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Conceptual History and Politics

Is the Concept of Democracy Essentially Contested?

Oliver Hidalgo

This article surveys the history of the concept of democracy from Ancient times to the present. According to the author, the conceptual history of democracy shows that the overwhelming success of the concept is most of all due to its ability to subsume very different historical ideas and realities under its semantic field. Moreover, the historical evolution of the concept reveals that no unequivocal definition is possible because of the significant paradoxes, aporias, and contradictions it contains. These are popular sovereignty vs. representation, quality vs. quantity, liberty vs. equality, individual vs. collective, and, finally, the synchronicity between similarities and dissimilarities. The ubiquitous usage of democracy in present-day political language makes it impossible to speak of it from an external perspective. Thus, both democratic theory and practice are suffused with empirical and normative elements.

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Craig Parsons

Erik Oddvar Eriksen and John Erik Fossum, eds., Democracy in the European Union (New York: Routledge, 2000)

Dusan Sidjanski, The Federal Future of Europe: From the European Community to the European Union (Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press, 2000)

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Deliberative Democracy

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.

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Maurizio Passerin d'Entrèves

This article examines the question of justice in democratic constitutional states from the standpoint of a theory of deliberative democracy. Its aim is to show that the validity of a conception of justice and the legitimacy of political institutions and public policies based upon it can best be defended on the basis of a normative theory of deliberative democracy. This theory, I shall argue, is superior to the two main normative models of justification that appeal to the ideal of neutrality (Rawls, Larmore, Nagel) or to the ideal of perfectionism (Raz, Galston).

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Teppo Eskelinen

This article focuses in the allocation of financial risks from the viewpoint of social justice. In contemporary society, finance and the related risk allocation patterns have become highly important in determining the social positions of individuals. Yet it is somewhat unclear how ‘financial risks’ should be understood in normative theory and to what extent their allocation is a specific problem of justice. This article consists of a definition of this category and a typology of three different and distinctive perspectives to financial risks and social justice, out of which a synthesis is drawn. The contribution of the article is to propose a normative basis for a research programme on risks and justice in the society of high financialisation.

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Jean-François Grégoire

In an effort towards developing a normative theory of federalism, this paper offers a critical assessment of the work of Will Kymlicka and Ferran Requejo in order to show the progress and failures of liberal nationalist authors on issues raised by the normative dimensions of federalism in Western multinational contexts. More exactly, the paper argues that both authors fail to give a complete theory of federalism because the liberal conception of self-determination as non-interference can only create superficial unity and contingent trust, especially in multinational contexts, where non-interference is to regulate relations between particular identities and conceptions of citizenship. Drawing on this critical assessment of liberal nationalism, I argue that the neo-republican ideal of non-domination, as developed by Philip Pettit (1997, 2012), provides us not only with the adequate normative heuristics to assess national rights of self-determination, but also international relations and the institutional conditions needed to create binding trust within multinational federal constellations.

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Paul Voice

Political philosophy has been under the sway of a certain picture since Rawls’s A Theory of Justice was published in 1971. This picture combines the idea that the problem of justice should be approached from the direction of ideal normative theory, and that there are some anchoring ideas that secure the justificatory role of a hypothetical agreement. I think this picture and the hold it has over political philosophy is beginning to fragment. This fragmentation I think is most evident in the skepticism that has become a routine response to the Kantian idea that ‘we’ can ‘discover’ the terms of an agreement that has both a categorical force and a universal scope. But as the picture fragments we are still left with the framework and vocabulary of Rawls’s difficult and elaborate theory. The major difficulty confronting the Rawlsian project (the problem of pluralism as I will argue below) is itself defined in terms of Rawls’s conceptual language. And this serves only to obscure the real challenge and keep us ‘bewitched’ by Rawls’s narrow way of seeing issues. In being bewitched in this way we do not see that the problem of pluralism confronts Rawls’s project as a whole, rather than requiring adjustments and accommodations.

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Christian B. Miller

While Richard Rorty’s general views on truth, objectivity, and relativism continue to attract much attention from professional philosophers, some of his contributions to ethical theory have thus far been remarkably neglected. In other work, I have begun the task of sketching what a Rortyan approach to traditional questions in meta-ethics might look like.1 Here, however, I shall attempt to summarize and evaluate some of the contributions that Rorty has made to important debates in first-order normative theory. More specifically, my attention will be devoted primarily to the question of what moral obligations of respect and tolerance, if any, we have towards those who act out of moral frameworks which are divergent from our own. The paper proceeds in three parts. In the first section, I suggest that one promising way of approaching ethical issues about tolerance is through the somewhat novel strategy of first clearly differentiating the various forms of moral relativism. With this background in place, we can then proceed in section two to the details of Rorty’s own view. Finally, the paper concludes with some worries about the plausibility, coherence, and stability of Rorty’s positive proposal.