist stance tend to treat constitutions as elite hindrances to popular rule as much as anything else. In this paper, we will give the constitutionalist thesis a broader theoretical and political scrutiny. By way of explanation, we will address and recommend the possibilities and problems for putting into practical operation such an anti-constitutionalist stance; the recent experience of the U.S. State of California offers itself as a good forcing-ground for these ideas. In short, from a democratic standpoint, the challenge for the citizenry is not so much about defining the values of constitutions, but constitutions whose change is outside the scope of popular decision making, supposed to exclusively take place through judicial interpretation or through an amendment formula designed precisely to make change difficult and unlikely. Too often, constitutions place checks and limits on democratic participation in the name of some other set of vaunted truths or elite-favouring values. For the strong democrat, it is formal constitutions and their institutional paraphernalia that do more to inhibit and dull democracy's emancipatory potential than to nurture and fulfil it.
In this critical commentary, John Keane defends, extends, and reasserts the role of history in democratic theory through an articulation of seven methodological rules: (1) treat the remembrance of things past as vital for democracy’s present and future; (2) regard the languages, characters, events, institutions, and effects of democracy as a thoroughly historical way of life and handling of power; (3) pay close attention to the ways in which the narration of the past by historians, leaders, and others is unavoidably a time-bound, historical act; (4) see that the methods that are most suited to writing about the past, present, and future of democracy draw attention to the peculiarity of their own rules of interpretation; (5) acknowledge that, until quite recently, most details of the history of democracy have been recorded by its critics; (6) note that the negative tone of most previous histories of democracy confirms the rule that tales of its past told by historians often harbor the prejudices of the powerful; and (7) admit that the task of thinking about the past, present, and future of democracy is by definition an unending journey. There can be no Grand Theory of Democracy.
The Unavoidable Democracy of Mid-Nineteenth-Century Denmark
Anne Engelst Nørgaard
Democracy became a popular and highly contested concept in the Danish-speaking parts of the Danish monarchy in 1848. For a brief time, it went from being an occasional guest in political language to a popular concept in the constitutional struggle of 1848–1849. This article argues democracy became attached to an equally popular concept of the time, movement, when introduced into everyday political communication in Denmark. In this context, democracy became a name for the movement observed in Europe and in the Danish monarchy. The article identifies three main interpretations of democracy that occurred in the Danish constitutional struggle of 1848–1849 and argues the battle over the constitution was essentially a battle over how one interpreted the past, the present, and the future. Democracy became a key term in this battle in 1848 Denmark.
The Dynamics of Political Alienation
Gerry Stoker and Mark Evans
Contemporary political scientists have observed a democratic paradox that has crystallized around the disconnection between how citizens imagine their democracy and how politics is practiced. Citizens continue to believe in the values of liberal democracy but are increasingly disillusioned with how their political systems work and the politics that are practiced in the name of democracy. This article revisits the root causes of political alienation to better understand this democratic paradox. It provides both a conceptual understanding of political alienation and its domain of action and insights into how the concept can be operationalized and measured in empirical research. It argues that while democracy itself may not be in crisis, the politics on which its operation rests is in peril.
Deleuze, Badiou, Rancière and Tahrir Square, 2011
How should one make theoretical sense of what has been called 'the miracle of Tahrir Square' – the fact that the Egyptian people successfully ousted a dictator in a peaceful manner, where militant groups had failed to do so by force? In this article it is argued that Deleuze/Guattari's notion of the subject in terms of desiring-machines, flows, schizophrenic production and the 'body-without-organs', enables one to theorise human subjectivity as being in process, and not 'self-identical', as mainstream thinking would have it. Deleuze's thought on societies of control further suggests the concept of rhizomatic lines of subversion of hegemonic networks from within the latter. Further, Alain Badiou's consonant conception of the subject – as one of multiple 'emplacements' – represents a spatial perspective on individual subjects which similarly eschews the pitfalls of an abstract notion of human subjectivity in favour of one that conceives of the subject as inescapably 'placed' in multiple spatial coordinates, as it were. In addition, Jacques Rancière's radicalisation of 'politics' in terms of 'equality' and 'dissensus' enables one to grasp the fleeting events of Tahrir Square as paradigmatic of 'true' democracy. In this way these theoretical positions provide a model that is commensurate with evidence that the 2011 Egyptian uprising avoided the trap of hierarchical thinking and practice, pursuing the goal of political liberation and (radical) democratisation along non-hierarchical, 'leaderless', complex, rhizomatic communicational networks instead. This avoided the paralysing tendency to think and behave on the basis of oppositionally conceived, mutually exclusive adversarial agencies – the 'us' and 'them' syndrome. The article explores the implications of this complex notion of subjectivity, on the one hand, in relation to the radical democratic practice displayed in Tahrir Square, on the other.
Comparable Practices, Contested Meanings
Ian Shapiro identifies three traditions of democratic thought: aggregative, deliberative, and minimalist. All three are apparent in the Pacific Islands despite most commentators and donors assuming that the meaning of democracy is fixed. The focus in development studies on institutions and their capacity to deliver pro-poor growth has generated a fourth tradition that revolves around the now pervasive governance concept. Rather than focusing on the general will of a sovereign people, this perspective is predominately concerned with the legitimate use of violence as a precursor to any development-orientated democratic state. Having reviewed the literature on democracy in the Pacific to parse out these four meanings, this article concludes that paying greater attention to this ideational equivocality would extend discussions about the suitability and transferability of this type of regime.
The article deals with Mohandas K. Gandhi's theory of democracy and its related civic practices. It indicates the relation between Gandhi's idea of civic duty and his idea of democracy, and argues that few would dispute that Gandhi was one of the most original and transformative thinkers of democracy. The article maintains that among his many notable contributions, Gandhi is rightly credited with emphasizing on the ideas of citizenship duty, truth in politics, genuine self-rule, and ethically enlightened democracy. In addition to advocating self-sustaining villages and communal cooperation, Gandhi developed an idea of non-liberal democracy reducing individualism, economic greed, and laissez-faire by insisting on a duty oriented and spiritually empowered participative democracy. Nearly seven decades after his death, Gandhi stands as one of the most significant and relevant non-Western theorist of democracy.