Tag Archives: Democracy

An Introductory Note

This special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contains selected proceedings from three research circles within the Nordic Summer University (NSU): Human Rights and International RelationsUnderstanding Migration in Nordic and Baltic Countriesand Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance. The meetings took place in Saulkrasti, Latvia, from 29/7 to 2/8 2017 and in Copenhagen, Denmark, from 2/2 to 4/2 2018.

The program of the research circle, Human Rights and International Relations, ran from 2015 to 2017. This circle explored how human rights militancy and more generally the protection of human rights are affected by the international human rights regime and the way this regime enters state relations, and it also examined how the international human rights regime modifies the relations between states and how this is explained in international relations theory.

Understanding Migration in Nordic and Baltic Countries runs from 2017 to 2019. This circle addresses contemporary migration through the lens of representation. Interpreted broadly as various means of capturing, contextualizing, interpreting, and defining people, institutions, politics, and histories, representation should encompass both tangible renderings – such as photographs and films – and also a wide range of practices and processes whose representational forms serve in specific ways to produce the subject matter itself.

The study circle about the Patterns of Dysfunction in Contemporary Democracies; Impact on Human Rights and Governance runs from 2018 to 2020. This circle endeavours to study different patterns of dysfunction in contemporary democracies and in particular the insidious processes which undermine the traditional canons of liberal democracy, notably encapsulated in the rule of law and human rights. Many factors are involved in these insidious processes and the state of the various democracies can be seen as nodal points between different factors that are criss-crossing and thus creating a unique constellation: populism, nationalism, corruption, fear, social isolation, ignorance, poverty, luxury, injustice, rootlessness in its various forms are signs of unbalances within democracies on both the global, national and local levels.

The contributions from these circles evolve around the issues of human rights, democracy (including citizenship) and religion.

Jean-Pierre Cléro approaches democracy from the perspective of generational justice. Acquired pensions rights collide with the constraints of democracy and create dilemmas. Lucas L. O. Cardiell addresses other kinds of dilemmas when measures of citizen deprivation send the international protection of citizens’ rights on collision course with citizenship as the domaine réservé of states. Eyassu Gayim studies the contentious issues behind and between democracy and human rights and considers the possible conflicts involved in using the Human Rights-Based Approach to measure democracy.

Julio Jensen examines the origins of human rights and points at the important work of Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria as initiators of a certain kind of resistance against state power. Marianna Barchuk-Halyk approach human rights from the increasingly important notion of human security and the new UN doctrine about the Responsibility to Protect. Magdalena Tabernacka examines the human right of freedom of religion, and emphasizes the discrepancy found in Poland between the formal adoption of relevant legal measures and the effective protection of the right.

Giorgio Baruchello addresses religious and philosophical beliefs about abortion and their relation to claims about human rights, and how possible conflicts spell out in various social contexts. Welfare provisions and positive attitudes to pregnancy tend to make abortion less necessary. Magdalena Tabernacka discusses the implementation of religious freedom  in Poland and how circumstances and will impact the effective implementation of this freedom. Julio Jensen considers how an egalitarian tradition within Judeo-Christian thinking has inspired resistance against state power.

The special issue contains the following papers

Jean-Pierre Cléro

University of Rouen, France

Democracy Put to the Test of Age

A Case Study Concerning the Dysfunction of Modern Democracy

Abstract:  After having defined with some degree of precision the concept of a dysfunction which has a very particular meaning within politics, since a regime – be it democratic – can bring forth situations which over time will not be sustainable, we will analyse the case of the retirement pension system in which the generation at work takes care of the generation not working any more. This care meets with some particular difficulties linked to inequalities in what regards economy, politics (resulting from demography), health and social conditions. Certainly, these inequalities can be covered up for some time by a play of fictions which is partly analysed here. A situation seemingly without future considering the age pyramid is strangely enough viable in fact as certain sociological studies have shown, and we endeavour to find a clue to this fact in a dialogue between two persons, who separated by about forty years cross their points of view on how contemporary relations between generations play out. However, we are not quite sure that this play between fictions is a full substitute for the economic realities. We outline here some first steps in an area rich with contradictions, which we endeavour to illuminate by some elements of a theory of fictions.

Julio Jensen

University of Copenhagen, Denmark

A Note on the Origins of Human Rights:

Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria

Abstract: In the wake of the Spanish arrival in America, a controversy arose with respect to the legitimacy of the conquest and the colonial rule. This debate was started by the Dominicans in the New World, who denounced the oppression of the native population. The most renowned participants in these discussions were Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria. The former received the title of “Defender of the Indians”, while the latter is remembered as a central figure in the foundation of international law. Through the debates concerning the conquest of America, one precondition – noted by Habermas – for the emergence of human rights is explored namely resistance against state power on the basis of the egalitarian tradition belonging to Judeo-Christian thinking.

Lucas L. O. Cardiell

Migration Institute of Finland

Citizenship Deprivation: A Violation of Human Rights?

Abstract: In the past few years, the issue of citizenship deprivation has risen considerably on the agenda of the international community following the recent terrorist attacks in many States. Many citizens have been deprived of their nationality based on involvement in terrorist activities or possibly on the ground of national security. In consequence, an increasing body of legal and political discourse on citizenship deprivation has been added to the literature and the academic discussions on the topic at hand. This paper argues that despite the progress in IL/IHRL, which usually creates limitations in the attribution and deprivation of citizenship, the right to citizenship falls within the domaine réservé of states. It also argues that even though there are certain legal instruments that prohibit nationality deprivation resulting in statelessness, as of the 1961 statelessness convention, the issue of nationality deprivation most likely creates a legal vacuum for individuals concerned when the acquisition of other rights is necessarily linked to nationality.

Magdalena Tabernacka

Uniwersytet Wrocławski, Poland

The Human Right to Freedom of Religion in the Polish Education System

Abstract: Teaching religion in public schools has a significant bearing on the implementation of the individual’s right to freedom of religion and belief. Even if the state outlines a model for teaching religion that is compliant with the standards for the protection of human rights, an infringement of these rights may occur due to faulty execution of the existing provisions.  The fact that a given belief system obtains the status of a majority religion does not exempt the state from its obligation to ensure the effective protection of the rights of non-believers and members of minority religions.

Marianna Barchuk-Halyk

Precarpathian National University named after

Vasyl Stefanyk, city of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine

Human Rights as a Part of the Human Security of Ukraine

Abstract. The paper is dedicated to questions of human security, the importance of which grows in international relations, yet its legal and political meanings remain ambiguous. The human security concept is about the protection of a human being or a minority group conceived as the responsibility of the states, or the international community, when the national governments cannot guarantee this security or when they consciously violate these rights. The concept of Responsibility to Protect is connected with human security. The concept is about the state’s duty to ensure the security of a person.

Giorgio Baruchello

University of Akureyri, Iceland

Religious Belief, Human Rights, and Social Democracy: Catholic Reflections on Abortion in Iceland

Terms such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” evoke animated responses in the Anglophone world and can even win, or lose, major elections to political parties, candidates and movements. In the Nordic countries, however, the same terms and related responses are generally perceived as academic, at best, or as American, at worst. The issue of abortion seems to have been settled long ago in the Nordic context, both legally and, above all, socially. Does it mean that it has also been settled ethically? I argue that this is far from being the case and present an Iceland-based approach to the issue that, while leaving women’s rights and freedoms untouched, can accommodate to a worthy extent the defence of Scandinavian-style social democracy as well as  the traditional Catholic opposition to abortion.

Eyassu Gayim

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Democracy, Human Rights and the UN Human Rights-Based Approach

Although democracy and human rights are universally shared values, their content has always been contested. The controversy concerns the nature of the human being, how the self relates to the community and the state, and how social and political relations should be formed. The UN followed its own political philosophy regarding this when the international regime of human rights was developed by acknowledging individual and people’s rights and democracy. This study highlights the core contentious issues behind democracy and human rights, how these concepts are intertwined and what the implications of using the Human Rights-Based Approach is to measure democracy.”

Democracy Put to the Test of Age: A Case Study Concerning the Dysfunction of Modern Democracy

« Il y a deux sortes de maladies. L’une est produite par une cause étrangère qui apporte le désordre, l’autre par une partie trop vigoureuse qui jette le trouble dans la machine, c’est un citoyen trop puissant dans la démocratie. La matrice est saine, mais son action est trop forte pour le reste ».

Diderot D., Éléments de physiologie, Paris, Honoré Champion, 2004, p. 349.

 

A dysfunction is not only something that goes wrong. It is not just about not knowing how to implement rules, misusing them or enforcing them wrongly. It is not about contravening the rules; it is rather about how the function of rules provokes a deadlock and impossibilities, such as the jamming of a mechanism in accordance with its own rules. So technical objects dysfunction when they fight against themselves and each other, and they do this as long as they have not reached their equilibrium point; as long as the crisis of these struggling principles is not yet resolved. There are illnesses where the organism of the patient fights against itself and obstructs its own life while working according to the principle or the principles that sustain its life processes. The same is the case in states considered as  societies, though in accordance with the analyses of Stuart Mill, these can be taken neither as machines nor as living beings.[1]

My aim in this paper is to consider the dysfunction of democracy in relation to the generation gap. I will do that with a case, abstractedly singled out, that is really interlinked with all sorts of phenomena and which has – to use a causalist vocabulary, which is not necessarily accurate – sundry effects. Democracies are sensitive to what is often called the generation gap and this makes them vulnerable, perhaps they will be more and more vulnerable. Here we encounter a difficulty: what do we mean when we speak about generations? Do we point to a reality or are we faced with a sort of illusion that makes us consider older people as an indistinct mass we are neither close to nor anxious to join one day? The other way around, when we become old, it is the turn of the younger people to be considered as a mass on which we depend for our livelihood, particularly when we are no longer working, and they are not supposed to be hostile, but at least an uncertain and precarious support. It may, of course, be said that democracy, because of its political structure, evens out such dissensions: is there not a tacit underlying contract in which everybody promises to contribute to the life and well-being of others when they are unable to do so by themselves, since they have contributed to the conditions of life and well-being of those who could not – or which society esteemed could not – provide for themselves? This contract draws its value from the principle and the fact that, in a democracy every vote or every opinion counts as one vote or as one opinion; and it draws its chances of being accepted from exactly this fact or this principle. But, as we shall see, it might be just this contractual ideology, through which we envisage democracy and believe it to be effective, that constitutes the very difficulty making the older generations fear the younger and the younger generations envy the older while feeling at the same time a hatred or anger that is not necessarily ill-founded.

 

I.

David Hume was the first to demonstrate in a very subtle way a relative incompatibility between a contractual conception of democracy and the demographic realities. In his famous essay, The Original Contract, he showed that generations of butterflies may draw up contractual relations, because all the full-grown butterflies come out of their chrysalises practically at the same time, and that, if these insects had to contract forms of government, they could do so in committing themselves to the others, without contradictorily constraining those who could not negotiate the contract before entering into it; whereas human beings, entering diffusely into mixed generations, are forced, by the very structure of their birth, to negotiate with everyone what they enforce the younger generations to recognize, on pain of being obliged, every day, to renegotiate the contract. Hume drew the consequence that a state can neither be thought nor lived in a contractual way and that, for this reason, democracy is nothing but an illusion. It is not possible, in his opinion, that political links may be thought of or lived as a game between freedom (understood as autonomy) and equality. Mutatis mutandis, our societies have made the reverse ideological choice and they believe or pretend to believe in the possibility of democracy and in its reality; but they cannot escape the problem they will thus encounter.

Indeed, the constant and diffuse transition from one age to another blurs for every individual any contractual relation between one age bracket and another. For greater convenience, these age brackets are called generations. A state may decide, at a given moment, by law, that everyone has the right to retire or even the obligation to cease to work at a definite age that may be fixed by mutual consent, as it is proper in a democracy. In other words, a middle generation may and must accept to take care of other generations; both, the younger generation that has not yet worked, but is learning trades, and the older generation that has already worked and that is no longer fit to work or is considered unfit to work, and having, in any case, no longer the duty to do so. This middle generation accepts this caretaking because its members know that they will be treated in the same way afterwards by the upcoming generation and because they also know that the older generation they are committed to support has already supported a generation older than itself. If the law is sufficiently precise and definite, and if no disaster erupts and massively kills a great part of the population, whatever be this part, one may predict the number of transitions in the category of those who will be supported after having supported others and being helped by themselves by paying a contribution to a pension fund. But what is difficult to insert into a law, what is difficult to foresee and to take into account – because that would amount to making the contract too vague and volatile – is, for instance, the increase in human life expectancy.  Thanks to medical progress, for which everyone may be delighted, though not without reservation[2], women’s and men’s life expectancy has become longer and has increased rapidly, more rapidly for women (whose life expectancy is about 85in France and, more generally, in most of European countries) than for men (nearly 80) – and this phenomenon inevitably increases the responsibility on the part of those working compared to what it was for previous generations who are now under their care. Furthermore, the members of our hedonist or eudemonist societies – at least ideologically hedonist or eudemonist, but this ideology is not of little consequence – know that it is better, in order to be happy, that a family should not have too many children. Thus the population pyramid in many societies looks like a sort of ace of diamonds whose base is narrower and narrower, the middle stages more and more filled and the summit higher and slender. In other words, the basis of those who have the responsibility – and moreover, of those who will have the responsibility – of the generations that do not work, or that will not work, is more and more narrow, while the responsibility they assume becomes heavier. The hedonism of some might be painful for others.

We can see where the dysfunction is: contracts, even drawn up with full legitimacy between generations, quickly lapse because of the obstinacy of facts themselves (the increase of life expectancy, for instance). The observance of drawn up contracts, the fulfilment by the state of its commitments, may be the reason for an aggravation of this phenomenon. Indeed, a generation may negotiate with another regarding its members’ comfortable pensions in order for them to lose no advantage compared with the salaries received when they were actively employed; it may regard as justified, when the time comes, that the contract should be honoured, because of the promise given in the past. However, the reality itself may invalidate the fulfilment of contracts when a generation becomes crushed by taxation, by other burdens (payment for old people’s homes, payment for the education of children that stay a longer time in the family because of the increase in time of study) or when obliged to give up what constituted its reasons for working. When a generation claims its happiness, another is pressured to pay the price for it.

Here I notice – and this is the point where Hume was right when he criticized a pure cultivation of equality to the detriment of all other considerations – that the best principle may, purely and solely cultivated, become the worst in certain circumstances, if it is not limited by other principles. But, on the one hand, by which principles? And, on the other hand, in what way? By Rawlsian lexicality? By a vector product? Furthermore: even if the principles were rightly bound together, there would remain a gap between this synthesis and the fact that it happens in circumstances which are always different.[3]

 

II.

It may be said, however, and to a certain extent with good reason, that the benefit and strength of democracies are precisely their capacity for posing these problems and attempting to solve them through negotiations between citizens that unceasingly envisage the questions and deal with them in the best interest of everyone as equals. I agree, but they might very well encounter the difficulty well highlighted by Hume in his challenge of democracy.

If, in a democracy, every citizen has one vote and if no vote counts more than another, it is clear that the majority of elderly people in comparison with the working generations may crush the ballot of those working generations and reduce to nothing the well-founded will to renegotiate contracts,[4]particularly when we know that non-voters are recruited from young people. Those who support the heavier charges, because they are of an age to work, may have most difficulty in being heard in the cacophony of interests. They may even have the feeling that democracies, because of their majority vote, are nothing but authoritarian machines that silence them, preventing them from participating in the happiness they mainly contribute to producing for others by their efforts. They feel it like an unjust sacrifice that constrains them without the least hope of benefiting from the same advantages they give to others because they are not encouraged to have children; so they despair of politics. The only place where they could have found a solution is spoiled by the problem itself.

This is a concrete place where a well-grounded distinction may be found that, abstractly considered, would seem pointless. It is well known that Rousseau distinguished between the will of alland the general will; the former being the addition of everybody’s interests and of the group’s interests (families, churches, corporations, companies, trade unions, syndicates, parties), while the latter is supposed to associate the thoughts that everyone has conceived, not in his own interest, but in the interest of the whole collectivity. So laws are valuable only when they are laid down from that latter point of view. A bundle of interests – be it the majority – can never lead but to a disaster. A decision may engage the collectivity, not only when it is the majority decision, but also when it is made by every citizen with full knowledge of the matter. In democracy, in order to be valuable for the entire collectivity, a decision must be understood by everyone and discussed among its members; it must not merely be the effect of the weight of the greater number.[5]Such a ballot is dangerous and only feigns democracy when it replaces discussion. This is perhaps the specific contribution of Stuart Mill to the distinction Rousseau drew between the two types of will. It is only through discussion among well-informed people that an acceptable position may be arrived at, provided everyone agrees that what seemed to be well-balanced at the moment might be changed when it becomes unbalanced.

Moreover, I shall here sketch a proposal that perhaps will be taxed with egalitarianism. Of course, many people admit that unequal working conditions are scandalous, even though most democracies suffer from too large a disparity in wages or from other social inequalities. But these inequalities become more flagrant and unacceptable, where they are imposed by a majority consisting of non-workers on retirement. How could one accept that some people should work for others who, although they do not do anything anymore that could be assimilated to paid work on the marketplace, receive sums of money which are much higher than the former’s wages? How could one accept that the non-work of some be better paid than the non-work of others? It is as if a sort of inertia principle is absurdly at work where the inequalities of the time when men were working pass on to the time when they have ceased to work.

Objections will be raised that the issue here is not one of inertia, but a contract formed by the will of the parties; that the forecasting of this time of non-work is included in the wages or salaries paid to those still at work, and that, consequently, it is not abnormal that this contribution to a pension fund during the work period sets off the inequality regarding the period of non-work by which we are presently scandalized. But this should not prevent us from raising the question of the justice of such a transfer: Why should the time of non-work not be a time to lessen the inequalities, since they are then much less acceptable? The fate of those who need the most help, even if they have worked for a time as long as the others, is much more cruel during the time of powerlessness, because they are old and ill, than the destiny of the well-to-do that are better cured and cared for, even though they might be struck down by the same diseases. I only touch on the subject here of the long search for a decent retirement home for dependent elderly people (what is called EHPAD[6]in France), when they must wait in a hospital for a nursing home to accommodate them. The accommodation in these nursing homes is extremely varied depending on the level of wealth of their inhabitants, and it may be disastrous, as it is presently denounced in France, both by the staff and the directors of such establishments.

Perhaps there is a more outrageous phenomenon than the economic inequalities and one which reinforces them: it is inequality faced with illness and death. Those who have worked hard, being physically exposed to the elements, tribulations and abuses, lose health and life sooner than those who have worked with their intellectual and imaginative faculties. The feelings of injustice are necessarily heightened in those who must work under more painful conditions than others – and for others – that are already favoured by economic conditions and over a longer time. Even though there may be attempts to hide inequalities between “classes” – in a Marxist sense – by speaking of “generations”, there is no avoiding the discourse of “classes”.

So, the mere application of true democratic principles may provoke dysfunctions that check and deregulate democracy. Indeed, the observance of contracts, even if the implementation of those contracts is very remote from the day when the parties drew them up, is a principle of democracy and also a mere principle of the commonwealth; but it must not be, in this regard, a heavy burden of worries for those who, having not directly negotiated the contracts or having merely inherited them, take them upon themselves thus honouring a state worthy of the name. The fiction of the legitimacy of the unequal share of what is paid after retirement is acceptable only, on the one hand, in an individualistic perspective in which every individual leans on the community only to settle a personal destiny, and on the other hand, in the no less dubious prospect of a steady course of time. Following such a prospect, in contracting to do something at a given moment, it must be possible to find, under the same conditions, what was decided, many decades earlier, as if the state should warrant civil laws as steady as pretended laws of nature of the classical age; in other terms, as if it could promise a world without any accidents, risks, probabilities, or dissymmetry between past and future. When the world of laws is expected to be pure thought and without any unforeseen event, it has the chance to be in the position of the Procrustean bed whose pretence is to measure a reality which does not care about those fantastic rules that might be maleficent for men and lure them into ideological traps.

 

III.

These latter remarks concerning differences and conflicts of temporality allow us to gain a new characteristic in comparison with the implicitly or explicitly quantitative approach we have so far assumed for defining the notion of a generation and taking another point of view upon the dysfunctions that have appeared to us.

Certainly, the qualitative and modal approach to the notion of generations, of their limits and of their possible conflicts, goes back a long way. Mannheim and many other sociologists, before and after him, have sketched the outlines of such a notion, where the first-mentioned speaks about “the generation of 1914”, while later sociologists speak about “the Baby Boomer generation” (The “Sixties”), the generation of the thirty years following the Second World War (of which I am a specimen), or the “Millennial Generation” (The 9/11 generation) if it is right to say that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 “may form the immediate source of a new global generation”.[7]

The former lived between two disasters, one that had already taken place, the other about to take place and opening up a tragic horizon. The second generation, ignoring war, living with hedonistic norms, taking on an air of egoism rather than altruism, without caring much for the condition in which it leaves the world to the generation of its children.[8] The third generation, finally, that arrived in demographic conditions that could have been anticipated, but which had not been planned, being left in economic conditions more chaotic than the previous ones received from their elders, and being constrained to inscribe their existence into the framework of uncertain – perhaps tragic – times. These are only sundry examples; so the slicing of the last generations in three or four pieces have many chances of being fallacious; but they give a direction we must not neglect on the pretext that only what is quantitative and countable would be real.

In parallel with many books written within sociology attempting a definition of what a generation is, I was struck by a dialogue that has the air of a monograph, though it was written by two authors. A retired professor of the University of Besançon converses with one of her former students. They are separated by four decades and following themes split into conventional units; they faithfully take stock of their differences in their conception of the family, the part of work in their lives, their mode of sexuality, their labour union and political commitments; the social-class difference never seems to be the most dividing split between them. Among the less expected matters in this exciting exchange, the reader finds the opposition between two ways of thinking about time and of living in it, so that it is difficult to separate ideology from reality. The elder, who belongs to my generation, speaks in praise of a course of time that seems to be built straight ahead, evolving smoothly on a single path, seeming to deepen unceasingly, without any nostalgia or troubles. While listening to this narration, the younger, usually caustic in his critiques, was enthralled by this time to which he had, has and will have no access and he seems to feel guilty about it. This course of life looks for him as if it were the sort of time in which he would have enjoyed to live, without realizing it could be a secondary elaboration, quite imaginary, dependent on the age of the narrator and on the ways that every epoch defines for us how we live with and think about time. There were epochs where time appeared to those who lived in them as perfectly linear; and others that cannot be lived in such a way. This guilt, unconsciously imposed by the elder onto the younger, gives the book its darkest pages;[11] it makes us think about the way one generation may extort from the other promises to which it has no right. If they have lived and thought the time as they ought to have lived and thought it, how would those who cannot succeed in doing so refuse a service or an advantage to them, who have found the right vital tempo? But why did the younger not present another temporality in the same positive light as the elder, although it might be extremely different? Had not many English thinkers already given way to a thought of non-linear times?[10]

 

 

IV.

This last point allows us to focus, among other theories, on the advantages of a theory of fictions, provided it may be deepened, to think about the reciprocal games of generations. How to give, in this reflection, the right share to reality and fiction? We may be tempted to claim that the population pyramid tells the truth about reality and, consequently, tells the truth about the ideological processes that necessarily come along with it and for which one of the best illustrations is the thought of a temporalization that, instead of leading to a revolt against a one-sided conception of time, blames itself for being unable to identify itself with it; but why would reality not chose the side of the clashes of temporalities that radically frame our lives without any room for manoeuvres in order to change them? In this case, it is the demographic pyramid that would be a fiction which does not stand for things themselves, but represents a sort of snapshot that has no more truth than the instantaneous speed of the physicist. A theory of fiction does not allow us an arbitrary choice between the first or the second option; but it is possible for it to adopt each in turn, without the former claiming to be more real than the other. Many situations which seem impossible when we consider them as graphs are perfectly bearable in reality: B. Vernier showed in the same way that the very improbable kinship structures of the Karpathos island could have reached our days through many centuries precisely because those structures, improbable to the extent of seeming impossible, become bearable when they are supported by affects and sentiments; there is no less reality in a play of affects than in the structure that seems to tell things and, sometimes, makes the demographer sound the alarm.

However, I do not want to give reasons to postpone the moment when the democratic dialogue must make possible the best decisions concerning what people at work must pay to others, and what those who are no longer at work are in the right to expect from them without referring themselves to obsolete contracts of which nobody – except erudite historians – knows why, how and with whom they were entered into in former times. Far from inscribing contracts in eternity, it is, on the contrary, necessary to accept temporality, not forcibly only when it goes off smoothly, in order to attempt by all the means given to intelligence to control its course. In this respect, it is not impossible that the pension system must be radically reformed, if not in all the countries of the European Community, at least in France where the authoritarian system of a legally decided retirement date at the same age has no sense. It is right indeed that the share of work from which the younger generations were so long excluded – up to being pauperized – will become problematic if everybody could choose freely to retire. Here, we find again the same necessity to limit one principle by another; the pure cultivation of unlimited principle – be it a component of a democratic regime – or, by the way, principles filtered in Rawlsian lexical order, are making democracy dysfunction. However, it is not, as Hume concluded, with less democracy, but with more democracy, that problems could be solved.

 

 

V.

Finally, the impossibility of separating one generation from another, which may seem dangerous, because of the confusing situation it generates, due to the paradoxical issue of the deepening gap between one generation and another, also gives the means to move them closer by another turn. For instance, it is quite possible, as Irene Hardhill showed in a beautiful article on Intergenerational Space,[11] that a use of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), even elementary ones, by older people puts off the dependency, decline, passivity and obsolescence which are the principal causes of the placement in retirement homes. So, the repentant moroseness of a conflict of temporalities from which certain young people could not choose the best, stamped by ontology and phenomenology, may be countered with intergenerational teaching, which does not always function in one way, from the elder to the younger, but conversely, as M. Mead showed, from the younger to the elder.[12] We see that, even if digital technologies would have delineated generations, as M. Serre said in a talk quoted by Marie-France Castarède,[13] that delineation must not be interpreted as a dividing line, because generations merge into one another, one unceasingly modifying the other. So techniques, detested by a certain phenomenology, far from working to divide men, to vulgarize them in preventing them from thinking and feeling, would rather have the reverse function.

 

Endnotes

1 This is the matter of the first chapter of Mill’s Considerations on Representative Government.

2 Not without reservation: because the increase in life expectancy makes diseases emerge that could not have time to develop so massively before. So Alzheimer’s disease is as yet incurable, though it does not directly jeopardize the patient’s life.

3 That is a point G. Simondon highlighted in Du mode d’existence des objets techniques, Aubier, Paris, 1958, p. 35 : « L’objet technique est un système physico-chimique dans lequel les actions mutuelles s’exercent selon toutes les lois des sciences. La finalité de l’intention technique ne peut atteindre sa perfection dans la construction de l’objet que si elle s’identifie à la connaissance scientifique universelle. Il faut bien préciser que cette dernière connaissance doit être universelle, car le fait que l’objet technique appartienne à la classe factice des objets répondant à tel besoin humain défini ne limite et ne définit en rien le type d’actions physico-chimiques qui peuvent s’exercer dans cet objet ou entre cet objet et le monde extérieur ». A politics may be drawn out from this reflection on historicity and the becoming of technical objects.

4 C. Marchal could write in 2003 : « En France, un bulletin de vote sur deux est aujourd’hui issu d’un citoyen ou d’une citoyenne de plus de 49 ans et le vote de plus de quarante ans dépasse 65 % » (La démocratie déséquilibrée. La démographie au secours de la démocratie,L’Harmattan, 2003, p. 39).

5 The will of all is very different from the general will; the latter looks only to the common interest, while the former looks to private interest and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but remove from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another and what is left of the particular wills adds up to constitute the general will. If people held its deliberations (on the basis of adequate information) without the citizens communicating with one another, what emerged from all the little particular wills would always be the general will, and the decision would always be good. But when plots and deals lead to the formation of partial associations at the expense of the big association, the will of each of these associations—the general will of its members—is still a particular will so far as the state is concerned; so that it can then be said that as many votes as there are men is replaced by as many votes as there are associations. The particular wills become less numerous and give a less general result. And when one of these associations is so great as to prevail over all the rest, the result is no longer a sum of small particular wills but a single particular will; and then there is no longer a general will, and the opinion that prevails is purely particular.”(The Social Contract, Book II, Chap. 3)

6 Établissement d’hébergement pour personnes âgées dépendantes (nursing home for dependent elderly people).

7 Edmunds and Turner, quoted by J. Bristow, The Sociology of Generations. New directions and challenges, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2016, p. 61.

8 In The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future and Why They Should Give It Back, David Willetts (2010), then Minister of State for Universities and Science, insists that the central problem with British social policy today lies in its failure to attach ‘sufficient value to the claims of future generations’. His argument is praised on a particular diagnosis of the problem of the Baby Boomer generation, which, he claims, has monopolized economic, social, and cultural resources, and thereby “weakened many of the ties between the generations” (p. 260).

9 To Marie-France Castarède who has just described, not without a certain Proustian complacency, the time lived by her generation, Samuel Dock answers, charmed, but also bitter about his own generation : « Plus je vous écoute, plus je suis touché par ce temps, passé, présent, futur (…). Aujourd’hui je vois ma génération aux prises avec une temporalité accélérée mais évasive, perdue dans un flux indigeste et abscons où les événements ont tous perdu de leur importance, qu’il s’agisse de l’histoire individuelle ou de l’histoire collective. La mémoire se languit et se traîne, s’égare et ralentit ; les événements passés nous échappent et ont perdu de leur chair ; nous les observons de loin, désincarnés, fantomatiques, passablement vains. Nous oublions que nous ne savons plus. Nous méprisons quand nous ignorons. Nous vagabondons à travers ce nihilisme nouveau dans lequel même les forces du temps se révèlent sans conséquences sur la pensée ». Follows a particularly harsh description whose bitterness that pervaded its words looks to be borrowed from Heidegger’s philosophy of Sein und Zeit; he concludes it with these words : « Comment grandir sans racines ? Ma génération ne peut se sentir exister qu’à court terme » (Castarède M-F. & S. Dock, Le nouveau choc des générations, Plon, Paris, 2015, p. 215). Then, after this great mea culpaworded by her bouger interlocutor, M-F. Castarède speaks again with a view to describe how days and years were passing, not only in her life, but also through the demarcation line between life and death, conferring sense on all mourning ceremonies, Samuel Dock, as a character in his own book, starts telling in a Schopenhauerian way: « Nous avons peur de mourir parce que nous ne savons pas vivre ; nous allons trop vite et nous ignorons comment nous lester d’assez d’existence pour un jour envisager de la quitter, accomplis et heureux d’avoir bien vécu, aimé, rêvé, de nous être liés. Oui, la quitter heureux de nous libérer de notre individualisme insensé et de passer notre tour aux générations d’après, appréciant notre chance, louant les êtres aimés et les quelques moments beaux qui auront su être appréciés, pleinement vécus plutôt que survolés et superficiellement éprouvés. (…) Narcisse, attaché à lui seul ne veut pas se quitter ; il veut s’aimer et s’aimer encore, fallût-il vivre tétanisé dans son reflet. (…) » (pp. 218-219).

10 Is it not in this way that David Hume thought history was a collection of facts or events? The definition by Giele and Elder of “lifecourse” as “a sequence of socially defined events and roles that the individual enacts over time” (1998, p. 22) recalls Hume’s definition.

11 ‘The international help desk. Encouraging ICT use in older adults in England’, in Intergenerational Space, ed. By R.M. Vanderbeck & N. Worth, Routledge, London & New York, 2015, pp. 273-285: “For older people, ICTs can be powerful assistive technologies, helping them to maintain their independence, social connectedness and sense of worth in the face of declining health or limited capabilities, but they can also offer new and empowering opportunities to improve an individual’s quality of life”. Anglo-Saxons (New Dynamics of Ageing [NDA] Research Programme) and Canadians (Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR]) have forwarded research teams that have much progressed in those fields.

12 Margaret Mead, in Culture and Commitment. A Study of the Generation Gap(published for The American Museum of Natural History, Natural History Press / Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1970), wrote that there are “three different kinds of culture –postfigurative, in which children learn primarily from their forebears, cofigurative, in which both children and adults learn from their peers, and prefigurative, in which adults learn also from their children” (p. 1). Margaret Mead had noticed that, “in this new culture it will be the child – and not the parent and grandparent that represents what is to come. Instead of the erect, white-head elder who, in post figurative cultures, stood for the past and the future in all their grandeur and continuity, the unborn child, already conceived but still in the womb become the symbol of what life will be like” (p. 88). It is the adults who need of the new knowledge of their children. “The Future is Now” (p. 97).

13 In Le nouveau choc des générations, p. 13, Marie-France Castarède writes : « Je me référerais à une conférence de Michel Serres où il montrait avec pertinence que la vraie différence intergénérationnelle aujourd’hui se situait entre les adultes et les enfants qui sont nés dans et avec le numérique. Les personnes de ma génération ou de celle de mes enfants se servent de l’ordinateur et d’Internet en tant qu’instruments précieux pour des applications diverses. Samuel, lui, à l’instar de mes petits-enfants, appartient à la génération née dans cette nouvelle manière d’être au monde, l’ère du numérique ». M. Serre repeated an idea of M. Mead who said in 1970, op. cit., p. 64: “Today, suddenly, because all the peoples of the world are part of one electronically based, intercommunicating network, young people everywhere share a kind of experience that none of the elders ever have had or will have. Conversely, the older generation will never see repeated in the lives of young people their own unprecedented experience or sequentially emerging change. This break between generations is wholly new: it is planetary and universal”.

Democracy, Human Rights and the UN-Human Rights-Based Approach

Introduction

Democracy and human rights are universal aspirations and ideals which governments that claim to be legitimate should always respect. This is why the United Nations and its members commemorate December 10 as Human Rights Day and September 15 as the International Day of Democracy. While both are considered by the UN as “interdependent and mutually reinforcing”[1], they are also the subject of controversies which are complex, multi-faceted and politically sensitive.

There are scholars who feel that the emergence of the international regime of human rights, linking human rights to democracy, has weakened the pre-existing ideological divide by conditioning governance to the requirements of human rights. This has been the case especially since the UN developed the Human Rights-Based Approach (hereafter HRBA), urging member-states to use this approach in the pursuit of political goals, such as development and good governance. Scholars who used to stubbornly defend this or that ideological school of thinking are now prepared to be flexible and accept the validity of human rights which were not tolerated traditionally by their ideological camps, such as the rights to health or education and minority rights. However, many others have remained in their ideological barracks, criticizing or belittling the UN approach to human rights and democracy because it deviates from their ideological orthodoxy.  These scholars may never surrender until and unless the contours of international human rights law are perfectly aligned to their own ideological doctrines.

Many other scholars have preferred to watch from the sidelines as HRBA takes root. Their silence has created a wide gap in the academic literature where contributions are most needed. Academic contributions on HRBA which come after it is fully developed will still be welcome, especially for those interested in history. However, timely commentaries can make valuable contributions to debates around the direction democracy and human rights are taking. It is bearing this in mind that this contribution is made.

The importance of this subject-matter hardly needs explaining. In 1998 the UN adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, encouraging the promotion of human rights awareness, and affirming the rights of individuals to be concerned with human rights and to claim their rights. In effect, this instrument lays the foundations for the measurement of democracy based on application of the HRBA from below. In response to this, and in the interest of critically assessing the broader political implications of this approach, the academic world should share its intellectual insights rather than lagging behind. Scholars should feel free to express their own views, including those which further particular economic, social and political interests. This is, in fact, what most of them do, defending their respective beliefs in the name of justice, even though their conclusions are hardly reconcilable. Still, it is better for scholars to make contributions, rather than leaving questions relating to human rights and democracy to be shaped by political actors to meet their needs.

At the core of the debate on the discourse on human rights and democracy is the question of who the human being (the self) really is and how s/he relates to or should relate to society and the state. The philosophers who previously devoted their lives and emerged to answering these questions now rest in peace, after agreeing to disagree with one other, leaving their followers intellectually restless. The ideological camps that have gradually emerged are not only numerous, but also tolerant of multiple interpretations, thereby blurring the landscape. This is why we see all kinds of shades of opinion within liberalism or neo-liberalism, Marxism or neo-Marxism, Social Democracy, Communitarianism etc. Less colorful, more focused and relevant to the real political world is the approach used by global political organizations, such as the UN. Their positions are widely accepted for the simple reason that they are products of a broader political consensus, which accommodates the diverse views of experts from different fields.

What makes the UN approach legitimate is the existence of a legal mandate to promote human rights as stipulated by paragraph 3 of article 1 paragraph 3 of its Charter. Using this mandate, this organization has adopted a long and impressive list of international human rights instruments which have been widely ratified by its member-states. The contents of some of these human rights instruments concern democracy, directly or indirectly, as will be shown later. The compliance by state with the undertakings assumed under these international instruments is monitored by a number of international bodies using a range of different methods, for example by considering reports and petitions received, or by tracking the progress mad. Obviously, there is a long way to go before this international regime of human rights achieves its goals. However, no one can seriously question that the UN has reached a milestone by developing this international regime, thereby making the world a more humane place than before.

When it comes to the promotion of democracy, per se, the contributions of the UN are often belittled by those who are displeased by the apparent neglect of the views of their own ideological camp. In fact, much was achieved, especially considering that the organization was prevented during the pre-Cold War period from engaging in what was deemed to fall under the domestic jurisdiction of states by paragraph 7 of article 2 of its own Charter. It is also important to remember that there was no consensus around which political system served democracy best. Was it that of the U.S. in the 1950s, which excluded blacks and women from political participation? Or the Swiss confederal model, which did not permit women to vote until the 1970s? Or that of the socialist states in the Eastern bloc, which disregarded political rights?

Leaving this aside, the UN has played a crucial role in developing the rights of peoples, by elaborating the contents of these rights, e.g. the rights to self-determination, social progress and to development. These clarifications were significant for democracy since they concern both peoples (the demos) and good governance (the kratia). This approach addressed democracy head-on, and not only from a theoretical perspective. Decolonization was advanced by applying the Charter principle on the right of peoples to self-determination. The system of Apartheid in South Africa was confronted. Arbitrary usurpation of power was denounced in many countries, and the UN began to monitor elections in post-conflict situations or where there were serious political disputes. The support which it gave and still gives to the promotion of gender mainstreaming, empowerment and participatory rights also concern democracy.

The collapse of the Socialist regimes in the former USSR and its Eastern European allies, who were the staunchest defenders of state sovereignty, removed one of the most serious hurdles to the promotion of democracy. The UN capitalized on this political development to raise the banner of democracy, which gained prominence on its agendas. The 1993 Vienna Declaration of Human Rights made abundantly clear that “(t)he international community should support the strengthening and promoting of democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the entire world.”[2] This document linked democracy to “the freely expressed will of the people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives.”[3] Within a decade or so, HRBA was developed. Initially, this approach was recommended as a tool for application in the promotion of economic development. However, gradually its use was extended to other areas, for example, to health, child welfare, gender mainstreaming etc. Although the UN maintains that it does not advocate a single model of democracy[4], one can wonder if the HRBA which it uses is not one such model, since it promotes a bottom up approach to politically sensitive questions including the question of what constitute sound governance.[5]

Proceeding from the above, this study examines the road map used by the UN in developing and promoting human rights and democracy, and how it urges its members to conduct themselves by applying HRBA. The questions which guide this study are clear-cut. Is there a UN perception of democracy? If so, what is the position of this organization regarding the contested ideological positions concerning who the individual self is, and how this person relates or should relate to society and the state? Has the UN’s position discredited or sanctioned the views of this or that ideological school of thought? What are the consequences of relying on HRBA to promote democracy? Will this reliance promote democracy in form, as well as, in substance? Will it empower the victims of oppression and marginalization, thereby ending despotism, oppression and bad governance once and for all? What are the wider political consequences and implications of using this bottom-up approach? Will it lead to the fragmentation of multi-ethic and multi-national states by making them ungovernable when the voices of the marginalized are heard? Will states reject HRBA because of fears that it will lead to the destabilization of their governments?

Since there are conflicting viewpoints concerning how democracy should be perceived and applied, this paper will not rely on a particular hypothesis or theory to guide this study. What is attempted is to explore the roadmap used by the UN and where the UN is heading. This requires relying on the materials used by this and other international organizations, by using the inductive approach.This is also why the answers to most of the questions posed above appear to be obvious from how the provisions of the different international human rights instrument have been formulated. However, before examining these documents and the UN approach to democracy, it is necessary the ideological controversies surrounding the concept, and how it evolved historically. Only then will one be able to judge the extent to which the UN followed its stated approach, based on the promotion of human rights.

Conceptual Clarification 

Democracy, as was pointed out earlier, is praised and aspired to across the globe while at the same time being controversial. This is one reason why varied forms of democracies are found, whose goals and activities are often at odds with one another. Take, for example, ‘the Western model’, which is known as liberal democracy. This model is supposed to guarantee individual political rights (freedom of expression, association and assembly), universal suffrage, a free media, and the multi-party parliamentarian model of governance based on the division of power (with checks and balances). However, the systems of governance in Italy, France, the United States and Denmark are far from being the same. The model that has been adopted in some of the Eastern European states, such as Hungary and Poland, is criticized and referred to illiberal democracy, ‘low intensity’ or ‘empty’ democracy because there are restrictions on individual civil liberties and the free media. If the attack on the media makes democracy illiberal then the U.S. is also heading in this direction since President Trump regards the media as the enemy of the people, except for a few extreme right-wing media outlets. Before the demise of the Socialist order in Eastern Europe and USSR the labels most commonly used by the Soviet bloc countries were proletarian democracy or people’s democracy. In the Nordic countries the phrase social democracy is used to describe their welfare system, which is financed through higher taxation.

Even within a single country, we can see the bewildering variety of ways the word democracy is used. Sweden, for example, was governed during the last few years by a coalition led by the Swedish Social Democrats. The opposition camp included the Christian Democrats and the Swedish Democrats. Although the Swedish Democrats are supported by about 17% of the electorate, the party has been ostracized by all the political parties because of its racist roots. Adding more confusion to this, scenario, a new political party called simply The Democrats has just come to prominence in the Gothenburg region by securing 17% of votes in municipal elections. All this may well make Swedish citizens wonder who the true democrats are.

Dictionaries define democracy in a variety of way, reflecting the divergent ways the term is understood in the real political world. Dictionaries that fail to do this or that tell only one side of this perplexing story run the risk of being criticized for being ideologically biased. This is why we find this term defined in different ways, reflecting the political mess in the real world. According to dictionary.com (Thesaurus), it can mean “a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system” or “a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.”[6] Cambridge Dictionary re-affirms this and underscores further the importance attached to the expression of opinions and that government should be elected.[7] Likewise, in Merriam-Webster we read that this term describes a system of “government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”[8]

These and other similar broad and varied definitions of democracy raise more questions than they answer. Does this term mean self-rule by the people collectively, as a group, where all the members of the community have equal voice and are the beneficiaries of this rule? Or does it mean majority rule? Does it require nothing more than the presence of political institutions that allow the electoral system to function and ‘formal’ equality? For example, does the fact that the political system restricts voting rights to men only or to certain racial groups mean that there is no democracy? What about if the country does not respond to the needs of the people, e.g., by denying people economic and social rights? Should the political system promote real equality and a fair distribution of resources? Because these questions are answered in so many different ways Susan Marks correctly remarked that that“democracy appeared to mean everything, and therefore nothing.”[9]

One way of understanding democracy would be to examine the toot of the word itself, i.e. ‘dēmo’’, which means ‘people’, and ‘kratia’, meaning authority or rule, in Greek.[10] When juxtaposed these two words convey the idea that the inhabitant of a territory govern themselves by exercising political power or have a say in the affairs of governance. Ancient Greek cities, such as Athens and Sparta, are believed to have practiced dēmokratia.  Aristotle listed many other examples when he wrote:

At Marseilles the oligarchy became more constitutional, while at Istrus it ended in becoming democracy, and in Heraclea the government passed from a smaller number to six hundred. At Cnidus also there was a revolution… Another case was at Erythrea, where at the time of the oligarchy of Basilidae in ancient days, although the person of the government directed affairs well, nevertheless the common people were resentful because they were governed by a few, and brought about a revolution of the constitution”.[11]

Over the years, these experiences of the Greek city-states inspired many political communities to emulate them. In the late 18th century, the American and French Revolutions raised the banner of democracy with the aim of ending despotism and replacing it with a democratic system. What distinguished their experiences from those of the ancient Greeks were the justifications used to legitimize the political system and the structures that were created to ensure its continuity, e.g., through a system of division of powers, the codification of right and respect for the rule of law. The American Declaration of Independence sets out what are claimed to be ‘self-evident’ truths by underscoring the belief:

that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”[12]

When the French revolutionaries brought to an end the despotic feudal regime of the House of Bourbon, they proclaimed in their Declaration on the Rights of Man and the Citizens that “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” and that the goals of political association should be “the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man”.[13] Subsequent constitutions of the French Republics included a commitment to respect the principle of “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”[14]

Like the proponents of democracy in ancient Greece, the American and French revolutionaries claimed to have empowered the people by giving them self-rule. Unfortunately, this is often misinterpreted as meaning the total empowerment of all members of the political community (the people), so that they become the full beneficiaries of the political system. This is far from true. The democratic experiments in Istrus, Heraclea, Cnidus, Erythrea and Basilidae, which Aristotle wrote about, did not permit all the members of these communities to participate in the political process (children, women and slaves, for examples, were excluded).[15] In fact, Aristotle clearly stated that some people were slaves by nature, and lacked the necessary capacity to rule, and therefore it was advantageous for them to be ruled by the free people. Despite this obvious exclusion from power, the political system was called democracy, apparently because it was expected that those who were empowered by the system would promote the interests of the community as a whole, e.g. by sharing what the system has given them.

One can draw a parallel with the democracy which was promised by the American and French Revolutionaries at the end of the 18th century. The ‘American people’ emerged as a legally and politically constituted entity and were promised a democratic order. Yet those who held power were ‘white men’. Before slavery was abolished in the 1880s black slaves were deemed to be the property of their white owners. Many of the celebrated fathers of the American Revolution and democracy, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were themselves slave-owners. White women too were marginalized and excluded from positions of power until the mid-1960s. Even the American Indians that had treaty relations with the United States were disempowered for years, despite the fact that they were formally acknowledged as ‘domestic sovereign entities’.

The French Republics which were established following the French Revolution also failed to deliver the democracy that had been promised, until after World War II. The ‘French people’ was recognized as a single political entity but power was in the hands of French white men. Although the 1879 French Declaration recognized ‘the rights of man’, the French slaves and the colonial peoples remained excluded from power despite being regarded legally as members of the French community.

‘People’ (‘dēmo’’) and its ‘Authority’ (‘kratia’). Without knowing who ‘the people’ is and what is the nature of its authority, it is difficult to know what democracy means. Is this people composed of all the persons that are present in the country, including foreign residents and tourists, or only the citizens (wherever they may be), or selected categories of citizens (e.g. only men)? Is the power or authority of this people simply to choose who should rule, regardless of whether the chosen ruler is a tyrant or one who responds to the wishes and needs of the governed? In other words, does democracy empower the people to rule itself through elected representatives who can be removed if they fail to respond to what the electorate wants and expects?

The term ‘people’, in everyday usage, describes a collection of individuals. The term is commonly used to describe a particular social group by combining it with a social, territorial other factor.[16] Examples of this include the description of those inhabiting particular territory, as ‘Hill People’, those living in the countryside, as ‘rural people’, those who speak the same language as the ‘French-speaking people’ or the ‘Arabic-speaking people’ (the whole north Africa), or those who profess the same religion, as ‘the Jewish people’ Whichever classification is used, the term ‘people’ groups together large number of individuals as a an entity sharing particular characteristics.

When used in the technical sense for legal or political purposes, ‘people’ identifies a legally organized political community. The glue which unifies the individuals as an entity here is not necessarily a common language or religion or territory, but a political and/or legal identity. This means while people in a society can be divided according to the languages they speak, the religions they profess and the territories they inhabit, legally they constitute one entity. Examples of this include references that are made to “the American people”, “the German people”, “the Swiss people” or “the French people”. The French-speaking “people’ is not the same as “the French people” since the former embraces French speakers in parts of Belgium, Switzerland and Canada. “German-speaking people” is broader than the “German people” because the German language is spoken Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland.

Appreciating this distinction, dictionaries acknowledge that the word ‘people’ also means “a political community”[17] or “any consolidated political body”[18] or “the entire body of those citizens of a state or nation who are invested with political power for political purposes.”[19] Likewise, philosophers, jurists, political scientists, and other scholars also use ‘people’ as a code word, to mean  a “body of the citizens”[20] or “a public family or nation (gens, natio) whose members are all related to each other as citizens of the state”[21], or simply as ‘the “aggregate of individuals of both sexes who live together as a community in spite of the fact that they may belong to different races or creeds, or of different colour.”[22] Not surprisingly, we see the plural form of this term in use as “peoples”, as stated in paragraph 2 of article 1 of the UN Charter which deals with the self-determination of peoples.

Understood in this unique technical sense, a people can be very young, e.g. “the people of South Sudan” which came into existence eight years ago, or over three hundred years old, like “the American people” which dates from in 1776. Two distinct peoples can merge, example as the East and West German peoples did following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and one people can split into two or more new political communities, as occurred in Yugoslavia and the USSR. Again, a people can also exist for well over a thousand years. The fact that no human being can live that long makes no difference. Grotius clarified the distinction that should be borne in mind between the lives of these kinds of imagined political communities and those of their members by stating the following.

(I)n comparing a river to a people, Aristotle said that rivers bear the same name, though different water is always replacing that which is flowing on. Again, it is not an empty name merely that remains, but ‘the essential bond’, which Conon defines as an ‘inherent bodily character’, Philo as a ‘spiritual bond’, and the Latins as a spirit.”[23]

If the existence of a people as a political community is not indisputable, a question which follows from this is how can this people govern itself as suggested by the term democracy? Does this necessarily mean that the voice and interests of all the members of this political community should count? Responding to this question, John Mills wrote:

The ‘people’ who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised … The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority…[24]

This honest statement exposes the hypocrisy surrounding those who brag about behaving in accordance with the principles of democracy. If democracy is the rule of the people as a whole, government which responds to the interests of a minority or a majority cannot be democratic. To argue otherwise is false or, in everyday language, a lie.

Governance. If the term people (the demo) in democracy relates to an organized socio-political entity, what is its authority or rule (‘kratia’) when speaking of democracy? There are two ways of seeing this. One is to say that if sovereignty belongs to the people, power can only be delegated to the government. This means that the governmental authorities are mandated to serve as representatives, to act by responding continuously and transparently to the wishes and interests of the people. The other interpretation reduces democracy to the means of legitimizing the government. Once the people has chosen the government those elected should represent the state by exercising the sovereignty of the state. They can do this by promoting the interests of the majority or of a minority or minorities or those of the whole people as they see fit. Until its period in power is over, the government in charge does not have to step down just because there are people that are not pleased by how the country is governed. Whichever stance one takes, it is difficult to avoid ideologically charged questions regarding the rights of the members of the political community, and the justifications for these rights. While a deeper discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of this contribution, it would be a mistake to ignore it altogether in any discussion of democracy and human rights.

 The Discourse on Human Rights and Democracy

The debate on human rights and democracy is very old, complex and linked to the kinds of political interests which deserve to be protected. The main aim here is not to attempt to disentangle all the thorny but merely to highlight the dominant positions as a backdrop for an examination of where international human rights law stands on this matter. The two most contested issues relate to (i) what is meant by ‘the will of the people’ and ‘the government of the people’ when speaking of democracy; and (ii) how individuals relate to this ‘people’, and the state. These questions cannot be answered without opening up a Pandora’s Box of many other controversial questions. For the purpose of this paper, the debate can be narrowed down to one between the individualist and collectivist approach to rights. What are the justifications for the rights of individuals, what limitations are or should be imposed on them, and how do they apply to individual as member of broader social groups inside political communities? Defenders of the rights and interests of the community maintain that since individuals are product of their communities their rights and freedoms should be subordinated to the rights, interests and needs of their communities. Most individualists reject this position and question the very existence of the community or society as a separate entity that is more than the sum of its members.

Whichever stance one takes (individualist or collectivist) in order to defend democracy, there is no escape from the requirement to justify why rights should be recognized in the first place. In other words, what are the foundations for the rights which are used as the bricks for building and sustaining the desired form of democracy? Defenders of Natural Law, positivism and other sources of rights have wrestled with this question, which brings to the surface seemingly intractable questions regarding the nature of the human being. Are humans social, humane and rationale, or self-centered, autonomous and evil beings, who should be tamed to conform to social requirements? Can democracy co-exist with individualism? Should the majority impose its will over the rest in the name of democracy? Is democracy merely the presence of a social contract whereby the governed choose who should rule? Should the governed have a say on how the government rules? These questions have been answered differently by scholars.

The theory of social contract has been advanced by different philosophers in the interests of the governed, even though the way it is formulated has varied considerably. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) used this theory to legitimize the rulers and the suppression of ‘natural rights’. He was praised for having recognized the ‘existence’ of natural rights which entitle the individual to defend his life and interests on the basis of his own judgment.[25] However, because the exercise of these rights leads to “war of all against all” (Bellum omnium contra omnes) Hobbes called for their renunciation in the interest of the common good. This was justified because we are not social(like bees) but individualistic, egocentric, jealous, evil beings who constantly struggle for power and dominance.[26] This being the state of nature, the only way out from the ‘war of all against all’ is for people to surrender their natural rights by choosing the ruler (a king or an assembly) who governs by suppressing natural rights in the interest of peace and the common good. If the ruler fails to achieve this, the people should choose a different ruler.[27]

This Hobbesian formula advocates a government which is chosen by the people and for the people but is notof the people. The idea of social contract is used merely to legitimize the government and to disempower the governed in the conduct of the political affairs of the community. In other words, this is not democracy in substance. The despots of that time ridiculed Hobbes’s recognition of natural rights and the idea of a social contract, whereby people would be free to choose and change who ruled them. However, they liked his endorsement of despotism, which is why Hobbes earned the title of apologist for tyranny.

Like Hobbes, John Locke (1632-1704) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) recognized natural rights and supported the idea of a social contract theory. However, they did not use it to justify despotic form of governance. Both rejected Hobbes’ negative view of the ‘state of nature’ of mankind. According to Locke, ‘the war of all against all’ that Hobbes wrote about arises not from the evil nature of mankind but from disregard for the Law of Nature.[28] It was this unfortunate condition which led to the need for civil government in the first place, i.e., as a “remedy for the inconveniences of the state of Nature”.[29] The purposes of civil societies should therefore be to preserve the natural rights of the citizens, such as life, liberty and property.[30] When a government fails to protect these natural rights, the people should be able to remove and change it.

Immanuel Kant also dismissed Hobbes’s negative view of the state of nature and the notion of war of all against all “as if there could have been no other relation originally among men but what was merely determined by force…”[31] The goals of establishing civil union should not be to ensure the destruction of natural rights but to strengthen them “by laws of right.”[32] The Kantian formula of social contract for governance asserts “the right of every citizen to have to obey no other law than that to which he has given his consent or approval …civil equality… (and) … the right to owe (one’s) existence and continuance in society not to the arbitrary will of another, but to his own rights and powers as a member of the commonwealth…”[33] These thoughts of Locke and Kant were highly praised by many, especially by liberals and libertarians, who later used them to justify the establishment of a democratic political order which strengthens individual rights and limits to the powers of the government.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who lived during the same period as John Locke, also defended both natural rights and the principle of social contract. “The people, being subject to the laws, ought to be their authors,” he wrote, “the conditions of the society ought to be regulated solely by those who came together to form it.”[34] He too dismissed the negative picture of the state of nature which Hobbes had painted. According to him, social life promotes morality and the values of humanity even if it is not always easy to suppress individual selfishness and anti-social behaviors. The individual should not be allowed to undermine the interests of the broader community. Individual rights and freedoms should be subordinated to those of the community. As he puts it, “whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free”[35] This earned him the title ‘Communitarian’.

For Karl Marx (1818-1883), the human being is a social being whose vital expression is nothing but “an expression and confirmation of social life.”[36] By nature, man was not evil, as Hobbes maintained, but is good and social. However, men had been poisoned by the system of private property, which had reduced each individual to nothing more than a ‘representative of property’. Human essence exists only when there is existence for one another “as the vital element of human reality”.[37] This kind of social existence makes society“the perfected unity in essence of man with nature” or “the realized humanism of nature”[38], rather than something dissociated from individuals that comprise it. Marx argued that the social contacts proposed by the writers such as Hobbes, Locke, Kant and Rousseau cannot resolve the political problems and conflicts arising from social relations based on the appropriation of private property. The ‘war of all against all’, which Hobbes wrote about, was the class war.

Karl Marx dismissed some of the French and American revolutionary slogans, such as, liberty, security, freedom, and equality, as both empty words and deceptive. These ideals cannot be realized in a political community which relies on private property. As he argued:

The liberty we are here dealing with is that of man as an isolated monad who is withdrawn into himself. The right of man to freedom is not based on the association of man with man but rather on the separation of man from man… The concept of security does not enable civil society to rise above its egoism…[39]

The “rights of man” which the philosophers of the late 18th century defended were denounced by Marx because they protect the selfish interests of the bourgeoisie and tear human beings apart from their communities. Even if they appear appealing in theory, “not one of the so-called rights of man goes beyond egoistic man, man as a member of civil society, namely an individual withdrawn into himself, his private interests and his private desires and separate from the community.”[40]

The electoral systems established after the French and American Revolutions were belittled by Karl Marx. In his opinion, the deputies that were elected could only serve as a rubber stamp for advancing the ‘particular’ class interests of the ruling class.[41] It was impossible for the deputies to act otherwise since “the politeness ceases as soon as privilege is menaced.”[42] Still, unlike his ideological colleague, Engels, he did attach some value to the electoral system to the extent that the workers could exploit it to speed up the demise of the political system.[43] However, in his view, emancipation of the oppressed class could only be achieved by transforming “the affairs of the state into the affairs of the people”.[44] This means nothing less than dissolving the old society by overthrowing the ruling class “on which rested the power of the sovereign, the political system as estranged from the people. The political resolution is the resolution of civil society.”[45] Besides encouraging the proletarian class to rise up to this end, Marx and his ideological compatriots and followers (F. Engels and V. I. Lenin) also supported, as legitimate, the struggle of historically constituted sociological nations to secede from oppressor nations and to establish proletariat nations.[46]

The flood of literature which is inspired by the above-mentioned thinkers and others before and after them is often categorized under various schools of thinking, such as Marxist and Neo-Marxist, liberal and Neo-Liberal, Libertarian, Communitarian, traditionalist and many others. Although writers sometimes resent being compartmentalized in this way, these labels will be employed in this study as they are used in the general literature to make it easier to understand who belongs to which position in the debate relating to human rights and democracy.

Liberals and libertarians are the champions of individual rights and freedoms and question the legitimacy of collective and group rights. The latter are defended by Communitarians, socialists and social democrats. Having said this, care should be taken to avoid generalizations, since we find various shades of thoughts within each school of thought. This is why it is important to examine the formulations used by each writer before passing judgment on the democratic formulas defended by each school of thought. Having said this, for purposes of simplifying this complex debate this paper has chosen to divide them between two camps, namely those who defend normative individualism and those who are behind collectivism.

The thought of Ayn Rand, one of the most celebrated libertarians, can be used as an example of how most of the defenders of normative individualism think.  For Rand, the best political system to live under is “a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism.”[47] This is because the system protects individualism by stimulating the pursuit of the selfish interests which she valued so highly. She rejected the existence of collective entities, including “– society,’ since society is only a number of individual men”.[48] She despised collective morality, such as solidarity and altruism because they lead to “renunciation, resignation, self-denial, and every other form of suffering, including self-destruction”[49] and ultimately bring “the morality of death.”[50] Put bluntly, “if civilization is to survive,” she wrote, “it is the altruist morality that men have to reject”.[51] Instead of ‘public morality’ she believed in the merits of individual morality, to be used as “the means of subordinating society to moral law”.[52]

Rand maintained that the sources of these kinds of individual rights, liberties and freedoms “is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity.”[53] Rights, for her, represented “the property of an individual” and “society as such has no rights”, thus “the only moral purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights”.[54] She was well aware of the claims of those who regarded themselves as collective entities and who were demanding rights or protection but rejected their claims. “A group, as such, has no right”, she wrote, and individuals who claim to exist as collective entities are nothing “but a gang or a mob”.[55]

This rejection of community led Rand to question the role of government in promoting the wider interests of the society or in protecting marginalized groups. This was in part because this protection requires using revenues that are derived from taxing others (which she called ‘robbery’). She strongly rejected the use of tax revenues to provide benefits under the pretext of promoting the right to work, health services and standards of living. As far as she was concerned:

“There is no such thing as ‘a right to a job’ …(but) a man’s right to take a job if another man chooses to hire him. There is no ‘right to a home’.. ‘rights’ of special groups … There are only the Rights of Man.”[56]

For her, the only legitimate rights were individual, civil and political rights, with the exception of property rights which are “man’s only ‘economic rights’”, and the only rights that deserve to be called political rights.[57] Leaving this aside, there are “no ‘economic rights’, no ‘collective rights,’ no ‘public-interest rights’.”[58]

Liberals[59], like libertarians, applaud normative individualism because it protects the rights of the individual by disregarding the collective needs of the members of the community. This is justified on the grounds that the individual is “the primary normative unit” of society and the state. Jack Donnelly, for instance, remains convinced “that only individuals can have human rights” and therefore opposes group rights.[60] According to him, society and the state are constructed by individuals for the promotion of their interests. “Human rights are morally prior to and superior to society and the state,” and can only belong to individuals “who hold them and may exercise them against the state in extreme cases.”[61] Donnelly accepts that the individual “is a social animal”, whose personality and potentials are “developed and expressed only in a social context”, which is why society discharges “certain political functions” through its political organization (the State).[62] Because of this, individuals do have duties towards society.[63] However, when tension emerges between the interests of the society and its individual members, the conflict should always be resolved by giving priority to the wishes interests of the latter. “For the liberal,” wrote Donnelly, “the individual is not merely separable from the community and social roles but specially valued precisely as a distinctive, discrete individual – which is why each person must be treated with equal concern and respect.”[64] This distinctive existence, according to Donnelly, legitimizes the rights of the individual to enjoy the “liberty to choose and pursue one’s own life”, including by exercising those familiar civil and political rights known as “rights of man”.[65] This reduces democracy to a form, which is an end in itself, i.e. for legitimizing government, rather being self-government by the people for the welfare of the community, including marginalized social groups etc. “The democratic component of liberal democracy”, stated Susan Mark, “comes to revolve, principally, around elections.”[66]

There are Liberals who seek to give democracy substantive meaning by accepting the importance of promoting some collective interests of the community. Donnelly, for example, refers to the legitimacy of economic and social rights, such as the rights to food, health care and social insurance, and hence the role of the “society” in providing basic services such as “health care or universal material benefits”.[67] This, according to him, also distinguishes him from John Locke, whom he criticized for failing to address key development issues.[68] The democratic formula which Donnelly supports therefore responds not only to the rights of the individual, but also to a certain extent to the needs of the community in the interest of justice.[69]

Will Kymlicka also moves the compass of liberalism closer to what matters for the marginalized and the common good. To defend this within the framework of liberalism he focuses on “a liberal theory of community and culture”.[70] As he sees it, membership of cultural groups “gives rise to legitimate claims, and some schemes of minority rights respond to these claims”.[71] According to him, protection of individual rights should not be perceived as necessarily leading to confrontation or tension within society. The members of the community are, after all, not separated from their groups since there are ‘bonds of mutual respect” which motivate individual members to act responsibly and to “successfully pursue their understandings of the good.”[72] This is how different groups of people have always co-existed and how they freely pursue “their shared communal and cultural ends, without penalizing or marginalizing those groups who have different and perhaps conflicting goals.”[73] This approach brings normative individualism closer to the concern to aspects of the interests of the community and thereby to the acknowledgement of the roles of government to promote these needs. However, this does not go far enough to the recognition of collective life or groups. “The language of rights has to be used with great care when is applied to groups”.[74] Those who endorse this middle-of-the-road approach are often called ‘Social Liberal’.

Communitarians are not shy when it comes to defending communities, their interests and the role of governments in this regard. They dismiss Liberalism as a misleading ideology because it distorts who the self is and how social relations work. Michael Walzer calls this ideology an ‘incoherent’ and “a self-subverting doctrine” which cannot be reconciled with reality. The reality which Communitarians recognize manifests the presence of social bonds, values and loyalty to family, relatives, neighbors, friends and co-workers. Liberalism, according to Walzer, denies all this as if the individual exists in a vacuum and as if there is no community, no Jews, blacks, Catholics, religious organizations, etc.[75] Brian Lee Crowley relegates Liberalism to the sphere of an intellectual exercise that is in conflict with the real world.[76] According to him the self is shaped by social forces, i.e., the community, language, culture, history etc. These social forces enrich the self, endowing it both with morality and roles and responsibilities. He dismisses the Liberal’s ‘universal’ self as a one dimensional ‘faceless’ being who resembles a shadow, or even an inanimate object.[77] “The liberal social order”, he states, “finds its justification in a realm of abstraction quite separate from the concrete and contingent.”[78]

The self emerges in the real world, according to Crowley, from a social context, as a byproduct of complex processes of nurturing, training, relationships and attachment. These relationships “are partly constitutive of who we are, and to that extent our reflection on, and reasoning about, that part of our deeper self will entail the ‘coming to self-awareness of an intersubjective being’, whose boundaries transcend those of the individuals it comprises.”[79]

This contextual self-awareness comes with social roles and social responsibilities which are linked to religious, cultural, national, professional and other requirements. Compliance with these expectations is not perceived by the self as something that is done for ‘others’, but for ‘us’, and hence for ‘me’ since the self is gratified by what it discharges for ‘us’ and is aware of the reciprocal services. The fusion between ‘me’ and ‘us’ is best explained by what MacIntyre calls ‘our moral particularity’, which derives from our particular social identity. This is why when the individual describes himself he brings others in the picture by stating:

I am someone’s son or daughter, someone else’s cousin or uncle; I am a citizen of this or that city, a member of this or that guild or profession; I belong to this clan, that tribe, this nation. Hence what is good for me has to be the good for one who inhabits these roles. As such, I inherit from the past of my family, my city, my tribe, my nation, a variety of debts, inheritances, rightful expectations and obligations.”[80]

This description reflects ways of life that still exist in many developing countries. Here, individuals are often identified as “son of x or y” or as ‘the person from this or that community or village”. Even in the Western countries this survives in family names, such as Abrahamson or Johansson, meaning son of Abraham or Johan, or Kristbjörnsdóttir, meaning the daughter of Kristbjörn. These kinds of identifications used to bestow social benefits or disadvantages depending on the reputation of the person or family whose name is used. This approach to the understanding of the selfreveals the interactive and reflective nature of the individual. It shows that the individual is not as isolated and independent as s/he appears from the outside but “a being emerging out of a dense social ground” with fluid character, “rough edges and ill-defined boundaries.”[81]

The Discourse on Human Rights and Democracy: Conclusion 

The conflicting approaches used to the understanding of the nature of the human being (the self) and how s/he relates (or ought to relate) to society and the state, have led scholars to endorse varied forms of government. Of these, democracy is clearly the most favored system. However, how democracy should be understood concretely and applied in practice remains a puzzle because the point of departure for deciding how society should be organized differs depending on how the human being is perceived. That democracy should permit people to choose their government is not in dispute. The dividing line is on what kinds of rights, freedoms and obligations the individual should have and how these should be aligned to the interests of community.

The nature of the human being (the self), as understood in the Hobbesian, Libertarian and Liberal sense, is at odds with social reality outside the Western world. Except in times of hardship, such as, during periods of war, political chaos or confinement (in jails or hospitals), the human being in this part of the world is social. S/he is a by-product of community life, inter-dependent and bonded with the other members of his/her community and motivated to maintain this state of affairs. Even in times of extreme poverty or economic deprivation, which tests the limits of human loyalty, individuals remain attached to one another emotionally, socially and in many other ways.

Although the political models of governance recommended by Hobbes, Libertarians and Liberals are different, they are united in their affirmation of the individualistic nature of the human being. Where the latter two currents of thought differ from Hobbes is in their rejection of his characterization of human beings as evil by nature. They, therefore, come to different conclusions regarding the extent to which individuals deserve to exercise what are regarded as natural rights and freedoms. For Libertarians and Liberals there should be no hindrance to the exercise of civil and political rights by individuals. What is more, these rights should even be prioritized over the interests of the community. As far as they are concerned, a community is nothing more than the sum of its members, which means that the community (or social groups) cannot have distinct interests and rights. This is why they advocate reducing the role of governments and their influence over community matters and reject the idea of protecting marginalized social groups.

This political model, which prioritizes the rights of individuals over the needs of the community and rejects the idea that government should have a role in responding to these needs, blocks any possibilities of achieving democracy in substance. Less governance, by definition, means less care for the collective needs and problems of the governed. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to see how there could be a government for the people as a whole. What the electoral system assures is only democracy in form, a means of legitimizing the power of whoever rules.

Social contract theory, as imagined by Hobbes, was also intended to legitimize the authority of the ruler. The government can be viewed as being “of the people’ since the people chose it. This right to choose the ruler was justified by Hobbes because he believed that the individual has natural rights, i.e. the right to rule himself. However, since this person is assumed to be, by nature, egocentric, competitive and violent, Hobbes recommended surrendering these natural rights in the interest of the peace and interests of community life. One should note, in this regard, that Hobbes expected the ruler to govern by observing the mandates given by the governed – namely to protect the interests and safety of the community. This means, there would be ‘a government for the people’. What is problematic in the Hobbesian formula is the assumption that people would choose to surrender their rights and freedoms and willingly submit to suffering under a tyrannical rule.

Liberal and Libertarian democracies are products of the Western European societies and the states which were established outside Europe by the descendants of Europeans. Liberal democracy is a political system which mirrors the nature of the prevailing social relations and which evolved from the requirements of the socio-economic and political structures of the industrialized capitalist states. It attaches special importance to the freedoms and values of the individual citizen and applies social contract theory as a means of legitimizing governance through regular elections. This constitutes a system of government of the people, hence democracy in form. The exercise of individual rights and freedoms opens the doors for empowerment from below, and governance by the people. However, since minorities are not able participate effectively in the political machinery or to benefit from the economic wealth of these countries in the same way as the members of the majorities, the system has serious weaknesses.

In theory, this political model has the advantage of contributing to nation-building by shifting the loyalty of the individual away from his/her social group and traditional social structures to that of the state. However, in reality, this is possible only if states are politically and economically strong and able or willing to meet the needs of their citizens, including the marginalized members of the vulnerable groups. Otherwise, the latter will be unwilling to abandon their loyalty to traditional identities and social structures since they are the basis for their survival.

Whether this Western model of normative individualism works in the developing countries as it does in the West is an open question. To assume that the indigenous communities of the Amazon, the rural tribal communities of Africa or the religious communities of the Middle Eastern countries will replace their collective ways of life by normative individualism is to be naïve. Even in the more economically developed urban settings of these African and Asian countries, social relations have a collective dimension. Unlike in the West, the governments on these continents are not politically or economically strong enough, to care for their citizens, with the exception of mineral exporting countries (like the Gulf countries) or the few industrialized Asian countries. The negative consequences of replacing the existing social fabrics of these collective societies by normative individualism, at a time when the state is unable or unwilling to provide the means of existence to the citizens, would be  hard to predict. The massive exodus of ‘migrants’ from Africa to the European countries across the Mediterranean Sea might be one of these unfortunate consequences.

The fact that the developing countries have a heterogenous social base, in contrast to the homogenous nature of the nation-states of Europe, also calls into question the idea of rule of the majority which underpins democracy in Europe. This model of majority rule, that is characteristic of Liberal or Libertarian democracy, is appreciated by the members of the majorities since the political system adopts their ethnic, linguistic or religious characteristics. It is those who belong to the ethnic or linguistic or religious minorities who fear marginalization and discrimination based on their identities. It is no wonder, therefore, that the system can even tolerate and protect the exercise of individual rights and freedoms that are directed against ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities. This is also why when the racist, Nazi and Fascist groups mobilize the members of the majorities against the minorities they do it under the pretext of nationalism, by even describing themselves democrats.

For many of the African and Asian countries who have over one hundred smaller distinct ethnic, religious or cultural groups (e.g., Nigeria, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia), majority rule can mean political and economic domination by very few ethnic groups with large populations. In most of these countries, the official languages used in the government offices, courts, schools, hospitals, employment areas, etc. are the language(s) or these majority groups. By virtue of their numerical size these majorities can effectively dominate the other groups economically, politically, culturally, socially and in other respects. The fear of being dominated by other social groups, as well as the desire to protect and promote their own traditional collective interests, leads individual in these kinds of societies to think of their own narrower social groups rather than with the nation when the right to votes is guaranteed. Alex Thomas was right in underscoring the point that even the recognition of “(M)ulti-party democracy … opens up the possibility of full-scale mobilisation. After all, as Claude Ake points out, ’Liberal democracy assumes individualism, but there is little individualism in Africa’. Africans interact on a more communal basis.”[82]

The other reason which makes normative individualism less attractive in countries that are not as economically developed as Western countries is that it is associated with calls to limit the role and authority of government in societal matters. People in countries with diverse social groups who suffer from neglect, deprivation and discrimination need centralized government policies and measures to provide assistance, for example, by expanding the infrastructure and providing education, health services, housing facilities and the like. This means government for the people. However, this is the exact opposite of what normative individualism calls for, particularly when inspired by the Randian political model.

This Randian model has been praised as the best system since it maximizes individual freedoms; however, at the same time it rejects the rights of individuals to work, health, education and a decent standard of living — i.e. to their very means of survival. Under this formula an unemployed person is given the option of accepting or rejecting an offer of employment. A person who is discriminated against in the field of employment, education or health has nowhere to turn to because the government is discouraged from responding to these kinds of social and economic problems. A citizen who is bankrupted after being forced to sell his home to pay for medical treatment for family member or who becomes disabled or ill due to conditions at work should not count on help from the government since the rights to health and a decent standard of living are not recognized. The individual merits no support as a citizen since the government has no authority to respond to such problems. Those private individuals who try to help by providing support are ridiculed since altruism is considered as foolishness. This model is surely unacceptable in developing countries. Martti Koskenniemi was correct in stating that “(T)he nation-State and its democratic forms may not be for export as pure form” and in warning against the insistence on using democratic models as ‘an international or universal norm of ‘democracy’ … within existing political communities (where it) may in fact be unacceptable … and always suspect as a neocolonialist strategy”.[83]

Concerned by the loophole in human rights which normative individualism has created, some Liberals, such as Jack Donnelly, Will Kymlicka, John Rawls and those who appreciate the virtues of Utilitarianism offer different kinds of remedies in the interest of social justice. Jack Donnelly endorses economic and social rights but not group rights, except indigenous rights. Kymlicka accepts group rights including minority rights. Both these positions deviate from normative individualism. Embracing Utilitarian ideas also creates obvious tension with the Liberal and Libertarian ways of thinking, whose very premise, at least as formulated in the thoughts of John Locke, Immanuel Kant and Jean Jacque Rousseau is the defense of natural rights. According to Jeremy Bentham, the father of Utilitarianism and positivism, the notion of natural rights is nonsense because it is fabricated based on passions.[84] “There are no rights without law”, in his opinion and “no rights contrary to the law.”[85] Rights, obligations, offence and services are all inter-connected and they are made by governments to govern the community.[86] When there are social problems or wrong things happen, it is the responsibility of the government to make them right, in ways that maximize benefits to the welfare of the governed. This is why Utilitarianism maintains that if a right is worth its name it should have utility.[87]

The collectivist schools of thoughts, such as, Communitarianism, Socialism and Social-Democracy embark from a solid base which considers the self as a by-product of the community and the defense of the collective interests. Unlike the proponents of normative individualism they do not have rely on imagined ‘natural rights’. Their concern for collective and group interests makes their approach ‘democracy friendly’ since the people are groups, not individuals. Regarding the self as a by-product of the community leads to the idea of empowering communities. However, this creates tension inside multi-ethnic and multi-national societies, and may even lead to the disintegration of their states, as occurred in the former U.S.S.R, the Yugoslav Federation and Czechoslovakia. The challenge is to develop political models which extend democracy to the people of the state, as a whole, while protecting the interests of communities.

An example of a common ideological platform which unifies diverse ethnic, religious and cultural groups under a common cause is the Marxist theory of Socialism which merges ‘the workers’ into one proletarian class. The weaknesses of this theory include (i) the rejection of the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the individuals, (ii) the use of the top-down approaches of governance by elitists (central committees) to dictate the affairs and interests on the people, and (iii) the assumption that all sociological nations should have the right to create their own political nations. The concept of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ implies elitist rule by those who claim to know the requirements of ‘scientific’ socialism and are intolerant of dissent. We have seen, time and again, how opposition can be silenced by being condemned as anti-social, reactionary, counter-revolutionary.

The other problem with the Marxism model is its defense of national self-determination. The application of this theory would lead to the disintegration of multi-national states such as Russia, Spain and the United Kingdom as well as most African and Asian countries, as has already occurred in the former U.S.S.R, the Yugoslav Federation and Czechoslovakia. Moreover, this is likely to encourage smaller social groups, such as, indigenous groups, tribes, and religious and linguistic communities to also struggle either for separation or for some kind of autonomy, thereby further disrupting the fabric of national unity.

Social democracy has navigated between these contrasting positions of Marxism, Communitarianism and Liberalism. It accepts the social nature of mankind and rejects the notion of political emancipation through proletariat revolution. The electoral system and multi-party system are embraced as the best means of protecting individual rights and freedoms. This way, the notion of government by the people and of the people is guaranteed. The interests of the broader community are promoted in two ways. On the one hand, economic, social and cultural rights are recognized and promoted through higher taxation and key public sectors – such as schools, transportation, insurance, media – are placed under ‘public’ control. This political model has been used for decades and continues to dominate politics in the Nordic countries, such as Sweden. This model tolerates the existence of rival political parties, such as Liberals, Leftists, extreme Right-wing parties and Christian Democrats. While the Social Democratic Party of Sweden is not as powerful as it used to be it is still the strongest of all the parties, and the dominance of social democratic ideas is such that even the rival parties do not dare to openly call for dismantling of the social benefits which Social Democracy has brought about. Interestingly, because Social Democracy has produced tangible results, the strategy which the populist parties use is to say that immigrants are threat to the nation and looting what is collected from the taxpayer. To put it crudely, their slogans are simple: ‘elect us and we will drive the alien looters out’. Not surprisingly, these kinds of emotionally appealing promises have not enabled the Swedish Democrats (the Extreme Right) to get about 17% of the votes in the most recent election.

 Modern Democracy: Historical Evolution

The American and French revolutions created shock-waves among despotic leaders near and far and inspired hope among the victims of oppression. During the first decade of the 19th century the armies of Napoleon spread out over large parts of Europe, promising the fruits of the French Revolution to the inhabitants of the occupied territories. The leaders of the uprisings in European colonies of Central and South America took advantage of the occupation of Portugal and Spain by Napoleon to struggle for independence and start out on a new, democratic way of life. The louder and wider the drums of revolution, popular sovereignty and self-determination echoed, the more colonialism and despotism lost ground in the Western hemisphere. European despots were left with a choice between peaceful change and bloody uprisings.

Not surprisingly, constitutional proclamations upholding popular sovereignty started to make appearances in many places, even if what was promised and proclaimed was not always delivered. Article 49 of the May 17, 1814 constitution of the newly established state of Norway promised Norwegian citizens that the new order would place the legislative power in hands of their parliament (the Storting).[88] The Liberian Declaration of Independence of July 16, 1848 recognized the ‘inalienable rights’ of all men including “life, liberty, and the right to acquire, possess, enjoy, and defend property” and:

…to institute a government, and to choose and adopt that system, or form of it, which in their opinion will most effectively accomplish these objects, and secure their happiness, … to institute government and powers necessary to conduct it is an inalienable right and cannot be resisted without the grossest injustice.”[89]

Article 39 of the Mexican constitution of 1917 stated that “national sovereignty resides essentially and originally in the people. All public power originates in the people and is instituted for their benefit. The people at all times have the inalienable right to alter or modify their form of government”[90] Paragraph 1 of article 6 of the 1937 Irish constitution affirmed that:“All powers of government, legislative, executive and judicial, derive, under God, from the people, whose right it is to designate the rulers of the State and, in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.”[91]

In light of this there is no doubt that the notion of ‘the will of the people’ has been transformed to an important international principle by the end of World War I.This is not, by any means, to suggest that democratic governments were established everywhere or that the states which purported to be democratic were acting democratically. The point is made merely to underscore that popular sovereignty was increasingly invoked and formally acknowledged in the American hemisphere and in Europe including in Russia where a Communist form of governance had been proclaimed. The enjoyment of effective democracy, however, had to wait for several decades until the required institutions were fully developed and the citizens (including women) were empowered to exercise their democratic rights.

The notion of ‘the will of the people` received a face-lift when it was proposed for use as an international political norm by the victorious Allied Powers at the end of World War I. The intention behind this proposal was mainly to legitimize of the contours of the new political borders of Europe. This was to be done by asking some of the inhabitants of the frontier areas to choose between the bordering states they preferred to belong to. Speaking before the U.S. Congress, President Woodrow Wilson emphasized the significance of respecting the rights of every people to “be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of government” since “(N)o peace can last, or ought to last, which does not recognize and accept the principle that governments derive all their powers from the consent of the governed.”[92] This idea was endorsed by the British Labour party with regard to the occupied German and Ottoman territories.[93]

There is no doubt that the problems that emerged following World War I were ultimately settled according to the principle of ‘Might is Right’. Few would doubt that the political behavior of the Allied Powers, on both domestic and international planes, was hardly reconcilable with this noble idea of ‘the will of the people’. Nevertheless, by this time the concept of ‘will of the people’ had become popular and it was applied. albeit selectively, in border areas such as the Saar Basin, Upper Silesia, East Prussia, and Eupen and Malmedy by asking the inhabitants of these regions to indicate which states they wished be part of.[94] The inhabitants of these territories were not given the right to create separate states, or to have their own rule in the form of autonomy or self-administration. The principle of self-determination was applied in a restricted way.

The other innovative political development which occurred at this time was the establishment of the Mandate system. Under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the states that were awarded the administration of territories that were taken from Germany and the Ottoman Turks, were required to respect “the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization”. The manner in which this obligation was discharged was supervised by the League of Nations.

The Evolution of Democracy as a Universal Legal Concept

The Mandates and Roles of the UN. More relevant to the present era is how the notion of democracy was developed by the United Nations as a legal concept of universal validity. This development came about after a long and twisted process of negotiations and international political cooperation. The mandates for being concerned with this subject-matter were enshrined in the purposes of this organization. According to Article 1 paragraph 3 they include the promotion of respect for human rights and finding solutions to international economic and social problems. Paragraph 2 of this same provision obliges the UN to promote the equal rights and self-determination of peoples as the basis for friendly relations among nations. Even if the word democracy is not explicitly mentioned in these provisions, it is obvious that the realization of these goals would further the process of democratization.

Before explaining the road-map used by the UN to promote democratic values, it is important to remember things. Firstly, the UN does not have the power to adopt legally binding decisions, other than those that concern international peace and security. This is why its guidelines on the promotion of democracy are merely guidelines, unless they are embodied in legally binding instruments which are ratified by states. Example of this includes the right to take part in government which is recognized in article 25 of the international covenant on civil and political rights. Secondly, when it comes to the kinds of political systems which best promote democracy, the view of this organization is that it does not endorse any particular model. Whether this is stated merely for the sake of politeness to respect the Charter principle of state sovereignty, it is up to the reader to decide. What is equally obvious is that the UN is urging states to conduct themselves in accordance with the Human Rights-Based Approach, which suggests that this approach appears to be the only acceptable method of promoting and measuring democracy in the absence of other tools.

The UN has been following two distinct ‘pathways’ to the promotion of democracy, one based on peoples’ rights and good governance and the second one based on human rights.[95] The former focuses on the collective dimensions of the rights of peoples (political communities)– i.e. democracy ‘from above’. The second approach focuses on how empowerment is to be promoted ‘from below’ by facilitating the exercise of rights by individuals and the members of some social groups. These two approaches are closely intertwined. Ignoring one or the other leads to a distorted understanding of how democracy, as a concept, is perceived by the UN. In the following section we will sketch the legal background for the UN’s promotion of both peoples’ rights and human rights. The significance of these legal frameworks for democracy will be explored in more detail later. 

How the UN Developed the Rights of Peoples: The UN developed the rights of peoples because its purposes include promoting “friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” (art. 1(2) emphasis added). Article 55 lists the conditions which are necessary for achieving stability based on people’s rights. These include respect for human rights, and the promotion of economic and social development and other collective interests of the community. In Articles 73 and 76, this instrument addresses the rights of peoples inhabiting non-self-governing territories. All these references to the rights of peoples has evidently transformed the notion of ‘people’, which was earlier vague and an ideologically contested political concept, to a universally applicable legal concept with practical implications.

The UN Charter has not defined the concept of ‘people’. Nor has it listed all the rights peoples have. However, it is apparent that its drafters took care to ensure that issues related to democracy were not left out altogether. For example, its preambles start with the words “We the peoples of the United Nations” and ends by stating that it is these peoples of the world “through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers … (and established) … the United Nations.” Although many of the governments that were assembled to establish this organization in 1945 were not democratic, the form of the words used in the Charter sends a clear signal that states should belong to their peoples and not to the rulers. This implies the illegitimacy of despotism: a clear signal to despotic rulers that the UN would not tolerate the conducts of rulers who say, “I am the State” or “The State, That’s me”, as Louis XVI of France is supposed to have stated.

Using the mandates given to it by its Charter to promote friendly relations among nations based on respect for people’s rights(art. 1(2)), human rights and development (art. 1(3)), the UN wasted very little time in clarifying the road-map that should be followed. The first bold step was taken in 1948 when it adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the individual. Article 21 of this Declaration specifies the role of democracy in guaranteeing human rights. According to the 3rd paragraph of this provision, “(T)he will of the peoples hall be the basis of the authority of government” (emphasis added) and “this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”  The first two operative paragraphs of this provision deal with the rights of the citizen “to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives” and to “equal access to public service”.

Leaving this implicit endorsement of democracy aside, group rights, such as minority or indigenous rights and the rights of peoples to self-determination were left out from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[96] Because of this the states that were disappointed by this omission wasted no time in mobilizing in defense of the rights of peoples. Since these states were in the majority, they were able to muster the necessary votes to recognize the right to self-determination as a human right[97] and to include this right in the two draft covenants on human rights which were prepared following the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.[98] Henceforth, peoples’ rights were to be treated not only as human rights but also as a pre-requisite for the effective enjoyment of human rights.[99]

Bearing this in mind, as well as the pledges given by the colonial powers under article 73 and 76 of the Charter to respect the rights of the peoples of the dependent territories, including their “their political, economic, social, and educational advancement” and “self-government” (art. 73) or independence (art. 76) the UN pressed these powers to deliver on their pledges. When they dragged their feet, the General Assembly adopted, on 14 December 1960, the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Territories. The rest is history: colonialism was progressively dismantled, overseen by the Decolonization Committee, a process which led to the gradual advancement of democracy.

In the decades that followed, the UN adopted important instruments re-affirming and elaborating the different rights of peoples, including their right to social progress and development, to sovereignty over natural resources and wealth, etc. The adoption and coming into force of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976 further affirmed the validity and significance of human rights and peoples’ rights.  Monitoring bodies were set up to assess the compliance with the provisions of these Covenants by the states that had ratified them. Of special importance to democracy is the acknowledgement made in paragraph 1 of article 1 of these two covenants that:

All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

This provision acknowledges the political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of the rights which peoples have. The exercise of the political rights entitles a people, i.e., an internationally recognized political community or public family, to decide what the international political status of its country should be, e.g. to be independent, to be united with other political entities, or to be associated in different ways. In addition, a people is also said to have the right to manage its domestic affairs by freely pursuing its economic, social and cultural development. How this is done is left to each people and its state. However, it is interesting to note, in this regard, that article 55 of the Charter considers the promotion of “higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development” as being essential for the realization of the rights of peoples. The UN is obliged by this provision to promote these goals, and members states have given their pledge to cooperate with these efforts, in accordance with article 56 of the Charter.

The Development of International Human Rights Law. The 1945 UN Charter reaffirms that all human beings have dignity and worth. It also made the promotion of human rights and freedom sone of its basic purposes. Proceeding from these premises the UN acknowledged, in 1948 the legitimacy of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights when it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The unique contribution which this document has brought to the discourse on human rights and democracy are highlighted by six key points of interest.

First, the declaration recognizes, in the third preamble, that “human rights should be protected by the rule of law” to avoid rebellion against oppression and tyrannical rule. This statement slams the door on the Hobbesian model of governance. Second, it articulates rights and freedoms by individualizing them (as the rights of individuals) as desired by Liberals and Libertarians. Third, it identifies the civil and political rights necessary for establishing and sustaining democratic governance, e.g., the rights to the freedom of expression, assembly, association and political participation. Fourth, it sets out the economic, social and cultural rights which good governance should promote – i.e. the entitlement to work, health, education, an adequate standard of living, etc. Fifth, in article 29, it accepts the positions of collectivists concerning the importance of subordinating individual rights and freedoms to the interests of the community. This provision makes it clear that individual rights can be restricted as “determined by law for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”. At the same time, it acknowledges that the individual beneficiary of human rights “has duties to the community in which the free and full development of his personality is possible”. Last but not least, as pointed out earlier, this Declaration requires that the authority of governments should be based on “the will of the people”, which “shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections”.

When the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted no state voted against it. This was because its contents were formulated after considerable negotiations and because it was understood that it was not intended to be legally binding, but merely to set a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations” as indicated in the last paragraph of the preamble of the Declaration. As stated in article 10 of the UN Charter, the General Assembly has no power to adopt binding instruments. Still, there were a few states that chose to abstain from supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because its contents were incompatible with their ideological or political convictions. These included the Soviet Union and its allies (consistent with the opposition of Marx to ‘the rights of man’), the racist regime of South Africa and conservative Saudi Arabia. The idea that all individuals should take part in politics and that governments should derive their authority from the will of the governed was not appreciated by the governments of the latter two states at the time. This is not to say that the domestic features of the other states who voted in favor of the declaration were fully in line with what required by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It simply explains what ‘compelled’ those states that chose to abstain to do so.

After the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the UN turned its attention to the preparation of legally binding covenants. On 5 February 1952 the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 543 (VI) requesting the Economic and Social Council to instruct the Commission on Human Rights to draft two separate covenants for subsequent adoption by the General Assembly. One was to deal with civil and political rights and the other with economic, social and cultural rights. During the drafting process the ideologically charged controversies relating to the validity of economic, social and cultural rights once again became the focus of intense debates. When it became clear that these were leading nowhere,  the General Assembly stepped in to break the deadlock by asking the Economic and Social Council to instruct the Commission on Human Rights (the drafting body) to acknowledge that “when deprived of economic, social and cultural rights, man does not represent the human person whom the Universal Declaration regards as the ideal of the free man”.[100]

Bearing this in mind, the Human Rights Commission was required to “include in the draft Covenant a clear expression of economic, social and cultural rights in a manner which relates them to civic and political rights and freedoms.”[101] The Commission complied with this, which is why we now find, in the third preamble of both these covenants, an identical provision acknowledging that:

the ideal of free human beings enjoying civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights

Ever since then, the inseparability of the linkage between civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights has been continually re-affirmed by the international community. In the 1968 Tehran Declaration, which was adopted on the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the General Assembly made it clear that:

Since human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible, the full realization of civil and political rights without the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights is impossible. The achievement of lasting progress in the implementation of human rights is dependent upon sound and effective national and international policies of economic and social development”.[102]

This formulation was slightly reformulated gradually, when the General Assembly adopted the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, by stating:

All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.”[103]

After the two international covenants were adopted by General Assembly resolution 2200 A (XXI) on 16 December 1966, and came to force in 1976, the stage was set for the emergence of many other human rights conventions. Some of these subsequent conventions provide protection for the members of the different vulnerable groups (e.g., children, women, those with disabilities, migrant workers, indigenous peoples and those belonging to minorities) by contextualizing the complex realities obstructing their enjoyment of rights on an equal basis with others. The international regime of human rights which is now in place has been further enriched by the practices of the international monitoring bodies of the UN, the treaty committees, those of specialized agencies (e.g., the International Labour Organization and UNESCO) and the regional organizations (e.g., the Council of Europe, the African Union, the Organization of American States, etc.).

These developments have been warmly welcomed by progressive states and non-state actors who are committed to the defense of human rights, as positive steps towards the creation of a human rights-sensitive just global order. However, because the existing international monitoring systems have obvious weaknesses, pressure to further develop these mechanisms have been growing. In response to these concerns, the UN has gradually developed its Human Rights-Based Approach to be used as a normative conceptual framework to assess and promote compliance with international standards for human rights. Since the UN considers that the progress that is made towards developing human rights is irreversible, it started to use this HRBA for assessing how states are conducting themselves in human rights sensitive matters, including when it comes to promoting democratic values.

Democracy and the Human Rights-Based Approach

Conditioning Political Conducts to a Human Rights-Based Approach: Introduction

It may well be asked whether governments will permit the international organizations such as the UN to assess their conduct under the lens of human rights. Can the international requirements to comply with human rights standards and the principles of social justice really shape the conduct of political actors? This is not a new question. It was raised as far back as 1919 in the preamble of the International Labour Organization, which clarifies why this organization was established:

Whereas universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice. And whereas conditions of labour exist involving such injustice, hardship and privation to large numbers of people as to produce unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled; and an improvement of those conditions is urgently required … The High Contracting Parties, moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world, and with a view to attaining the objectives set forth in this Preamble, agree to the following Constitution of the International Labour Organization.”

It may seem puzzling that states of this period, especially the colonial powers, agreed to the establishment of such an organization, committed to the promotion of social justice. The explanation lies in the timing: the ILO was set up in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, when fears of the spill-over effects of this Revolution were real. The establishment of a communist regime in the USSR was justified as a response to the grievances of Russian workers against capitalism; and it seemed all too likely that workers in Western capitalist states would do the same. Added to this was the exhaustion of the Western powers after the First World War (1914-1918), leaving them with little alternative but to seek to establish more sustainable norms of political behaviour, based on humane values.

Unfortunately, this enterprise was not founded on solid grounds. The League of Nations which was established at the time to maintain international peace and security was not equipped with the legal and political mandates necessary to create a political order based on human rights. Instead, the League was used to protect the hegemonic interests of the rival big powers, including by preserving their spheres of colonial domination. An international organization which protects an unjust political order cannot survive and it soon became clear that the next annexationist wars were just around the corner.

The establishment of the UN brought about a unique situation which favoured the establishment of a more just order based on the promotion of human rights. The states which joined hands to create this organization made clear their determination, as stated in the preambles of the UN Charter that they are committed:

to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.…

to establish conditions under which justice … can be maintained, and

to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The‘peoples of the world’ were thus promised an international order that would take issues related to human rights and justice seriously. To this end, the UN was given a clear mandate to promote the self-determination of peoples and universal human rights, as provided by article 1 of the Charter, bearing in mind the need for settling international disputes “in conformity with the principles of justice and international law”. The regime of human rights that was developed subsequently was based on the understanding that its operation should not contravene the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention. The ratification of the human rights instruments is left up to each state, although this would be monitored by the international bodies that are created for this purpose. If states ratify these human rights instruments they are not at liberty to disregard the undertakings assumed thereunder. If they do, violations of human rights are seen as an essentially international concern, warranting the legitimate responses in accordance with the seriousness of the case.

It goes without saying, therefore, that states which have assumed international human rights obligations are required to conduct themselves as required by the ratified instruments. This means they should follow a human rights-based approach when pursuing their political objectives. The idea of empowering the UN to monitor how this approach was pursued was resisted during the Cold War by the ardent defenders of state sovereignty, such as the U.S.S.R. and its allies, since they were suspicious of the political intentions of the Western Powers. The states which are not as economically developed and politically stable as those in the West also feared that this approach could be easily exploited to undermine state sovereignty in the pretext of addressing human rights violations. When the Soviet Bloc collapsed, resistance to the use of this human rights-based approach by the UN started to crumble. The Western powers too started to pressure these weaker states to embrace this approach, if they are to participate in Western-led globalization. This basically meant they were required to respect human rights as perceived by Liberalism.

The Development of the Human Rights-Based Approach by the UN

As the Soviet Union and its allies became weaker towards the end of the 1980s, the Western powers, political activists, non-governmental organizations and units within the UN wasted no time in making sure that a human rights-based approach to development should be incorporated into the UN system. The basic idea was to use this approach by making human rights a cross-cutting and pivotal factor for all states and agencies involved in formulating policies and pursuing and assessing development programs.  As UNICEF put it:

“A human rights-based approach is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights.”[104]

This approach, as its proponents see it, ensures further consolidations of progress achieved in developing the regime of human rights, since the excuses which are commonly made to disregard human rights in the pretext of development will no longer be tolerated. After all, in article 1 (1) of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development, development has already recognized the right to development as:

“an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”

This means, when states design and implement their development plans, programs and activities, the human being should be “the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development” (art. 2(1)). The human being should not be used as a tool for development.

One of the driving forces behind this promotion of human development is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which published its first Human Development Report in 1990. Thereafter, the seeds of the HRBA began to be sown in the different international conferences that were arranged by the UN. The 1992 Rio Declaration on environment and development urged states to put human beings at the center of ‘sustainable development” and to enhance the participation of women and indigenous peoples in the development process.[105] The 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed “the right to development, as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.”[106] Article 16 of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing called for the promotion of:

sustained economic growth, social development, environmental protection and social justice (which) requires the involvement of women in economic and social development, equal opportunities and the full and equal participation of women and men as agents and beneficiaries of people-centred sustainable development”.

That same year the World Summit for Social Development underscored, in article 66, the importance of pursuing a policy of social integration by enabling the individual to play an active role in the process, and added that:

Such an inclusive society must be based on respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, cultural and religious diversity, social justice and the special needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, democratic participation and the rule of law”.

Shortly thereafter, A UN Programme for Reform was launched, in order to inspire UN-affiliated entities “to mainstream human rights into their various activities and programmes within the framework of their respective mandates.”[107] The idea behind this was to design a commonly agreed upon, right-based approach model for use by UN agencies, funds and programmes. The task was initially left to the UN Interagency Workshop on a Human Rights Based Approach, which met from 3 to 5 May 2003. This gradually led to the formulation of a “Common Understanding”, which was subsequently endorsed by the 2005 World Summit, giving HRBA official political legitimacy, thereby paving the road for “developing concrete tools, instruments and processes … [and] coordinated system-wide actions in those areas.”[108]

In the context of development, there are two basic requirements for compliance with HRBA. First, the goals of development policies, strategies, programs, activities, technical assistance and co-operation should always further human rights, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments. This means that the human rights standards contained in these instruments should guide development programming and cooperation in all sectors and in all phases of the development processes. Second, these development processes and cooperation should contribute to strengthening the capacities of the ‘rights-holders’ to claim their rights and the ‘duty-bearers’ to comply with their human rights obligations. This requires appreciating five key points: i. the universality of human rights, so that all human beings are in a position to exercise their rights; ii. the inalienable nature of human rights, which means that they cannot be abandoned; iii. The indivisibility, inter-dependent and inter-relatedness of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, without prioritizing one over the other; iv. The promotion of equal rights by combating all forms of discrimination, e.g. by ensuring inclusion and participation; and v. respect for the rule of law and the principle of accountability.[109]

When applied to the real world what this means is that development should be understood in human terms, as a means of safeguarding the dignity and worth of the human being, for the benefit and empowerment of all the right-holders without discrimination based on sex, age, linguistic, religious and other factors. This requires compliance by States with the obligations which they have assumed under the different international human rights instruments, including those protecting the members of vulnerable groups, such as children, women, migrant workers, persons with disabilities and those who belong to minorities and indigenous groups.

It is important to recognize that this HRBA is not legally binding or free from controversy. Its starting point which considers human rights as inter-related, interdependent and interconnected, as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is questioned by some states who have intentionally avoided from ratifying the covenant on civil and political rights or the covenant on economic and social rights, or some of the conventions which protect vulnerable groups. The principle of state sovereignty, which is recognized in paragraph 1 of article 2 permits states to ratify or not to ratify the human rights instruments and to make reservations on the instruments they wish to ratify. As elaborated in principles 3 and 4 of the 1970 UN Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States the principle of sovereignty also entails non-intervention in what is essentially a domestic matter. “Every State” under this declaration, “has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State.”

States that lag behind in economic development see the HRBA with suspicion because it can be used to stifle their development efforts by making allegations about human rights abuses. These states, especially those with marginalized and neglected multi-ethnic and multi-national groups, claim that they have inherited unjust economic, social and political structures from their colonial past. As they see it, there is no quick-fix to achieve development without making sacrifices. Without rapid economic development, human rights cannot be effectively realized and enjoyed by all on equal basis. These states, therefore, appear to be caught in a vicious circle with no easy escape from the traps of underdevelopment.

Under these circumstances, as governments of these developing countries see it, prioritizing HRBA will not only frustrate the efforts which they are making to develop, but could even de-legitimize these governments themselves and in the end weaken their states. The developed states do not have this problem because they are already developed – and mostly by sacrificing human rights. A case in point is the way the industrialized states in north America and the Western Europe were able to develop during the past centuries by benefiting from slavery and colonial subjugation. The point here is not to say that the developing countries should do what the developed ones have done, but to underscore the point that giving veto power to individuals and local groups on the pretext of human rights, e.g. when attention is turned to the construction of dams, railroads or highways, the large-scale development of agriculture and the exploitation of minerals, etc. runs the risk of arresting national development efforts.

Leaving behind these controversies surrounding HRBA, UN bodies, human rights monitors, donors, NGOs and an increasing number of states are now use of this tool for evaluation of development policies, and to make sure that rights-holders are claiming their rights. UNDP relies on HRBA for assessing the success of development efforts of states in promoting sustainable human development and tackling inequalities and discrimination. Donor agencies use it to see how their development aid benefits the local populations on the ground. UNICEF uses it to assess the extent to which the welfare of children is being protected in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Likewise, WHO uses HRBA to assess health service provision for children, compliance with the health service provision for women required by the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and accessibility and acceptability of food, water, clothing and shelter to populations at large as required by articles 11 and 12 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

At the same time as the HRBA is monitored from above by UN bodies, specialized agencies, donors and states, the UN was also making efforts to empower beneficiaries and defenders of human rights to apply HRBA from below. These efforts culminated in 1998 in the adoption of the “Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (better known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders). This instrument sets out how the voices of the beneficiaries and defenders of human rights should be respected and promoted in the debates on development. “Individuals, groups, institutions and non-governmental organizations”, states article 18, “have an important role to play and a responsibility in safeguarding democracy, promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms and contributing to the promotion and advancement of democratic societies, institutions and processes.”

The different provisions of this declaration underscore the roles which states should play in supporting human rights activities. More specifically, it defends the rights of individuals and groups “to promote and strive for the protection and realization of human rights at the national and international levels” (art. 1). These activities include the rights “to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about human rights” (art. 6(a)), to meet, assemble and participate in associations, to form non-governmental organizations, and to communicate with international organizations and NGOs (art. 5) and to engage in public awareness campaigns (art. 6(b) & (c) & 16). Further, the declaration affirms the rights of individuals and groups to solicit resources for their human rights activities (art. 13), to engage in peaceful activities (art. 12), to obtain effective remedies for the rights that are violated (art. 9(1)) and to approach governmental bodies and agencies to express criticism and propose improvements (art. 8).

Shortly after this declaration was adopted by the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Commission also began highlighting the kinds of measures which states should take to promote democracy. These included respecting human rights in general, but also in particular political rights, such as the freedoms of expression, assembly and association (for example by allowing multiple political parties), and the right to participate in the government. Furthermore, states were urged to strengthen their electoral systems (by ensuring universal suffrage), to guarantee the impartiality of the judiciary, promote a pluralistic and independent media, ensure respect for the rule of law, and enhance the transparency and the accountability of government.[110] Support was also given by UN offices and programs to national and local initiatives to empower women, to strengthen human rights institutions, to safeguard the independence of the media and develop policies and laws promoting freedoms of expression, association and assembly.[111] All these measures were deemed to be necessary for promotion of democracy.

Application of the HRBA to Democracy – The Group Rights Approach

Collectivists, such as Socialists and Communitarians, and most of the defenders of state sovereignty prefer to see the UN focus on group rights (and state sovereignty) when applying HRBA to promote and measure democracy. It is evident that HRBA is currently used mainly to check on the extent to which countries respect and promote individual rights and freedoms, as preferred by Liberals and Libertarians. However, it would be a mistake to assume that the international regime of human rights has entirely abandoned the collectivist approach, especially how peoples’ rights are promoted. The UN has been promoting empowerment both from below (by promoting individual rights) and from above (by promoting the rights of peoples) to further the processes of democratization.

The UN assumed its mandate to promote the rights of peoples on the basis of articles 1(2), 73 and 76 of its Charter. The earlier moves of this organization to promote the rights of peoples were aimed at facilitating the decolonization of the non-self-governing territories. This was achieved by following two separate approaches. On the one hand, the UN monitored compliance by administrators of colonial territories with their human rights obligations under articles 73 and 76 of the UN Charter, which had both collective and individual dimensions. On the other hand, this organization was promoting ‘friendly relations among nations based on the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’ as provided by paragraph 2 of article 1 of the Charter. The latter, in essence, concerns promoting the rights of political entities (i.e. the dependent nations) and their relations with the administering powers. Operative paragraph 3 of General Assembly resolution 637 A (VII) 16 December 1952 encapsulates how these two approaches were invoked to achieve the same goal of ending colonialism. This provision provided that:

“The States Members of the United Nations responsible for the administration of Non-Self-Governing and Trust Territories shall take practical steps, pending the realization of the right of self-determination and in preparation thereof, to ensure the direct participation of the indigenous populations in the legislative and executive organs of government of those Territories, and to prepare them for complete self-government or independence.”

Frustrated by the consistent demands of the UN General Assembly calling for the speeding up of the process of democratization in the non-self-governing territories, the colonial powers questioned the legal basis for these kinds of interventions by the UN, since they considered these questions as internal matters. At one point they even refused to send the reports to the UN as required under article 73 of the Charter. If the UN was to proceed with this manner of ‘intervention’, it was argued, then other independent states too should do the same by speeding up the process of democratization within their realms e.g., by empowering minorities and indigenous groups. This political campaign was led by Belgium using the formula which was known at that time ‘the Belgian thesis’. The idea was to broaden the obligations mentioned in articles 73 and 76 of the Charter to all the UN members to promote self-government for all their minorities and indigenous tribes.[112] This idea was dismissed by the anti-colonial camp as an effort to meddle in the internal matters of independent states, by confusing internal and international issues, thereby distorting the purposes of articles 73 and 76 (the so-called colonial provisions).[113]

One of the arguments used by the colonial powers to reject the promotion of human rights, democracy and self-determination in their colonial territories was that the word self-determination is not even mentioned in articles 73 and 76. The General Assembly responded by recognizing the right of peoples to self-determination as a human right, by resolution 421 D(V) of 4 December 1950. On 5 February 1952, the General Assembly went a step further by adopting resolution 545 (VI) which requires an article which deals with this right to be inserted in the international covenants that were being drafted. The colonial states, backed by most other Western states, rejected this by raising the familiar Liberal argument that the right of peoples to self-determination was a group right and not individual human right and therefore cannot be accepted as a human right. Even if the UN was to proceed with this idea, they argued, it would be difficult to apply it because it was difficult to define who the right-holders (i.e. the ‘peoples’) were.

The General Assembly justified its own moves by underlining that this right to self-determination was already recognized in paragraph 2 of article 1 of the UN Charter. Moreover, the UN would continue to promote this right throughout the dependent territories since they had international status and were not simply internal matters of the colonial powers. When the colonial powers refused to cooperate in dismantling their colonial rule based on the principle of the ‘will of the people’, the General Assembly adopted, in 1960, its Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. This was followed by the creation of its Decolonization Committee to speed up the demise of colonialism. The rest is the story of how around seventy per cent of the population of the world was set free from the yoke of colonialism. This was an important step forward for democracy.

The UN Charter recognizes the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and the two international covenants acknowledge the rights of “all peoples” to self-determination. Bearing this in mind, the UN has not refrained from expressing concern over how the principle of self-determination is respected even outside the colonial context. As is recalled, it imposed economic and arm embargoes on the South African regime of Apartheid and even refused to recognize its credentials as the representative of the people of South Africa. In 1990, the UN Security Council condemned the forcible removal of the legitimate government of Kuwait by the military force of neighboring Iraq (resolution 660). It did the same in 1991 when the legitimate ruler of Haiti, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown (resolution 940) and it denounced the 2006 military take-over in the Fiji (resolution 8893). This organization has also called for free and fair elections in many countries that were plugged by conflict, such as for the conflict in Rwanda in 1993 (resolution 872), the D. R. Congo, in 1999 (resolution S/RES/12134), Sierra in 2002 (resolution 1389), Liberia in 2003 (resolution 1509) and Burundi in 2016 (resolution 2303). Indeed as the UN homepage on democracy indicates only after the end of the Cold War this organization, “has provided various forms of electoral assistance to more than 100 countries — including advisory services, logistics, training, civic education, computer applications and short-term observation.”

How states conduct themselves when respecting and promoting the rights of people also continues to be of concern to the UN. Proceeding from this premise, the UN has continued to adopt important declarations which elaborate the different rights of all peoples. Examples include the rights to social progress and development[114], on sovereignty over natural resources and wealth[115], and the right to development.[116] In all these instruments attention is drawn to ‘peoples’ rights’ and how the needs of the members of these political communities are to be met. It is important to recognize, in this respect, that unlike the right to self-determination, which is affirmed by the two legally binding covenants, most of above-mentioned rights are mentioned in declarations which are not binding and only set guidelines.

Equally important is to note when it comes to how the UN promotes democracy, are the steps taken to promote the rights of the rights of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous groups. In 1992, this organization adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, and Religious Minorities.[117] Although this declaration takes an individualized approach to minority rights it also acknowledges that the rights that are recognized can be exercised collectively. In 2007 the UN adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This instrument defends both the individual and group rights of these communities. In effect, this latter instrument which promotes the rights of ‘indigenous peoples’ follows the ‘Belgian thesis’ which was defended in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At the time Belgian was calling for expanding the obligations assumed by the Colonial Powers in relation to articles 73 and 76 to encompass all states.

The 2007 Indigenous Declaration acknowledges that indigenous peoples have the right to internal self-determination in the form of self-government or autonomy[118] and calls for the protection of  their laws, cultures, traditions, languages, institutions, traditional medicines and land rights.[119] The implementation of this instrument will clearly empower the members of the indigenous communities, as well as indigenous groups as entities, to pursue their own economic, social and cultural development. To facilitate this process the UN established a Forum for Indigenous Peoples inside the UN, for networking among representatives of indigenous peoples and to facilitate discussion of issues of interest to them with one another and with others. It has also appointed a Special Rapporteur to monitor their human rights.

The approach used by the UN to empower indigenous groups introduces an interesting question into the debate on the promotion of democracy, since minorities are not afforded similar group rights, for example to autonomy, self-government, and right to develop their own languages and cultures. It is to be recalled that when the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were being prepared, the U.S.S.R. and Yugoslav both tabled draft resolutions calling for the recognition of the collective rights of minorities. The U.S.S.R.’s resolution defined these rights as follows:

The State shall ensure to national minorities the right to use their native tongue and to possess their national schools, libraries, museums and other cultural and educational institutions[120]

This resolution was not accepted. Instead the formula that was agreed upon for minority rights focused on the right individuals not to be denied access to these benefits, as set out in article 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political rights:

In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.”

This defective formulation was widely criticized later by the defenders of minority rights as being insufficient and vague. To remedy this, the 1992 declaration on the rights of minorities affirms that persons belonging to ethnic, linguistic, religious or national minorities “have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language” (art. 2). It also calls upon states to “encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity” (art. 1) rather than allowing the right-holder to do this. As set out in paragraph 2 of article 4:  “States shall take measures to create favourable conditions to enable persons belonging to minorities to express their characteristics and to develop their culture, language, religion, traditions and customs, except where specific practices are in violation of national law and contrary to international standards.”

These formulas of promoting group rights and responding to their needs can be seen as positive steps in the promotion of empowerment and democracy. However, most states are wary of advancing the agenda of minority rights because of the fear that this could lead to ethnic-based rivalry and local nationalism, threatening national unity. In a worst-case scenario, they fear, this could tear apart their state. The indigenous question was seen differently because most states deny having such groups and argue that they exist only in states where the descendants of the European settlers have established states outside Europe, e.g. in Australia, New Zealand and the Americas.

Applying the HRBA to Democracy: The Civil and Political Rights Lenses

The Content of Civil and Political Rights. In the view of most of the defenders of normative individualism, democracy should only be measured with reference individual civil and political rights and how these are respected and promoted. Before examining how these lenses works, it is necessary to explore the contents of these rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more importantly in legally binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). This latter instrument has been ratified by 172 states. Both these instruments list the civil and political rights which are derived “from the inherent dignity of the human person”. According to the covenant on civil and political rights, what are acknowledged include the protection of life (art. 6), privacy (art. 17), family (art. 23), protection from slavery, forced labor and servitude (art. 8), from torture and similar cruel and inhuman punishment or treatment (art. 7), from arbitrary arrest (art. 9), and from punishment through retroactive application of laws (art.15). This covenant also acknowledges the rights to freedoms of religion (art. 18), expression (art. 19), assembly (21) and association (art. 22), as well as the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs in one’s own country through direct elections or through representation by using the voting systems and access to public services (art. 25).

The manner in which these rights are framed in this Covenant makes it clear that most of them are subject to limitations. For instance, the freedoms of assembly and association may be restricted if this is “necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” (art. 21 and 22(2) respectively). The exercise of religious freedom can be restricted by law when it is necessary “to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.” (art. 18(3)). Freedom of expression entails recognizing “duties and responsibilities” and can be restricted to protect “national security or of public order, or public health or morals” or to ensure respect for “the rights or reputations of others” (art. 19(3)(a) & (b)). What is more:

Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.” (art. 20 (2))

There are very few rights which should not be subject to restriction. They are listed in article 4 of the Covenant. They include the protection of life, protection from slavery, torture, cruel and inhuman treatment and punishment, immunity from double jeopardy and from imprisonment for not fulfilling contractual obligations, recognition of the person by law, and religious freedom in principle (articles 6, 7, 8 (I & 2), 11, 15, 16 and 18). Freedoms are recognized in a manner that makes them limitable. The grounds for restricting them are recognized by the regime of rights. This is why we speak of ‘the right to the freedom of expression or assembly or movement or religion. This is also why the political world chose the expression human rights rather than human freedoms as the title of the regime of rights. This suggests that the Libertarian position which calls for rights to be based on freedoms has been rejected since it is the regime of right which determines which freedoms are to be accepted as legitimate and how they should be exercised or not exercised.

Linking Civil and Political Rights to Democracy: Democracy is obviously inconceivable without civil and political rights. The notions of ‘the will of the people’, ‘popular sovereignty’ or ‘government by the people, of the people and for the people’, all lose their meaning without civil and political rights. If there is no protection of life or security, if liberty and equality are disregarded democracy will only have symbolic importance. To establish and sustain democracy it will be necessary to freely express opinions, by collecting the necessary information and distributing this to the other members of the society, to associate with one another (through the formation of political parties or associations) and to assemble to discuss political issues of interest. It is only when these political rights are respected and promoted that the members of the national community are able to manifest their will in choice of who should govern – i.e. by casting their votes, without constraint and discrimination, in free and fair elections.

In short, it is the effective exercise of civil and political rights which creates the conditions for empowering the citizens, to be able to choose their government, and to monitor how public affairs are conducted by their government. This way, the wishes of the citizens could be heard from within by tolerating inclusiveness in decision-making processes. This paves the road to the emergence of ‘government by the people, of the people and for the people’ and popular sovereignty. If the government does not operate in transparent ways by responding to the needs and desires of the people, then democracy is a sham. This is why the acknowledgement of “the will of the people” as the basis for government, in article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has been described as not just a revolution but “a ‘revolution within a revolution’”.[121]

One of the cornerstones of democracy, which is acknowledged in article 26 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Right, is the notion of equal rights and non-discrimination. According to this provision:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

This principle is well anchored in this covenant. Under article 2 (1) of this instrument, the states parties to this Covenant have assumed the obligation “to respect and to ensure” all the civil and political rights that are mentioned therein “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”. Article 3 of this covenant also requires ratifying states to “…ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights”.

The other democratic value that underpins the covenant on civil and political rights is the idea inclusiveness, which should be achieved through participation in political processes. This idea follows from paragraph 3 of article 21 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights which considers “the will of the people” as the basis for “the authority of government” and calls for the use of “periodic and genuine elections … based on universal and equal suffrage .. or by equivalent free voting procedures”. The first paragraph of this same provision also acknowledges the importance of ensuring participation in government “directly or through freely chosen representatives” with “equal access to public service in (one’s own) country”. This idea is re-affirmed in article 25 of the covenant on civil and political rights which acknowledges the citizen’s rights to:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”

The universal validity of this political right is evident from the wider acceptance it has received under many other human rights conventions which prohibit various forms of discrimination that imposes limits on political participation. For instance, paragraph C of article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination calls for the elimination of racial discrimination affecting the exercise of “(P)olitical rights, in particular the right to participate in elections— to vote and to stand for election—on the basis of universal and equal suffrage, to take part in the Government as well as in the conduct of public affairs at any level and to have equal access to public service”. Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women also calls the elimination of gender-based discrimination “in political and public life”, including restrictions on the rights of women to vote in elections as well as “(T)o participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions.”

Similar stipulations are included in the regional conventions. Examples include article 23 of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights, article 3 of the first Protocol to the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights, article 13 (1) of the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and art. 29 of the 1999 Commonwealth Independent States Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The 1994 Arab League Charter of Human Rights considers “the people” as “the source of authority” and acknowledges that the citizen has “political capacity” (art. 19) and “the right to occupy public office” (art. 33). In view of all these it is difficult to question that the right to be represented in the government is now clearly recognized in international law.

 The Challenges of Relying Solely on the Civil and Political Rights Lenses

As clarified above, the merits of relying on civil and political rights to promote or measure democracy are obvious. Using only civil and political rights as a benchmark reduces democracy to nothing more than a political system with institutional framework for electing the ruler. It also reduces the significance of the rights to the freedoms of expression, assembly, association, or the very purpose of having an electoral and multi-party systems, or equality, inclusiveness and participatory rights. It makes one wonder why people have to choose a government which oppresses them or which shields their oppressors? If ‘less government’ is the formula for democracy, as suggested by normative individualism, then there is no government ‘for the people’ and what is in place is a government for the politically and economically dominant social groups.

The point in recognizing the freedoms of expression, association, assembly and voting rights is to enable people to secure their basic human needs – such as work, access to health or educational services, freedom from discrimination and corruption, and inclusion in social life. When people collect information and exchange views with others and use their voting rights during elections, what motivates them to exercise these rights is to secure their aims linked to survival rather than for sake of exercising rights and freedoms. If there were no government that is ready to help them achieve these goals and to respond to their collective needs, then the exercise of these political rights would have mainly symbolic significance. Unfortunately, this is why voting turnout are dwindling in many places because the citizens see no point in taking advantage of these opportunities. When they feel that there no government for them they lose confidence in democracy.

Civil and political rights are also being used in many places to threaten democracy. Example of this includes the protection that is given to the rights of individuals and groups who promote Neo-Nazi, Neo-Fascist and White Supremacy ideologies. After decades of tolerance to the freedoms of expression, assembly, association and voting rights of the members of these kinds of organizations, these groups are now poised to challenge the traditional political parties and to win political elections through democratic means. Some of these political parties are already accommodated in the process of governing in some of the Western countries. The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly prohibits, in article 20 (2), “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. Yet, in these countries the protection of the political rights of these kinds of organizations appear to be more important than protecting the social groups which they target and the values of democracy.

The reliance on the lenses of civil and political rights to measure democracy in the multi-ethnic countries of the Third World also highlights challenges to democracy. In many of these countries, where the states are weak and unable to meet the needs of their citizens, individuals exercise their civil and political rights by promoting the economic, political, social and cultural interests of their own communities. This ‘self-centered’ or localized approach to the exercise of civil and political rights perpetuates narrow collecting thinking, exacerbating group rivalries and tensions instead of facilitating nation-building and displaying loyalty to the state. Some use these rights to mobilize for autonomy or self-rule for their linguistic, cultural or religious groups. If these ways of exercising civil and political rights are not checked, there is a risk that the socio-political fabrics of these states will be torn apart. This tendency is less visible in the developed Western countries because their states are strong and able to meet the needs of their citizens and because their ways of life are more compatible with normative individualism.

Applying the HRBA to Democracy: the Lenses of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Opponents of normative individualism prefer to see democracy promoted and measured by the extent to which the needs and interests of the political community, without neglecting marginalized social groups. This includes by considering efforts made by governments to address economic, social and cultural problems and to create the conditions necessary for the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights the members of the national community without discrimination. They dismiss the arguments used by the critics of economic, social and cultural rights to reject or belittle the legitimacy of these rights. These critics advance different reasons when rejecting these rights, including by stating that they are vaguely formulated in the laws and impractical, not least because of they cannot be claimed or because they entail high economic cost. The defendants of these are argue that if these same tests were applied to civil and political rights, they too would fail the test of legitimacy. As they see it, all rights are socially constructed and can be claimed if desired. They are also vaguely formulated and their realization entail cost one way or another.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes both these sets of rights. The preambles of the two international covenants underscore the point that all these rights are derived from the needs of protecting the dignity and worth of human beings. Further, operative paragraph 5, part I of the 1993 Vienna Declaration on Human Rights makes it clear that civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are “indivisible and interdependent and interrelated”. Thus, the UN cannot afford to ignore economic, social and cultural rights when it addresses issues of democracy issues. Under article 1 of its Charter the UN assumes the obligation to promote human rights, conditions for economic and social development and the respect for the rights of peoples to self-determination. Article 55 also mentions the obligations assumed by the UN to promote the ‘conditions’ that are necessary for ‘well-being’ and for promoting “higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development”. When the UN meets these obligations, its members are expected to cooperate individually as well as collectively as pledged under article 56 of the Charter.

In the pursuit of these mandates, the UN adopted a range of human rights instruments recognizing economic, social and cultural rights. This is obvious from the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the different conventions prohibiting discrimination. The ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the regional organizations too have acknowledged the legitimacy of economic, social and cultural rights by adopting specific instruments and are seen actively engaged in promoting and monitoring their implementation.

The concern for economic, social and cultural questions has both individual and collective dimensions. Example of the latter is the manner in which the rights of peoples to self-determination is promoted, including by promoting the pursuit of economic, social and cultural development. When this group rights is achieved, the individual members of the national communities will be able to enjoy and exercise their economic, social and cultural rights. The right to development another group right that is recognized in the 1969 declaration on social progress and development, and the 1986 declaration on the right to development, as individual and group rights. The UN has been promoting both these two aspects of the right to development in the course of promoting democracy.

The specific economic, social and cultural rights which are recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights include the rights to own property (art. 17) and to work (art. 23). By the latter, what is meant is not forced labor but work that is chosen or accepted freely by the person concerned. Moreover, this work should also be performed under “just and favourable conditions”, under conditions that guarantee fair wages and right to establish and join a trade union (art. 23). The social rights that are recognized include those which are necessary for a way of life which is indispensable for one’s dignity (Art. 22), the right to education (art. 26), and the right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of the individual … including food, clothing, housing and medical care” (art. 25).  In addition, recognition is also given to the right “to participate in the cultural life of the community” (art. 27).

The legal obligations of states to acknowledge and promote these economic, social and cultural rights are clearly mentioned in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the other conventions which protect vulnerable groups. For instance, article 2 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, requires the ratifying states are not only obliged to promote the full enjoyment of these rights by using the resources at their disposal. This requires formulating clear economic, social and cultural policies, strategies and adopting the necessary measures. Further, these states are required to ensure that there will not be discrimination in the enjoyment of these rights. The manner in which these obligations are discharged require the adoption of sound systems of governance. How states comply with these obligations is monitored by UN bodies and programmes (e.g. by the UNDP), by the treaty committees (e.g., the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the regional human rights bodies and by some of the specialized agencies. For instance, the ILO monitors work related rights, UNESCO monitors rights related to culture and education and WHO monitors rights relating to health. This is done by assessing the available statistical data, on the level of unemployment, school enrollment, infant mortality, malnutrition, and prostitution; as well as by considering how health services are promoted, the extent to which social security is provided, and the availability, affordability and accessibility of food, housing, water, cultural heritage sites and museums. All these monitoring bodies give special attention to how states comply with the requirements of promoting inclusiveness and effective participation. The cumulative effect of monitoring how these obligations are complied with promotes democracy in substance.

This is in no way intended to suggest that the road-map for promoting substantive democracy is strait forward and easy. The mere fact this area concerns governance creates tensions between this right-based approach to promote democracy and the principle of sovereignty. The UN cannot compel states to cooperate in implementing the policies which it advocates. This is why the UN itself denies that it uses a specific model of democracy. National deficits in the promotion of the economic, social and cultural rights can also be caused, at least in part, by external factors. A good example of this is imposition of Structural Adjustment Programs on developing countries by the World Bank and IMF, requiring these countries to reduce investment in the educational and health sectors. Engaging with globalization also requires deregulation, privatization, and weakening of trade unions. This means without international cooperation it may not be easy to resolve economic and social problems and hence the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights. It is therefore no wonder that article 28 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights considers the creation of a just international order as necessary if human rights are to be fully realized.

Conclusion

Democracy and human rights are very appealing and politically sensitive complementary ideals, which people have both aspired to and fought for over the centuries. Paradoxically, while being universal ideals, they are also perceived and practiced differently. What makes them ideologically and politically contentious are disagreements over the nature of the human being, how s/he relates to the community and the state, what kind of individual rights and freedoms should be acknowledged and whether these rights should be subordinated to the interests of the community. Resolving the differences of opinion on these questions has always proved to be difficult because they are related to questions regarding the kinds of social and political systems and orders that humans should aspire to. Different political systems recognize or deny the legitimacy of different political, economic and social interests, and have different views on which rights and freedoms that should be protected. It is, therefore, no surprise that states, political actors and many writers have resigned themselves to simply agreeing to disagree. Rather than engaging in debate they dedicate themselves to glamorizing their own political systems, as the best model for democracy, and endlessly ridiculing or discrediting the systems used by their protagonists.

This, in part, is why the literature on democracy is in turmoil. It explains why democracy is equated with ‘legitimate rule’, ‘government of the people’, ‘the will of the people’ or ‘the rule by the majority’, ‘popular sovereignty’, ‘government by the people’, ‘government for the people’ or combinations of some or all of these. Although all these formulations legitimize power in the name ‘the people’, it is not always the case that all members of this ‘people’ are empowered by and benefit from the proposed political system. This is why some of these proposals are dismissed by their critics as symbolic or sham democracy or as democracy ‘in form’ only, while others are called ‘true democracy’ or ‘democracy in substance’.

The literal meaning of the term ‘democracy’, in Greek, is the rule, authority or government of the people. The ancient Greek city states are said to have used this political system of governance as a means of allowing the governed to rule themselves. In fact, not all the inhabitants of these city states were able to participate in political life. Slaves and women, for example, were now empowered to do so. Likewise, those who claim that modern democracy is linked to the experience of the American and French Revolutions are ignoring the fact that the beneficiaries of the ‘rights of man’ which were proclaimed by these Revolutions did not empower the slaves, women, indigenous groups or their colonial subjects. Democracy was more of an ideal for the people, rather than a political reality.

It is the emergence of the United Nations, with its mandates to promote human rights and the rights of people to self-determination, which led to the modern concept of democracy if this concept is to be understood in the sense of governance of the people as the word suggests. The road-map that was used to this effect was twisted since there were two traditional political currents that were competing to shape it. They were and still are normative individualism (the Liberal and Libertarian position) and collectivism (the Socialists, Social Democrats, Communitarians and traditionalists approaches). Navigating between these currents, the UN ended up by accepting something from both of them. On the one hand, it identified democracy as human rights by incorporating in article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and using the bottom-up approach later when the HRBA was developed by empowering the individual members of the political communities (in contrast to the restrictive model of promoting the historical ‘rights of man’ of few citizens). On the other hand, this organization proceeded by recognizing the existence of ‘peoples’ (demos), and by promoting their rights, including the right to self-determination and developing guidelines for how sound governance (cracy) should be promoted. This rights-based and double-sided approaches was intended to assure democracy in form as well as in substance. The former uses the lenses of civil and political rights and the latter is advanced by promoting economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development and sound governance. This is what the professed goals of the Human Rights-Based Approach are about.

Because democracy has sensitive political, economic, social and cultural dimensions most states may well be unwilling to cooperate with the use of this HRBA to measure democratic conducts. This is in part because states incorporate a wide range of economic, social, political and cultural structures, making it difficult to use a single measurement tool for all cases. Further, as long as the principle of sovereignty permits states to refuse to ratify human rights conventions, serious doubts must arise regarding the legitimacy of using conventions which they have not accepted to measure their progress towards democracy. This, apparently, is why the UN relies on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights to promote the HRBA since this document, by contrast to the two international covenants, recognizes civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as being inter-related and inter-dependent.

Endnotes

* Associate Professor, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg (Sweden). This paper represents a revised version of two earlier conference presentations. The first one, on “human rights, democracy and peace: the implications of the new challenges”, was presented in the workshop which was organized in Jyväskylä (Finland) in August 2017, by the Academy of Finland, the University of Jyväskylä, Kone Foundation and The Åland Islands Peace Institute. The second paper was presented in the winter session of the Nordic Summer University, in Copenhagen, earlier this year on the topic of “Dysfunctional Democracies, Empowerment and the Human Rights Based Approach”. I am grateful to the organizers of these two workshops for enabling me to benefit from these valuable academic gatherings. Special thanks goes Mogens Chrom Jacobsen, who was kind enough to invite me to workshops of the Nordic Summer University and to the Honorable, Reverend Doctor Ezra Gebremedhin for commenting on this manuscript.

[1] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, part. I, operative paragraph 8

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] UN, Democracy, http://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/democracy/index.html Seen on October 30, 2018

[5] Declaration on Social Progress and Development, A/Res/2542 (XXIV) 11 December 1969.

[6] Thesaurus, dictionary.com

[7] Cambridge Dictionary

[8] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy

[9] Susan Marks,” The End of History? Reflections on Some International Legal Theses”, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 8, Issue 3, 1997 p. 449.

[10] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy.

[11] Aristotle, Politics, trans. H. Rackham (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), Vol. 5, p. 403 (v.3-5).

[12] USHistory.Org, The Declaration of Independence, available from the web in,  http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

[13] The History Guide, Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (August 1789), art. 2, in http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/declaration.html

[14] Article 2 of the 1958 French constitution.

[15] Jack Donnelly, “Human Rights, Democracy, and Development”, Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 21, Number 3, August 1999, p 615. See also Anthony H. Birch, The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy. Routledge London, 1993 (1996 reprint), p. 45. In the view of the latter, democracy is about form, i.e. the existence of political institutions. and not a question of substance, i.e. whether or the community as a whole governs itself. “The idea that there was a classical doctrine of democracy is,” he wrote, “in fact, a most unhelpful piece of nonsense”. Ibid., p. 52.

[16] Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Gramercy Books, 1989); The Oxford Illustrated Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975); Jewett’s Dictionary of English Law, Vol. 2 (London: Sweet and Maxwell Ltd., 1977); and A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2nded., Bryan A. Garner (Oxford University Press, 1995).

[17] Cassell’s Latin Dictionary, D.P. Simpson (New York: Macmillan, 1957).

[18] Ballentine’s Law Dictionary, 3rded., William S. Anderson ed., (Rochester: The Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co. 1969): Black’s Law Dictionary, Bryan A. Garner ed., 7th ed., (St. Paul: West Group, 1999).

[19] Black’s Law Dictionary

[20] Samuel Pufendorf, De Jure Naturae et Gentium Libri Octo, Vol. 2, C.H. Oldfather & W.A. Oldfather, trans. 1688 ed. (New York: Williams S. Hein & Co., 1995), p. 1367.

[21] I. Kant, “The Science of Right,” in Great Books of the Western World, R. M. Hutchin et al(eds.),  (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britinnica, Inc., 1952), Vol. 42, pp. 436 and 452.

[22] L. Oppenheim, International Law: A Treatise, Vol. I – Peace, 7th ed., H. Lauterpacht, ed., (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1948), p, 114, §64.

[23] Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace: De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, trans. Francis W. Kelsey (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1925), p. 312.

[24] John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty, representative Government & Utilitarianism”, in Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, et al(eds.), (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952), Vol. 43, p. 269. Emphases original.

[25] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, in Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins el al, eds., Vol. 23 (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952 {1990 prt.}), p. 86.

[26] Ibid.,pp. 84-86 & 99-100.

[27] Ibid.,pp. 85-88 & 101-102, and 116.

[28] John Locke, “An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government”, Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins el al, Vol. 35, pp. 26-27.

[29] Ibid.,pp. 28-29.

[30] Ibid., pp. 26-30, & 46-47.

[31] I. Kant,The Science of Right” in Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 42, R. M. Hutchin el al, eds. (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britinnica, Inc., 1952), p. 435 (Author’s Emphasis)

[32] Ibid.,pp. 435 & 437.

[33] Ibid., p. 436.

[34] Jean-Jacque Rousseau, The Social Contract and Discourses, G.D.H. Cole, trans. (London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1913, 1977 prt), p. 193.

[35] Ibid., p. 15. See further 41, 165, 170-1.

[36] Karl Marx, Early Writings, translated by Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, Middlesex: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1975 (1977 prt.). 350.

[37] Ibid., p. 349.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., pp. 229-230.

[40] Ibid., p. 230.

[41] Karl Marx “Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State” in Early Writings, Rodney Livingstone trans. (London: New Left Review, 1975, 1977 prt.) p. 194.

[42] Karl Marx, “The Charists”, in Surveys from Exile:  Political Writings, David Fernbach, ed. (London: New Left Review, 1973), p. 194. p. 265.

[43] See the letter of Marx to Engels, 11 February 1865, in K. Marx, F. Engels and V. I. Lenin, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 153. See also the letter of Marx to Engels, dated 18 Feb. 1865, in Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Correspondence: 1846-1895.A Selection with Commentary and Notes (Bristol: Western Printing services, Ltd., 1934?), p. 193.

[44] Karl Marx, Early Writings, pp. 232 and 234.

[45] Ibid., pp. 232-4.

[46] See V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Bernhard Isaac, trans (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964, 1977 prt.), Vol 20, 1913-14, pp. 401-2 & 412; and, The Rights of Nations to Self-determination (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1951,1971 prt) Progress Publishers, translation.

[47] Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New concept of egoism (New York: The New American Library, 1962{1964}), p. 32. Any Rand, whose original name was Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, left Russia when she was 26, disappointed by what the Bolshevik Revolution had done to her country.

[48] Ibid., p. 123.

[49] Ibid. p. 33.

[50] Ibid. p. 32.

[51] Ibid. p. 34.

[52] Ibid. p. 122. Original italic.

[53] Ibid. p.126.

[54] Ibid. p. 124.

[55] Ibid. p. 137.

[56] Ibid. p.130.

[57] Ibid. p.131.

[58] Ibid. p. 134.

[59] According to Fernando Teson, liberalism is “a theory of politics founded upon individual freedom, respect for individual preferences, and individual autonomy”, Fernando R.  Teson, “Kantian Theory of International Law”, Columbian Law Review, Vol. 92, 1992, p. 54, note 4. This position considers the end of governments and states to the protection of the rights and interests of individuals, and traces its root to the works of Kant in his essay on Perpetual Peace. Ibid., p. 54. For Anthony Arbaster, “Liberalism was inaugurated by the French Revolution. Anthony Arbaster, Liberalism and postmodernism”, in James Meadowcroft, ed. The Liberal Political Tradition: Contemporary Reappraisals (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1996), p. 162.

[60] Jack Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. 20. Note that this Donnelly does not dismiss the idea that rights can be exercised collectively, p. 21.

[61] Ibid. p. 70.

[62] Ibid. p. 69.

[63] Ibid. p. 21.

[64] Ibid. p. 69.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Marks, Susan. “The End of History? …, p. 470. According to Birch there never was “a classical doctrine of democracy” to speak of. See Birch, note 15 above. For views defending democracy in substance see, Cerena, M. Christina. “Universal Democracy: An International Legal Right or the Pipe Dream of the West?” New York Universal Journal of International Law and Politics, Vol. 27, 1995, p. 126.

[67] Donnelly, Universal Human Rights, p. 73.

[68] Ibid. p. 103.

[69] Ibid. p. 87.

[70] Will Kymlicka, Liberalism, Community and Culture(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 254.

[71]  Ibid., p. 4.

[72]  Ibid. p. 254.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Birch, p., 133.

[75] Michael Waltzer, “The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism”, in Amitai Etzioni, ed., New Communitarian Thinking: Persons, Virtues, Institutions, and Communities (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), pp. 62-63. This writer wonders where this ‘solitary’ and ‘heroic’ individual which Liberal intellectuals write about comes from, since it appears that s/he “is fully formed before the confrontation begins.” p. 68.

[76] Brian Lee Crowley, The Self, the Individual, and the Community (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. v, and 255.

[77] Ibid., , p. vi. Liberals “require us to conceive of ourselves in ways which conflict with our understandings of reason and responsibility” he added, “and therefore conflict with our deepest moral sense”. Ibid.,  p. 220.

[78] Ibid., p. 281.

[79] Ibid., citing Michael J. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: 1982) p 132.

[80] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duchworth, 1981{2007}) 3rd ed. p. 220.

[81] Jean Bethke Elshtain “The Communitarian Individual”, in Amitai Etzioni, ed., New Communitarian Thinking…, p. 108.

[82] Alex Thomas,An Introduction to African Politics, 4th ed. (New York: Routledge, 2000{2016}), p. 254.

[83] Martti Koskenniemi, “Intolerant Democracies: A Reaction”, Harvard International Law Journal, Winter, Vol. 37, 1996, p. 234.

[84] The Works of Jeremy Bentham, (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962, reproduced from the Bowring editions of 1838-1843, by John Bowring), Vol. III, pp. 218-220..

[85] Ibid., p. 221.

[86] Ibid., p. 159

[87] J. Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Moral and Legislation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1789 {1823 prt.}), p. 4.

[88] 1814 Constitution of Norway, see https://www.stortinget.no/en/Grunnlovsjubileet/In-English/The-Constitution—Complete-text/

[89] 1848 Liberian Declaration of Independence, see, Declaration Project, in http://www.declarationproject.org/?p=181

[90] Constitution of Mexico, 1917, in LatinAmericanStudies.org, in http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/mexico/1917-Constitution.htm

[91] 1937 Constitution of Ireland, in, Wikisource, https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Constitution_of_Ireland_(original_text)

[92] U.S. Congressional Record, Vol. 54, Senate, p. 2, pp. 1742-1743.

[93] “British Labour’s Message to the Bolsheviki”, New York Times Current History. February1918, pp. 206-7.

[94] Eyassu Gayim, The Principle of Self-Determination: A Study of Its Historical and Contemporary Legal Evolution.Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, Publication no. 5, 1980, pp. 12-15.

[95] Franck, Thomas M. “The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance,” American Journal of International Law, Vol. 86, 1992, pp. 46-91.

[96] Resolution 217 C(III), which was adopted at the same time as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights made it clear that “United Nations cannot remain indifferent to the fate of minorities” and will deal with this matter later after a thorough study was made concerning the problem.

[97] Resolution 421V (D) of 4 December 1950.

[98] Resolution 545 (VI) 5 February 1952 and 549 (VI) 5 February 1952

[99] Resolution 637(VII) 20 December 1952

[100] Resolution 421 (V), E preamble 4 December 4, 1950

[101] Ibid, E. operative paragraph 7.b.

[102] Operative paragraph 13, Proclamation of Teheran, Final Act of the International Conference on Human Rights, Teheran, 22 April to 13 May 1968, U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 32/41 at 3 (1968).

[103] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action Part I, operative paragraph 5.

[104] UNICEF, Human Rights-Based Approach to Programming, https://www.unicef.org/policyanalysis/rights/index_62012.html

[105] The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principles 1, 20 and 22 in UN Doc. A/Conf.151/26, Vol. 1, 1992 annex in http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm

[106] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action Part I, operative paragraph 10

[107] http://www.unsystem.org/tags-hlcp/human-rights

[108] http://www.unsystem.org/content/2005-world-summit-outcome-human-rights-democracy-and-rule-law; &  http://www.unsystem.org/tags-hlcp/human-rights

[109] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action Part I, operative paragraph 5.

[110] UN HRBA Portal, The Human Rights Based Approach to Development Cooperation: Towards a Common Understanding Among UN Agencies, http://hrbaportal.org/the-human-rights-based-approach-to-development-cooperation-towards-a-common-understanding-among-un-agencies

[111] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action Part I, operative paragraph 5.

[112] See, Yearbook of the United Nations, 1952, p. 560, and also General Assembly, 10th session, Third Committee 669 mtg. p.226, para. 13.

[113] See UN Doc, E/2256, p. 7. Commission of Human Rights 8th session, April 14 to 16 June 1952, in Commission on Human Rights, Official Records, Report of the Eighth Session, Economic and Social Council, 14th session, Supplement no. 4. 1952.

[114] Declaration on Social Progress and Development, General Assembly resolution 2542 (XXIV) 11 December 1969.

[115] Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources, General Assembly resolution 1803 (XVII) 14 December 1962.

[116] Declaration on the Right to Development, General Assembly resolution 41/128, 4 December 1986, annex.

[117] Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, General Assembly resolution 47/135, 18 December 1986, annex.

[118] Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, General Assembly resolution 61/295 of 13 September 2007, annex, arts. 3 & 4.

[119] Ibid., articles 11 – 14, 20, 25-26 and 31.

[120] E/1992, annexes IV, section, page 35. See also the Yugoslavia draft resolution in UN Doc.E/1992, annex IV, section A, article 10 b, p. 35, cited in the debate in the Commission of Human Rights 8th session, April 14 to 16 June 1952, Official Records, Report of the Eighth Session, Economic and Social Council, 14th session, Supplement no. 4. NY, UN, E/2256, p. 54.

[121] Allen Rosas, “Article 21”, in, Asbjorn Eide, Gudmundur Alfredsson and el al, eds., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Commentary. Scandinavian University Press, 1993, p. 299.

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Populism, Prejudice and the Rhetoric of Privilege

In a short statement released late in the evening of April 23, 2017, just after the first run of the French presidential elections, madame Marine Le Pen, the well-known candidate of the far-right party Front National who had won the second position after Emmanuel Macron, addressed her supporters gathered in her headquarters:

 Il est temps désormais de libérer le peuple français, tout le peuple, sans oublier nos compatriotes d’Outre-Mer qui ont exprimé à mon égard une confiance qui m’honore, il est temps de libérer le peuple français d’élites arrogantes qui veulent lui dicter sa conduite. Car oui, je suis la candidate du peuple[1]. (Le Pen 2017a)

 

This passage, quite impressive indeed, seems clear enough to introduce the working hypothesis that I will try to prove throughout this paper, that is to show how much, and how frequently, populists set up their discourse around a relatively small number of patterns, which happen to be often intertwined. All in all, my guess is that we may identify three main narratives:

1) the worship of the people;

2) a hidden appeal to prejudice;

3) the rhetoric of privilege.

 

Why are they so fundamental? In my view, because they serve the creation of the most remarkable character which may be found in most populist galleries, i.e. the ‘enemy of the people’, who apparently enjoys all those benefits and rights that people at large have been stripped of. I will proceed by offering a quick insight into the most interesting studies on populism and its rhetoric, sketching the three main narrative patterns by means of a close look at recent samples of populist political communication and, as a final point, submitting some provisional closing remarks.

 

 

Defining Populism: A Never-Ending Story

The vast and varied literature on populism, its nature and rhetorical legacy is proof of a continuing fascination for scholars, who, nonetheless, fail to agree on a standard definition of the concept itself. Three approaches, at least, contend the market of political science, each stressing a (presumably) unique feature of populism:

1) the ideology approach;

2) the discoursive approach;

3) the attitude approach.

 

According to the first, populism can be understood only in terms of an ideology, however thin it may be (Canovan 1981, Mudde 2004; Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2017). It is, for sure, an odd ideology, moving beyond class identity and political affiliation (the left/right cleavage so often derided by populists) but holding a strong grab on the sovereignty of the people, the crucial role of leaders (whose words often have a healing effect on social evils, according to Incisa di Camerana 1976) and the anti-establishment perspective, issues which could make of populism an inner alternative to the liberal democratic theory and practice (Mény and Surel 2000).

Still, the ideology approach underestimates the communicative value of populist narratives, which is why a good number of researchers have developed the discoursive approach, focusing on the rhetorical patterns performed by most populist leaders and representatives. Scholars such as Taguieff (2002), Laclau (2005), Reisigl (2007) and Cedroni (2010), however differing in the scope and methodology of their analyses, share a common belief in the fact that populism is «a political style that is used by a wide range of actors across the world today» and consequently highlight its «performative aspects» (Moffitt 2016: 28).

Others, though, – like Betz (1994), Taggart (2000) and De la Torre (2008) – deem both the ideology approach and the discoursive approach equally inadequate to embrace a phenomenon so complex as populism is. In fact, their proposal lies in the depiction of populism as an attitude, a state of mind marked by «a peculiar vision of social order grounded on the faith in the aboriginal virtues of the people, whose primacy as the sole legitimate foundation of political life and governmental policies is openly and proudly called for» (Tarchi 2015: 52).

Notwithstanding the differences, the aforementioned approaches converge towards the acknowledgment of ‘the people’ as a key principle in populist thought and storytelling. Yet, they seem to miss – more or less extensively – a crucial point, i.e. that the supremacy of the people (at least, in the brand new fashion sanctioned by populists) is forcefully, and furtively, connected to an ambiguous usage of stereotypes and prejudices in order to stimulate a spontaneous reaction of the people (i.e. the voters) against those targets which are blamed for their privileges (however real or presumed). This is what I will deal with in the next two paragraphs.

 

 

The People

What do populist mean when they invoke ‘the people’? If it is true that «all forms of populism without exception involve some kind of exaltation and appeal to ‘the people’» (Canovan 1981: 294), a remarkable feature of contemporary European and North American populism seems to be located in their embracing losers and victims – of globalization, governments and ruling classes, international organizations, industrial and financial élites, intellectual circles etc. – and turning them into ‘the people’[2]. A pro-common man and anti-elitist stance has always characterized any sort of populism, of course: for instance, the former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), Jörg Haider, repeatedly stated that «very often plain people got a much wider good sense than top-notch politicians, who nonetheless try to teach them what moves their inner desires» (Cedroni 2014: 48). But, while we must surely keep in mind the «difference between populist audiences (those who are spoken to by populists) and populist constituencies (those who are spoken for by populists)» (Moffitt 2016: 96), it is nonetheless amazing to hear of how many odes to the real, and therefore disgraced, men and women are stunningly sung by populists, as in the case of Donald Trump’s inaugural address:

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people. January 20th 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. (Trump 2017a)

 

In this portrait of ‘the people’, the moral and political dimensions of public life are strictly tied up, so that Nicholas Bay, the secretary-general of the Front National, could assert, back in 2015, that «the French long for a real, meaningful change, not merely a political but a moral break», since they had looked with disappointment at «the disdain towards democracy and the people displayed in the last few days by the affiliates of the political élite» (Bay 2015). These words let us notice another double-sided feature of populism, that is the contempt for traditional politicians and the consequent acclaim of populist leaders as the sole ‘voices of the people’.

No surprise that both Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, just to mention the most relevant, have largely relied on some slogans of the sort all along their campaigns: Trump’s merchandising managers made stickers and hats available with the motto ‘I am your voice’ and sold them abundantly, while Le Pen’s posters often claimed her being ‘la voix du peuple’. But why are populist leaders deemed as extraordinary by their supporters, at least as far as their proximity with the people is concerned? Because they can handle quite skillfully the rhetoric of difference: ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘pure people’ and ‘the corrupted few’, the ‘honest bulk of the people’ against the ‘wealthy turncoats’. A very good example, once again, is offered by a passage in Trump’s inaugural speech:

 Today’s ceremony, however, has very special meaning. Because today we are not merely transferring power from one Administration to another, or from one party to another – but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People. For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. (Trump 2017a)

 

In sum, populist leaders are perceived as different not merely because they can legitimately speak for the people, but in so far as they belong to the people – which is funny, indeed, when we recall that a lot of populist billionaires like Trump, Berlusconi, Perot, Fujimori and many more have pretended to act as the true representatives of the common people. In so doing, it has been written with more than a reason, they can be successful «by emphasizing action and masculinity, playing into cultural stereotypes of the people and by proposing ‘common sense’ solutions at odds with the opinion of experts» (Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2017: 68). In the meantime, we should never forget what Jan-Werner Müller has argued so persuasively, that «in addition to being antielitist, populists are always antipluralist. Populists claim that they, and they alone, represent the people» (Müller 2016: 2). Which is why they need to sketch a detailed catalogue of enemies and their servants, appealing to our inner prejudices to decry their pretended privileges and clearing the way for an illiberal, absolute representative presumption.

 

 

Enemies, Prejudices, and Privileges

Many enemies, much honour: it seems like our populists have learnt the lesson well. Professional politicians, as we have seen, are the first on the list since they belong to the worst class, that of the ‘enemies of the people’. Politicians are not reliable because «they are not willing to do anything for you [common people], since they are submitted to Brussels, Berlin, to corporate interests and financial powers» (Le Pen 2017c); besides, they do not comply with the popular will, a reason to choose the populists who, instead, «offer the electorate a real alternative to the old status quo» and «ensure that the politicians are reminded that real people must not be ignored» (UKIP 2017: 2, 3).

Politicians, though, are just a small portion of the overwhelming assemblage of the enemies. Matteo Salvini, the young leader of the Northern League, tweeting right after the first run of the French presidential elections, for instance, included in the list «politicians and journalists, philosophers and pseudo-artists» not to mention the «bankers [who] celebrate Macron», while «around 40% of farmers and workers voted for Marine Le Pen» (Salvini 2017). Farmers and workers, the ‘pure people’, who vote for the populists, against the (un)happy few. Who are the latter? The privileged, the rich, the well-educated, the well-born, the ones who live under the State’s patronage and drain resources from the poor while scorning them.

Other targets, yet, are required these days: the EU and eurocrats are among the best for populists, both right-wing and left-wing (let me mention at least the anti-European rhetoric of Podemos and Syriza). European authorities are seen, a priori, as unfriendly rivals and true obstacles on the path of the people: UKIP leaders, for example, have long dreamt, before Brexit, of «a Britain released from the shackles of the interfering EU» since Europe is a «failing super-state that tells us what to do and does not listen to what we want» (UKIP 2015: 5). Of course eurocrats enjoy plenty of privileges, granted by the States’ contribution to the EU budget and sharply criticized by populists who, as in the case of the Finns Party, ask for the «termination of detrimental EU-bureaucracy» (The Finns Party 2015b: 5). Besides, eurocrats’ guilt exceeds by far their existence being, as they are sometimes, «designated by national governments to sit in mysterious committees» (Lega Nord 2014: 3).

The EU, in fact, in most populist narratives is portrayed as the ‘bad guy’ who forces member States to raise taxes and cut the healthcare, social insurance, culture etc., while the same «nation States are less and less democracy-driven», since the EU is an «obscure and distant entity» and does not listen to the people (Lega Nord 2014: 3). But Europe is responsible, as well and most noticeably, of the worst crime of all (in mainstream populist perception): the ‘open-door’ policy when it comes to immigration issues. Right-wing populism has monopolized the topic, since it «endorses a nativist notion of belonging, linked to a chauvinist and racialized concept of ‘the people’ and ‘the nation’» (Wodak 2015: 47); it consequently blames European authorities for «the EU’s founding, unshakable principle of the ‘free movement of people’» (UKIP 2015: 12) and proposes the «demission of the Schengen treaty to take back control of national borders» (Le Pen 2017b).

Still, there is something more subtle and disguising: the frequent appeals to anti-migrants prejudices (mostly anti-Muslim, at present) are often mingled – at least in the last few years – with a novel narrative pattern which emphasizes the alleged privileges of migrants and asylum seekers. After all, few months ago, Donald Trump explicitly told the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that «immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first» (Trump 2017b). But the same applies to what has been called the ‘welfare chauvinism’, a phenomenon that has recently reached its apex when European populist parties such as Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the Swiss UDC, the Front National and the Finns’ Party (formerly known as the True Finns), have denied any legitimacy to whatever claim over national healthcare and social security programs put forward by «migrants who lack necessary skills for employment as well as for those with religious and cultural reasons that are not willing to accept basic European concepts and principles of equality and freedom of speech» (The Finns Party 2015a: 1). Even more plainly, right-wing populists very often deplore the fact that ‘our people’ is left behind, while the State and communities ‘pay for them’:

The Finns Party does not accept that people can reside in Finland illegally – never mind that these people are getting health and social care as well as extra and wider services. The asylum seekers are also getting support for transport and leisure activities – this situation should be reviewed. The Finnish welfare-state should not be acting as a magnet for immigration – the system should be prioritising Finns for receiving education and medical care and treatment services. The repercussion of the immigration flow on the welfare-system and its effect on the Finnish population must be brought under control. (The Finn’s Party 2017: 11)

 

How? Easy to figure out: as a first step, by the «termination of any public medical aid for illegal migrants» (Le Pen 2017c); then, maybe, introducing «an Australian-style points based system to manage the number and skills of people coming into the country» (UKIP 2015: 11) and so forth. The anti-privileged-migrants narrative deployed by populists is multifaceted as it is effective.

We have come so far to witness a full circle: the worship of ‘the people’ – even better: the belief that populists, and they alone, serve «the interests of a imagined homogeneous people inside a nation State» (Wodak 2015: 47) – has become the basis, and the ideological anchorage, for a series of appeals to intimate, well-rooted stereotypes and prejudices fueled by a discourse centered on a flamboyant condemnation of the privileges that others than ‘the pure people’ (politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, businessmen, intellectuals and, lately, migrants) apparently enjoy against the popular will. And this, in turn, «attracts the attention of the all-important media through which they [populist leaders] broadcast their appeal to ‘the people’» (Moffitt: 68). Voilà.

 

 

Final Remarks

In this paper I have tried to argue, looking at the most recent samples of political discourse in Europe and America, that most messages sent by populist are intended to flatter the people and stimulate prejudice-based reactions by means of the rhetoric of privilege, the strong impact of which on public opinion cannot be underrated. These narrative patterns, in my view, serve the purpose of creating a large gallery of enemies – however implausible they can be – that populists must rely on to develop their anti-establishment arguments.

What does this outcome tell us on populism and its nature? First, it confirms that Ruth Wodak was right when she maintained that populists are used to «instrumentalize some kind of ethnic/religious/linguistic/political minority as a scapegoat for most if not all current woes and subsequently construe the respective group as dangerous and a threat ‘to us’, ‘to the people’» (Wodak 2015: 2), even though we might add that the same applies to any social group that doesn’t fit in their fictional portrait of ‘the people’. Second, it gives us some practical insights into the rhetorical tricks veiled under their advocating a democratic revival, that, when populists «succeed in leading the government of a democratic society» (as in the case of Hungary and Poland), suddenly turns into an authoritarian project including «centralization of power, weakening of checks and balances, strengthening of the executive, disregard of political opposition and transformation of election in a plebiscite of the leader» (Urbinati 2014: 129).

Our analysis seems to teach us something more, yet: populism prospers where public opinion is too fragile and dumb to find out any hidden appeal to prejudice and stand against it. After all, as Walter Lippmann wrote long ago, public opinion relies heavily on stereotypes, since they offer us «an ordered, more or less consistent picture of the world, to which our habits, our tastes, our capacities, our comforts and our hopes have adjusted themselves» so much that «any disturbance of the stereotypes seems like an attack upon the foundations of the universe» (Lippmann 1991 [1922]: 95). Here, precisely, may be found the final reason why populist rhetoric is so attractive: no challenging thoughts, no self-responsibility, no efforts required, just a number of lame excuses and pleasant customary prejudices. But what’s that if not another form of propaganda, a well-designed «effort to alter the picture to which men respond, to substitute one social pattern for another» (Lippmann 1991 [1922]: 26)?

 

 

References

Bay, N. (2015), La voix du peuple!, Décembre, 4, 2015, http://www.frontnational.com/2015/12/la-voix-du-peuple/.

Betz, H.-G. (1994), Radical Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe, Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Bobbio, N. and Matteucci, N. (eds.)(1976), Dizionario di politica, Turin: UTET.

Canovan, M. (1981), Populism, London: Junction.

Cedroni, L. (2010), Il linguaggio politico della transizione. Tra populismo e anticultura, Rome: Donzelli.

Cedroni, L. (2014), Politolinguistica. L’analisi del discorso politico, Rome: Carocci.

De la Torre, C. (2008), Populismo, ciudadania y Estado de derecho, in De la Torre, C. and Peruzzotti, E. (eds.)(2008): 23-53.

De la Torre, C. and Peruzzotti, E. (eds.)(2008), El retorno del pueblo. Populismo y nuevas democracias en América Latina, Quito: FLACSO.

Gest, J. (2016), The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Incisa di Camerana, L. (1976), Populismo, in Bobbio, N. and Matteucci, N. (eds.)(1976): 859-864.

Laclau, E. (2005), On Populist Reason, London: Verso.

Lega Nord (2014), Programma elettorale della Lega Nord per le elezioni europee, http://www.leganord.org/phocadownload/elezioni/europee/Programma%20elettorale%20europee%202014.pdf.

Le Pen, M. (2017a), Déclaration de Marine Le Pen au soir du 1er tour, Avril 23, 2017, http://www.leparisien.fr/elections/presidentielle/marine-le-pen-il-est-temps-de-liberer-le-peuple francais-23-04-2017-6877368.php.

Le Pen, M. (2017b), Mes 10 mesures immédiates, https://www.marine2017.fr/2017/04/13/10-mesures-immediates-2/.

Le Pen, M. (2017c), Remettre la France en Ordre, https://www.marine2017.fr/2017/04/17/remettre-france-ordre-profession-de-foi/.

Lippmann, W. (1991 [1922]), Public Opinion, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.

Mémy, Y. and Surel, Y. (2000), Par le peuple, pour le peuple. Le populisme et les démocraties, Paris: Fayard.

Moffitt, B. (2016), The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Mudde, C. (2004), The Populist Zeitgeist, Government and Opposition, 39 (4): 541-563.

Mudde, C. and Rovira Kaltwasser, C.R. (2017), Populism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Müller, J.-W. (2016), What Is Populism?, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Reisigl, M. (2007), The Dynamics of Right-Wing Populist Argumentation, in Van Eermeren F.H., Blair, J.A., Willard, C.A., Garssen B. (eds.)(2007): 1127-1134.

Salvini, M. (2017), Tweet, April 24, 2017, https://twitter.com/matteosalvinimi?lang=it.

Taggart, P. (2000), Populism, Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Taguieff, P.-A. (2002), L’illusion populiste, Paris: Éditions Berg International.

Tarchi, M. (2015), Italia populista. Dal qualunquismo a Beppe Grillo, Bologne: Il Mulino.

The Finns Party (2015a), The Finns Party’s Immigration Policy, https://www.perussuomalaiset.fi/kielisivu/in-english/.

The Finns Party (2015b), The Main Concerns, https://www.perussuomalaiset.fi/kielisivu/in-english/.

The Finns Party (2017), The Finns Party’s Platform, Municipal Elections,  https://www.perussuomalaiset.fi/kielisivu/in-english/.

Trump, D.J. (2017a), Inaugural Address of President Donald J. Trump, January 20, 2017, https://www.whitehouse.gov/inaugural-address.

Trump, D.J. (2017b), News Conference, March 17, 2017, https://www.rt.com/usa/381175-trump-merkel-presser-live/.

United Kingdom Independence Party (2015), Believe in Britain. UKIP Manifesto 2015,  http://www.ukip.org/manifestos.

United Kingdom Independence Party (2017), UKIP Local Manifesto 2017, http://www.ukip.org/manifestos.

Urbinati, N. (2014), Democracy Disfigured. Truth, Opinion, and the People, Cambridge Ma.: Harvard University Press.

Van Eermeren F.H., Blair, J.A., Willard, C.A., Garssen B. (eds.)(2007), Proceedings of the Sixth Conference of  the International Society for the Study of Argumentation, Amsterdam: International Center for the Study of Argumentation.

Wodak, R. (2015), The Politics of Fear. What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean, Los Angeles-London: Sage Publications.

 

 

Endnotes

[1] «It is time, at least, to free the French people, the people as a whole, not to forget our fellow citizens of the departments outside France who have pleased and honoured me with their faith and consent, it is time to free the French people from arrogant élites ready to influence its conduct. Because it’s true: me alone, I am the candidate who speaks for the people».

[2] See Gest (2016).

Brexit Coup d’Etat: Tracking the Overthrow of EU Rule of Law in Britain

Historical Note

This analysis was researched and written days before the snap June 8 UK election which was about to lock in the electoral minority of the ‘Brexit referendum’ with no public understanding of the immense historical stakes and dominant powers involved behind the political scenes. Least of all recognised was that the hard Brexit led by the now minority-government Tories allows massive de-regulation of the most powerful transnational private financial and agri-food interests in the UK and the EU. Yet no sooner had I completed the body of the following analysis than the London terror attack struck on Saturday night June 3, with PM Theresa May pointing at all opposition who sought causal understanding of the terrorist attacks as showing “far too much tolerance”.  The first pages of the analysis below bring this pre-election turn of events into explanation of the slow-motion ‘Brexit coup’ that continues today before it is fully understood. While the June 8 2017 election turned against the Tory-May government as anticipated by this June 5 diagnosis in media res,  the global struggle for life-protective law still remains under more systemic threat than since 1945. The purpose of this publication (the article has  been published widely in post-election form) is to share with fellow scholars how thinking-through within the immediacy of events can make an historic difference before a managed turning point of history is instituted into a no-turning back de-regulation attack on life-protective laws and common life assets to serve only very powerful financial interests with the public and opposition kept blind to, in fact, the biggest single attack on the civil commons of Britain in its history.

 

In the Midst of the London Terror Attack

It is June two days before the snap June 7 UK General Election is set to lock in a referendum to leave the European Union unsupported by a vast majority of British voters and – with little or no notice – reversing 50 years of evolved financial, labour rights and environmental regulations. These little discussed facts are spelled out in depth ahead. All the dots are joined from the start of the Leave campaign whose overthrow objective, strategists and behind-the-scenes money and interests are only beginning to be known.

It might seem too late for British voters to do anything about it, but much that is unexpected has occurred since the snap election was called and whited out in the press until recent days. The 24-point lead for new PM Theresa May and the Tories over grass-roots Labour and Jeremy Corbyn long seemed a sure thing, and so it was planned. But the lead has collapsed towards less than a few points and still dropping.  Then the London terrorist massacre on Saturday night June 3 struck on cue. For the public was awaking to the dressy mock-up Margaret Thatcher, and the rising Jeremy Corbyn opposing her is a near unique leader in British politics – an honest man based on a grass-roots movement for workers and the poor.

 

 

The Corbyn Labour Threat

Corbyn is not only honest, which none have denied. He has showed himself over a year capable of standing up to a non-stop corporate media barrage of official loathing. He has not backed down from the near public ruin of his grass-roots movement in which war-criminal Tony Blair and his ‘New Labour’ ilk have led in trying to sabotage his movement – barking out front, ostentatiously resigning from cabinet, tearing apart the reclamation of the Labour Party from the corporate boardrooms where it had become Blair’s Murdoch-press lap-dog and a neo-liberal shell. The reason Corbyn was and remains an enemy of the ruling castes in the media, politics and the boardrooms is that he unapologetically stands for traditional socialist values. His program is not contaminated as almost everywhere else by trendy post-modern culture, saucy relativism and politically correct diversions from economic life substance. Even worse to official media-and-political culture and its submergence in capitalist globalization with no alternative, Corbyn and his politically grounded movement actually stands for British workers’ interests, the public sector, social services, and environmental safeguards as developed within the European Union – all of which are on the chopping block now in Britain and across the world.

 

 

The Ruling Agenda

The problem is that majority of citizens in the world support these long-developed and popular social infrastructures and life standards. So the only way of continuing to defund, privatize and erase them is by pretending there are much more modern and flexible marketable versions for corporate and bank profit. One way or another, and there are many ways, this process consists in historical reversal and laying waste to over a century of social evolution and life standards as the ruling agenda of establishment political parties in power. This hidden agenda has increasingly spread and ruled the world. All the degenerate trends of extreme inequality, private money power over all, rising youth unemployment, pervasive state corruptions, massive dispossessions, override of long-established workers’ rights, and multiplying ecocidal production and products stem from it.  The vast profile of one-way degeneration of social systems across borders is, however, never connected across the dots by corporate media, states or the academy itself. Rather the underlying agenda euphemized as ‘globalization’ is put on fast-forward.

 

 

New Right-Wing Nationalism is Another Brand for the Same Hidden Agenda

It may seem that the erupting new ‘nationalist’ movements in US and Britain, Eastern Europe and Russia, and so on, are the great swing back against corporate and bank globalization. This is the Great Illusion of our time. What is hardly yet seen is that, in fact, these ‘nationalist’ movements, as in Tory Britain or Trump US racing ahead today, do nothing to connect or to solve any of these life-and-death social system problems and the cumulative pollutions and razzings of organic, social and ecological life organization across the globe. They are only a speed up of the global eco-genocidal processes under new operations and pretexts of new national recovery and freedom. Yet always the same transnational corporations and banks make even more money than before, mostly from transferring public wealth to themselves by vast tax-cuts, increased subsidies, steep cut-backs on social services and spending, and elimination of everything that is not needed for short-term profit cycles. Of course the opposite is pretended in many ways varying with cultures, but always good for the working people. Still, one can always tell the real agenda by whether or not the ecocidal processes and products are effectively ruled out rather than accelerated in fact, and whether or not societies are so governed that more citizens become better off in life work security and free development rather than the opposite in fact.  This is where the facts as opposed to pervasive system rhetoric and claims show systemic degeneration and dispossession in human and ecological life terms. Seek exception in scientific fact. Seek anywhere that Tory (or Republican) rule meets even one of these problems rather than diverting from them in endless ways – most of all today, by Islamic terrorists. They are the ever-recurring Enemy to be waged war against – and typically is when the popularity of the ruling party is dangerously in question.

 

 

London Terror Spectacle 5 Days before Election as Brexit-Tory Polls Collapse  

The June 3 massacre of innocent and unarmed Saturday revellers on iconic London Bridge and Borough Market came at such a time. PM Theresa May and Tory party polls for the snap June 8 national election were in free fall as Corbyn Labour support unexpectedly and dramatically rose by over 20 points from the surprise Spring date that the new and secretively advised PM May had called against all prior commitment and earlier schedule of May 7 2020. Although only 7 people died – in Moscow at the same 9 people were murdered without much notice – the absolute panic of the central city of London and Europe was unprecedented.  A white van ran over people on London Bridge’s festive and pub-crowded Saturday night, and many were seriously injured – though fewer than in US drone or air strikes happening in Arab countries on a regular basis. The modus operandi was quintessentially monstrous in action. It could have come from an ISIS video – of which there has been many with no evident interruption by the immense counter-terrorist operations, advanced electronic capabilities, and ever-rising budgets for war upon ISIS terrorists.  The three soon-dead men were maniacal as if drugged, but no drug tests were ever reported. They not only viciously ran over as many people as they could with the signature white ISIS van in the 10 PM Saturday night happy hour, but they leapt out of this careening kill van with long Arab stabbing, cutting, slitting throats, multiply stabbing one young women, and – in short embodying the most murderous nightmare conceivable on all in London and around the world soon watching the globally televised aftermath including the dead bodies.

 

 

The Most Basic Questions Are Never Asked

Strangely, the suicide murderers wore fake suicide vests, never explained. Certainly the theatrical touch fitted the stereotype for both sides. Yet no-one in all the total coverage everywhere ever mentioned the abundant evidence of US-led funding, arming and orchestration of ISIS – although the mystery still remained of how their original appearance in spanking-new white vans lined to the horizon waving machine guns could have escaped the notice over the endless parade in a highly surveilled open desert area not far from Israel’s borders. In any case, the horrific downstream event and mysterious origins and orchestrated funding, training and arming of the very same terrorist organization perpetrating one atrocity after another with uninterrupted e-video broadcasts and propaganda over years were all unmentioned in all the allied analysis from the major networks across the globe. Only the international outrage and absolute denunciation pouring in and out from every quarter continued around the clock for days all the way to the two days left before the election. Since the main question was and remains how to stop these horrible terrorist spectacles, there was no time for causal analysis. There never is. Somehow the evidentiary matters of including who funded, armed, trained and orchestrated the terrorists are never investigated by those who report on and benefit from the terror attacks. Somehow the terrorists’ very accessible propaganda, videoed columns of ferocious operatives, internet movies of killings, and strange coincidence of attacks with falling popularity of state leaders are not connected by anyone in official society or mainstream media or even scholarly journals.

That all this has kept happening from years ago in full view of television and internet audiences around the highly militarized Western world is not an issue which is publicly raised. Even when the murderous terrorists have been known and identified immediately afterwards, from the 9-11 bombings on, still there are no questions in the pervasive media coverage of the events, including in the June 3 London massacre. How they were and are identified so very quickly, even after such an historic surprise attack as 9-11 and even when the bodies of the alleged terrorists have been completely incinerated, how and why are these issues never mentioned?  Cui bono? – the first question of forensic justice – is never posed of anyone after the murderous terrorist spectacles. Failing parties and leaders who benefit enormously from such show-stopping distractions which put them in far more command of popular support and power than before the attacks, are never even slightly exposed to this question.  It is taboo to do so. Not even opposing politicians dare to ask the question. This gives us the clue to why all the other issues are not raised.  No such basic forensic question is ever posed because it cannot be publicly asked without every media of record accusing the questioner of folly or menace, thus perfectly diverting the issue again from the ruling taboo subject. There is no evident way through this closed circle. It is foolproof. So it follows that this is well known in ruling circles as well as by those interested in truth. Why would it not be used by a national regime whose public support is falling just before an election?

Free-Falling Tory and PM Polls and the London Terrorist Attack

Scientific hypothesis looks for disconfirming evidence more than confirming evidence in order to test it. This is why science works when it does. It takes all the relevant facts into account, forms an hypothesis, and tests it against the best possible counter-evidence.  (Corporate science and regime propaganda do the opposite. They look only for what confirms their claims to profit them. So coming just 5 days before the snap British general election which her regime called when it was 24 points ahead in the polls – now continuously falling days before election – this  regime has very good cui bono reason to re-set the polls upwards.  The known best way to do this with no questions asked is for a terrorist attack to occur on the regime. A terrorist attack usually guarantees a spike of citizen solidarity with national government, from France to Turkey to 9-11 Bush US. No-one dare pose the cui bono? Question in any case. It is known that a grisly terrorist attack, and a strong condemnation of it from the regime in power, along with allied regimes in unanimity, will produce a significant rise in the next poll. In this case, the poll of the June 8 British general election comes less than 5 days later.  This does not mean that the front political leader, now – PM Theresa May, the longest Home Affairs minister in memory, plans the terrorist attack, or even knows about it. It would be better that she did not, so as to carry through without compromise or leak. But she knows the territory of Home Affairs very well and the dark state’s capabilities, as well as British public opinion over many years as a cabinet minister.

If her polls are suddenly collapsing, as the polls of the long-belittled Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn rise just as fast, it makes very good sense for her regime to find a terrorist attack incomparably useful just before the election. She can stand tall and resolute as the lead warrior of the British people, like Margaret Thatcher against the Generals of Argentina over the Falklands. But here the enemy is far more immediate, visibly evil and mass murderous before our eyes – the archetypal enemy of Islamic terrorism, threatening and murdering Britons inside the very celebrating centre of their most populous and globally popular city, spreading mass panic to thousands in a barbarously brutal killing and wounding rampage that no-one will ever forget. It also provides the ideal opportunity to excoriate the poll-closing Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, who can be insinuated into the terrorist menace by his connection of terrorism to past government actions.

 

 

PM May Leaps to Attack Democracy as the Unseen Brexit Coup Closes In

PM May has all the credentials and image to rise to this occasion, and to pull off what no-one has really yet seen –the greatest reverse of British social and environmental standards and law in history that is about to be locked in by the June 8 election. The half century of evolved EU workers’ rights, life-protective laws, and scientific environmental norms is about to be overthrown. The London terror massacre occurs on June 3 as Tory and PM May polls  relentlessly slide down and the turning-point snap election is just hours away. State authority is restored in a blinding flash of action. Police command people “to run for your lives and hide”. They  command people to lie down in the areas they control, and to hold their hands over their heads as they are herded in large obedient numbers. Loud explosions are heard all over the place where there are no terrorists, and it is only 8 minutes before the terrorists are all dead for all to see on TV. Dead men cannot speak. PM May is strict and aggressive to rally the masses against the Enemy – and to reverse the Labour opposition’s rising polls. Election campaigning is suspended. PM May accuses those who sought have causal   understanding of the terrorist attacks as showing “far too much tolerance”. She warns that there is “a new trend in the threat we face” – although there is none evident, except raising the indisputable facts of its causation, as Corbyn had done just before his polls began to overtake her. PM May scolds, “Enough is Enough”.  The same old circle of blame-the-enemy while doing nothing effective to stop it is redrawn deeper than before. But she darkly warns others that things “cannot continue as they are”. She suggests that “pluralistic British values” are at fault. She leaves the cause of the endless terrorist spectacles behind to accuse the free internet itself, demanding once again the new Tory policy of sweeping new state regulations across citizens and borders, rather than honing in on ISIS and other long scot-free channels. “There is”, she says, “to be frank, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country”. “So we need to become far more robust in identifying it”, she proclaims in police-state code, “and stamping it out across the public sector and across society”.

Public sector? Across society? Is this a declaration of war against those in the public sector who dissent from the program? Is this a foreshadowing of the social-sector stripping to come with the Brexit coup d’etat? Where does the attack end? It does not. There are no definitions, no criteria, no evidence. There only more insinuations of who must be labelled and stamped out as ‘too tolerant’. There are only more demands for more state powers diverting completely from every issue involved not only in terrorist killing, but in the end of EU rights and laws in Britain. Most of all and most profoundly, every word and position of PM May, the Tory party and the forces behind them have distracted from the ultimate geostrategic game afoot that the London terrorist spectacle has diverted from and covered up. What could the huge and unexamined stakes be here that none discuss? Who alone stands to benefit from every step since PM May was promoted?

 

 

Why Brexit?

There has been endless commentary on Britain’s “Stay or Leave the EU” referendum and the narrow victory of the ‘Leave’ side after 44 years of partnership in which Britain’s GDP, human and workers’ rights,  and environmental protections have only increased, and by far more than the US. Even in gross market money terms, the record is clear in fact. In a letter to the London Times one year ago, Oxford researchers Professor Sir David Hendry, Professor Doyne Farmer, and Dr Max Roser refuted with no reply the Leave EU campaign led by financial and political playboy Boris Johnson. “Since 1973, the  year in which the UK joined the EU, the per capita GDP of the UK economy grew by 103%, exceeding the 97% growth of the US. Within the EU, the UK edged out Germany (99%) and clobbered France (74%). The UK’s growth has exceeded the US while tracking it, even since the crisis of 2008”.

Yet Leave the EU still narrowly won the UK referendum a year ago with nothing to go on except propaganda, and its very dubious result is about to be cemented into British government and history by the June 8 election in 3 days. On every level on which we analyse this decision now being led by PM May and the Tory state, it is a fails every smell test. But the real motive force and private money-party interests behind it are all but invisible to the public – not only in Britain, but around the world. There is virtually no recognition that the snap June 8 election in three days is going to reverse every life-serving law and regulation that has lifted Britain up over half a century from the doldrums of the early 1970’s when Britain was regarded as ‘the sick man of Europe’ in economic performance. How could this happen?

To begin with the referendum itself, the original wording of the ‘Brexit’ referendum was (italics added) “Britain should remain in the EU – Yes or No”. Few observed that this framing of the Tory question appeals directly to the tidal wave of popular resentments that have built up against transnational trade treaties and mass immigration everywhere, Britain included. “Should remain” is re-set to “Leave” as the dominant choice in this negative social context with, in fact, no connection to life co-ordinates. On the surface, the visible movement of foreign-speaking cultures into everyday rural Britain for new benefits and low-wage competition with British workers has widely inflamed anti-passions, as anyone familiar with British culture knows.  The near daily featuring of Islamic ‘terrorist attacks’ has stigmatized the EU system along with such continuous disorders as the torturous financial ruin of Greece. Leave on the ballot in a mysteriously well-funded and media-captivated campaign triggered enough of a primordial anti-EU sentiment that a very slim majority was won. It did not matter that false claims and demagogic showmen were given immense publicity in the Leave campaign in which the most important issues were completely out of the discussion. Nor did it not matter that the Leave vote was mainly rural England, nor that remaining Scotland was thereby propelled into breaking up Great Britain itself. There were no editorials exposing the facts that the new-PM Theresa May had herself warned UK voters that Brexit was “dangerous” and could have seriously damaging effects on the economy, the security, and the survival of the United Kingdom.  There was no media memory that she had said that leaving the EU would be “fatal for the Union with Scotland” and that she had formerly proclaimed “as Home Secretary [that] remaining a member of the European Union means we will be more secure from crime and terrorism”. Nothing seemed to matter except the new fait accompli of Britain ending its half-century partnership in the European Union on the flimsy basis of a referendum for which the overwhelming majority of citizens did not vote or approve.

 

 

Minority Brexit Vote = Massive De-Regulation of Finance and Food 

No-one seemed to report that this Leave vote itself (17, 410,742) represented only 37% of the total electorate (46,500, 001) as enumerated by the Electoral Commission. No mainstream media featured the 12, 948,018 voters left out of the count, over two-thirds the number of those who voted Leave. Only one source clearly reported that those whose votes were not cast in the single June 23 event voted 2:1 against leaving once the results were known (cf. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2016/10/24/brexit-is-not-the-will-of-the-british-people-it-never-has-been/). Most deeply and unspeakably, there was no hint of media attention to the first question of forensic inquiry, cui bono or who stands to gain most from British government leaving the European Union all its common regulation? Even up to June 2,  no-one has joined the dots that show the Leave EU referendum and vote has been an ideal political bludgeon to force Britain’s departure from the historical European Union just as its long-evolved Directives are in the process of enforcing policies and regulations on all-powerful London private banks and finance, and on industrial Big Agriculture and GMO-contaminating crops and fake foods . What no-one has evidently understood is that Brexit ensures that the very same dominant financialization forces that have hollowed out Britain’s working people, the productive economy and its green environment since 1979 are now freed from any EU regulation or accountability just as effective new financial oversight mechanisms as well as organic agricultural and food policies are due to be further implemented, monitored and enforced. This is the undertow historical meaning of the near-hate campaign that has been waged for endless months on the ‘EU bureaucracy’ larded in selective anecdotes without principled substance. Such is the standard method of big-money campaigns against public regulation for the public life good. If more private profit is not fixed into the new regime, it is relentlessly attacked and denounced as ‘suffocating red tape’ and a ‘ruinous burden on business’. This is the signature demand and condition of transnational corporate rule.

 

 

Cui Bono? Remembering the Past to Now

The rootless global money party centred in London has long run Britain with flagrant Thatcherite governance for transnational banks and corporations, overthrowing the post-War labour-capital settlement in Britain. Big London money backed by the Murdoch press was then consolidated in Blair’s ‘New Labour’ capitulation to corporate power through Gordon Brown Labour-light to the election of financier-scion David Cameron. PM Cameron then took the Brexit spectacle as the occasion to resign to avoid, insiders say, the outing of his unexposed financial fraud as PM. Now the government of Great Britain is in the hands of a secretively advised Theresa May. Although as Home Secretary she was unequivocally anti-Brexit, something happened. Despite the very dubious results of the leave-the-EU referendum, she reversed field from support of the EU once in the PM office, and was instantly re-branded as full-square behind Leave as “Brexit is Brexit” and “the irreversible decision of the British people”. Now-PM  May has led official erasure of the fact that the winning vote was only by (official Electoral Commission tally) 37 % minority of voters. In the same vein of memory-hole command, PM May and her backers  ignored the LSE scientific survey reporting that non-voters polled 2-to-1 against Leave once they learned the outcome. The reigning protocol, as with Trump with whom she became bonded in ‘the special relationship’ of the US and the UK that runs British politics, is to annihilate life-protective regulations as new freedom, and enforce follow a bigger corporate tax-cut than Reagan or Trump to a 10% level. Where did the mandate come from for such radical hollowing out of government capacities to govern on behalf of the common interests of society, citizens and their environment? There has been no mandate, but only a one-off 37% popular referendum result with no legally binding force until it is locked into the ‘Great Repeal Act’ and June 8 UK election to legitimate it with no public understanding of the meaning.

The die had been cast behind the scenes. A 37% vote against the considered will of the majority to stay in the EU was going to be used as a no-alternative mandate for massive deregulation and de-taxation of big money powers across the UK without public debate on these issues or even recognition of them.  An Orwellian erasure of facts and totalitarian silencing beneath conscious choice continued right up to the election without anyone evidently knowing it. The PR cover-up since the ever-more lavishly suited Theresa May became PM  has been to brand her office in Maggie-2 resonance as a resolute and honourable defender of the democratic will  of the British people and an anchor of stability to steer Britain’s new future. PM May and advisers have accordingly changed the 2017 general election –she had committed to 2020 before her behind-the-scenes management took over – to an ad hominem vote over her character as PM, not about the radical de-regulation of finance, the environment and the tax code to, in essence, serve the rich while dispossessing the great majority of their labour, social and environmental protections and rights. It is the sort of action from the top that the original Magna Carta stopped by regulating an out-of-control King, only now the unaccountable ruler is bank and corporate money profit seeking even more unequal and total rights over the soon- to-be rump England. The money party cares nothing for nation including  Great Britain except as it fits their divide-and-rule agenda over the trillions of dollars they control daily in play for more asset control over the world. Now firmly in the supreme office with cabinet and media support, PM May’s office has masterfully managed transition to doing the opposite of what she formerly stood for. The Brexit program for private money control over public forces and rules of how society is to live has remained unflagged by even the Opposition and radical left voices.  None see through to the ultimate ruling party behind political scenes, nor to the ultimate fact that it is not economically efficient or even productively capitalist. Its hidden financialization forces and anti-labour-and-ecological agenda of radical de-regulation are, in principle, counter-productive, parasitic and self-multiplying against the common interest of its social and environmental life hosts.

 

The Unasked Questio: Who Wins Now?

On the PR face of it, Theresa May is the clergyman’s daughter soundly risen to PM office. But she is, more deeply, the perfect foil behind which to sneak a Brexit end to the threat of EU regulation of the most life-destructive private money powers of Britain. Brexit is in sinister parallel with the life-blind deregulatory forces of the Trump/Republican forces letting the ruling money party run free to become multiply richer while stripping scientific environmental regulations, monitoring and prevention of cumulatively ecocidal externalities of global financialization and environmental toxification. The difference is that the English financial and factory-food lords are far stealthier and unseen in their demonstrable strategic plan to Leave the EU because it leads the world in scientific method, life-protective regulation and implementation. No-one seems yet to recognise this in the UK, unlike the rising US awareness of at least the Trump-Republican threat to the US and global environment and – more specifically – the Environmental Protection Agency and even the century-evolved and world-leading US national parks. “Making America great again” excludes the life ground. When PM Theresa May now hard-presses Leave the EU even when formerly opposed to it – most of all because of its weakening of Britain’s defences against terrorism – who can doubt something has re-motivated her to reverse the agenda.

The tell-tale avoidance of truth is seen when she lashes Jeremy Corbyn for even  connecting the terrorist operation of Manchester back to the facts of Britain’s war-waging in poor foreign nations from which the suicide bombers come. “Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services,” Labour leader Corbyn  observes, “have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.  Joining the dots is taboo.  In such closure to facts, PM May implicitly justifies government actions on the basis of the legitimacy of past state actions which are war-criminal under international law, and – beneath notice again – stopped Libya specifically from its gold-dinar Bank of Africa plan based on oil revenues to lend to other African countries without the debt enslavement long coveted by London-connected private financing of states (including the British government itself). Who do these actions of repression of war-criminal facts and seizure of other people’s assets serve?

In this light, consider PM May’s capacity to carry Leave the EU as PM compared to its most charismatic leader on the ground, Boris Johnson. Although he has long been London finance’s man as Mayor as well as leader of the Brexit campaign, the master plan cannot go forward with him any further because, as a known liar and bounder, he is completely unfit as a credible finisher in PM office. Those who lead here know very well how to rule behind effective public relations to keep their control acceptable on the public stage– as Wall Street has done with one elected US president after another. This is why the known libertine and shameless US-born self-promoter Boris Johnson was – however charming and useful – stopped for the job of ‘Prime Minister of Great Britain’. He might indeed provoke cross-party reaction against pushing a onetime minority poll into a reversal of modern British history which took away the EU passports and future opportunities of England’s young professional classes.

There is much to cover up here that needs a steady woman ruler with a better manner and more socially just in bearing. So Prime Minister Theresa May it was. Thus the sole regulatory powers in place keeping the private financial superpower of London in check against another 2008 emptying of the public treasury and pensioners’ incomes – not to mention the deregulation de-greening of England by an industrial factory frankenfood system – escaped the public’s attention. To credibly cover up what nobody knows while believing in her mission is made-to- order for PM May, and so the Trump-like mega de-regulation and de-tax agenda has gone all the way to days before the June 8 British general election with far less fuss. Boris was meanwhile made Foreign Minister to insult the EU onto their heels in England’s revolution backwards for the unproductively and villainously rich. Few noticed that all these political shenanigans served a unifying function. The new EU financial regulations on London’s big banks could not be implemented, monitored or enforced with Brexit stopping it all in its tracks.  EU Organic Agriculture Regulations protecting the environment and natural ecosystems from genetic contaminations and industrial clearances of green life was simultaneously terminated with hardly any notice. That foods themselves are released from safe and scientific EU standards has remained a non-issue. For poignant household example, British demands for hygiene standards to be changed to US rules so as to permit chicken meat sanitized only by chlorinated water, to allow beef raised with growth hormones, and to free genetically engineered substitute foods or GMO’s from production and label restrictions have all been stopped dead by Brexit.

With London finance as well as industrial agriculture and false foods freed from codified norms of responsibility to the common life interest long evolved, tested and instituted within Britain and the European Union, the most predatory and counter-productive forces in Britain are allowed to run free with no public notice before the June 8 general election.  EU labour rights (eg., 48-hour week), human rights (e.g., employees’ and prisoners’ rights), financial oversight of any independent kind (as we have seen), and virtually all environmental standards developed beyond the US model, all  are discontinued by  the Great Repeal Act. With no evolved EU standards of economic, social or environmental protection legally obligatory and enforceable any more, the June 8 election will lock it all into the future with no way back that can be reasonably relied on without electoral reversal. With all the historical bearings and force of precedent, independent adjudication and law left behind by Leave, a US-UK deregulation and de-taxation orgy can proceed as ‘democratic’ if PM May wins the election. This is why PM Theresa May as the first head of state to visit the White House came out of their private meeting holding hands with Donald Trump. Demonstrating its confidence in the liberated financial rule of Britain as the Great Repeal Bill proceeded, Goldman-Sachs simultaneously committed to a $500-million headquarters in central London.

 

 

London Finance with Goldman-Sachs Escapes All EU Financial Regulation

The very definition of the EU Central Bank’s mandate to investigate and supervise “the business model, risk management, and capital, liquidity and funding”of private-profit bank and financial institutions including London  (via a rigorous Supervisory Review and Evaluation Process by elite teams of professional accountants)  is anathema to the long unregulated US-UK financial system. London finance like Wall Street is very used to increasingly devouring public treasuries, pensions and savings to become 40% and rising of the entire economy. They have done this through the global financial meltdown they have caused to multiply their money-demand control of the planet in a myriad of algebraically concealed ways with no oversight supervision, no independently verifiable standards, and no real reforms. The European Central Bank has finally moved to institute common standards across the Union – what was done after the Great Depression but has been reversed since. Private London-Wall Street banks and finance will do anything to stop this regulatory reform to protect their many trillions of assets and liabilities running free to continue unimpeded in the greatest unearned and still rising transfer of wealth to the rich in history. The economic stakes are unprecedentedly high, and so the silencing of any notice of the reforms to regulate them has in the UK been total in the mass media and even in Labour policy recognition. Consider the vast treasure involved. “Existing financial rules” in London banks have been officially judged by independent experts as “woefully inadequate”, and all of London’s foreign currency trading (globally dominant and largest in Euros) remains unregulated and untaxed.

Vast investment banking, cross-border sales of securities, Euro liquidity to clearing houses, non-performing loan recognition, coverage and write-offs also escape independent regulation by Brexit and the Great Repeal Act. Revenue-cap norms on skyrocketed financial pay to executives, standards of internal audit, deferred tax assets and credits masked as capital, capital adequacy, liquidity requirements and ability to pay liabilities are all also blocked by post-referendum laws. Unnoticed too are overdue binding norms on regulating the competence of new members of management and key function holders (say, Boris Johnson) and oversight of collective investments in transferable securities by captive states and unilateral tax advantages gained by their public issue and sale for profit. In sum, the Capital Requirements Directive and Regulations are set on fire by the Great Repeal of European Union obligations, now to be locked in by the June 8 election. What are boasted as ‘elegant and sophisticated innovations of investment instruments’ and so on, are in fact systemic methods of fraudulent diversion with no qualified, independent accounting authority allowed into check their schemes fixed to maximally profit powerful private financial dealers against transparency and liability, elected government accountability, and the common interests of everyone else.

 

 

The Great Silencing

This whole joining of fateful dots has been covered in silence. Big London bank and finance has so far got away with veiled abolition of all the overdue EU financial rules, monitoring and enforcement to regulate them after the 2008 financial meltdown in which an estimated $26 trillion of public money has been swallowed by the transnational private banking system led by Wall Street and London. In faint contrast, there has been a slight exposure of the Brexit reverse of evolved EU environment protections, monitoring sciences, directive laws, and feed-back enforcement processes. But here too any information has occurred only in fragments, with no connections to the EU’s life-protective binding rules on industrial farming, GMO products, and industrial chemical pollutions and toxins. For example, you will not see in any government press release or corporate mass media any mention of the European Union’s world-leading environmental protection by its Organic Agriculture Regulations setting out “the principles, aims and rules of food production and labelling”. No-one mentions in the media or government that these regulations are precisely what are eliminated from monitoring, feedback and enforcement in Britain once the Great Repeal Act is legitimated by the June 8 election.   In similar vein, there is a white-out of pre-and-post-Brexit reference to EU’s historic and definitive Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). It is by far the most advanced environmental and human health protection system scientifically validated in existing government and the world. But it too is made invisible in the ruling discussions and debates. Such jam-it-through strategy with no public understanding and almost all the primary life-protective common legislation effectively concealed has been shrouded throughout in the pervasive media image of PM May vs. hapless Corbyn Labour. This is the only issue raised for voters in the June 8 election. The global media too have consciously or unconsciously collaborated in making this most important election in British history in financial and environmental terms, a non-issue. Yet even all this has not been enough for the great cover-up still in motion. There has been a Lobbying Act to stop informed NGO’s – but not any of the London-based big transnational banks and corporations – from lobbying before the June 8 election, a new law which has frightened them into silence with Greenpeace already convicted and fined.

 

 

What Does Not Fit the Life-Blind Program?

One underlying principle governs beneath the political scenes, speeches and choral commentaries on stage. It also governs the UK-US ‘special relationship’ and Wall Street-London axis at the same time, in different ways: De-fund and de-regulate all life-protective laws, agencies and enforcements that cost public and corporate money, and subsidize instead the unproductive or counter-productive private money party’s multiplying growth.

The method is the same at base. Private Wall-Street and London banks behind the scenes print the world’s money by debt issue for maximum profit to the top while producing nothing but multiplying their private money demand over all that exists.   Transnational corporate money sequences funded by the banks, in turn, strip and pollute life bases on all levels to produce and sell profit ever more commodities priced for maximum private profit with few or no life standards to govern their extractions, productive processes, products, wastes and life-destructive externalities. For all its faults, the European Union has gone much further than any other unified jurisdiction in human and ecological regulations of these material phases, and the financial drivers behind them. This is ultimately why the UK private money party, especially its non-productive and counter-productive investors, have repudiated EU regulations of them on other pretexts. In general, the connected global forces of life and life means destruction are screened out by the established framework of meaning which is in principle life-blind. In consequence, private financial and corporate forces are released from what modest public regulation has developed to protect organic, social and ecological life systems, and the systemic despoliation of global life-organisation continues to run down biodiverse energy capacities on all levels. The UN Paris Agreement on ‘climate change’ is intended to meet the most dangerous consequences of this system. But it is selective, and ‘climate change’ euphemises hydrological-cycle destabilization and pollution that is the baseline force of world life and life means destruction. Again unifying principles and concepts are screened out of public discussion as well as silo disciplines.

Jeremy Corbyn’s back-to-the basics Labour movement is hopeful in that it is not bound like Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ to the dominant Murdoch media and big corporations controlling the agenda via government committees and PFI’s.  And this is why Corbyn’s grass-roots leadership is pervasively belittled in the dominant media, and also why the while historic stakes of the June 8 election have been systematically blinkered out. The ruling framework of meaning presupposes the life-blind system, rules out what does not conform to its money-value logic, and attacks what seeks to reform it. So as the stakes keep getting higher as June 8 approaches, they are kept out of the discussion. There has been a systemic blocking out of all the momentous issues in the campaign before ‘Brexit’ and after it to today. The meta program is mind-locked, and compulsively proceeds even when its political leaders have no legitimate ground to proceed, but only a transient minority vote for Leave the EU in a largely apathetic and cynical referendum with no binding force. The Great Repeal Act of  EU regulations follows in lockstep fulfilment of the meta program, and an unscheduled snap election while Tory polls are still far ahead is set to cement it all in before the public wakes up to the meaning. Thus proceeds the greatest system-wide reverse and financial boondoggle in modern English-speaking economic history and social-ecological evolution.

 

 

There is No Alternative

The re-grounded Labour movement does the best it can for the working people and dispossessed across Great Britain, the only organised institution to do so in the country. But this too is ridiculed and condescended to in the corporate press. And still the deeper and historic issues remain completely out of view. In recent days, nonetheless, Labour has stood for returning the looted national railway system and other privatized utilities to a productive public direction, for taxing the rich more to fund falling public services, and for connecting Britain’s terrorist problem to its armed-force actions in other countries.  This has given a spike in the polls to Corbyn labour. Yet still the profound major issues of ‘Brexit’ itself remain covered over. The dots of the essentially phoney Leave the EU referendum are not yet joined. The holus-bolus financial and environmental deregulation by the Brexit scheme remains undefined. The basic outline for the historic hoax has remained undetected into June. “There is no alternative” has thus been reconstituted into the 2017 election. The underlying driver to cement the unaccountable private money power demanding ever more into a de-regulation bonanza remains unnamed. Not even the master slogan of ‘Brexit’ is deconstructed as a public relations mask of the greatest backward move in life-protective norms in historical record: all to serve life-means destroying or unproductive money-party powers that are fronted by photogenic leaders on all planes. The rationally self-maximizing growth of private-profit power over all existing assets is built into the meta program. But it is not comprehended. It exactly follows the inner logic of ruling economic, military and strategic game theory in models and calculations, but there is no linking across the simultaneous phenomena which are life blindly forming the future. The conversion of organic, social and ecological life organisation into more money demand for fewer is now being rapidly instituted into place.

 

 

Summary

The June 8 British election is set to lock in the big-money coup against long- evolved regulations and norms protecting human, social and environmental life.  The crisis is incomprehension of the meaning. A corrosive cynicism of EU capacity to govern for the public interest (Greece the continuous demonstration), media-debased public perceptions suppressing the historic stakes involved, a US presidency demonized in all the corporate media,  NATO-supported Nazism in Ukraine as Western freedom, and other degenerate trends have not been connected in their unifying pattern – within which UK money-party reversal of post-War socio-economic evolution is taking place. PM Theresa May is the political face of the great leap backwards.  So far the ruling politics of one distracting spectacle after another has worked right up to the June 8 election, fortified by a diabolical terrorist attack on London 5 days before the vote. y.. Yet there is a growing intuition of the fast slippage of social and ecological life order into chaos with no human centre of gravity in charge.  The British public may still see through to the underlying radical program of government de-regulation, de-taxation, and de-funding to further empower the financial looting and life-despoiling forces at work. Joining the dots behind the scenes reveals the emerging plot of meaning. The Great Brexit:

(1) stops the EU Central Bank Regulators and Supervisors from finally checking out the models, risk culture methods, inadequate reserves and so on of big London banks involved including Goldman-Sachs in the 2007-8 financial collapse, and

(2) eliminates the binding force of all the long-evolved and scientific EU regulations structured to prevent, in particular, the corporate industrial food system’s polluting and despoiling US-led methods undermining the British people’s health and environment.  

Brexit’s Great Repeal Act and PM May’s snap June election is the only way to achieve (1) and (2) without negotiation or exposing public issue. London financial accountability has most of all been silenced as an issue. Its growing trillions of nano-second fast-dealing to enrich the already rich by unregulated methods and calculations remain immune from any independent oversight. Similarly, the very aims and principles of the binding, monitored and still developing Organic Agriculture Directive are anathema to Britain’s US-led Big Agriculture and Food lobbies, not only around GMO restrictions – which US trade authorities and British GMO ‘science’ have made war on for over 15 years – but around every EU restriction on pesticides and herbicides to clear-cutting environments for monocultural factory methods to commodity motor rackets and pollutions to norms of licensed “food quality” in the corporate market. The very governing EU objectives of “biodiversity”, “animal protection”, and “organic natural systems and cycles” are a threat to Big Food production and products when attached to exactly defined, inspected and enforceable life standards. Long used to pervasive public relations sales pitches of “feeding the world” in place of accountable, life-protective environmental and nutrition standards, this very powerful British lobby is next to London Big Finance as the covertly moving major profit-first force behind the Brexit coup d’etat. Both are in principle life-blind in their mechanical financial models. Both are governed only by self-maximizing private money sequencing in exponential growth with no life-coherent ground or norms to stop their march across the world through organic, social and ecological life hosts. Both have led the Great Repeal of developed EU life standards beneath the radar of media coverage, parliamentary diagnosis, and academic silos. The June 8 2017 UK general election will open or close Britain’s life future under the rule of life-protective law.

From Piketty’s Capital to Marx’s das Kapital

Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has created a very new platform for a discussion of the global economy. There is possibly no other book on economy which has been published in so many languages, printed in so many copies, and has found its way to such a varied global public. Piketty’s Capital has been discussed in many high ranked academic journals, and at the same time, it has come out to a broader audience with advertisements in places like the underground public transportation in metropolises around the world. The title of the book is also very ambitious in so far as the title Capital claims to be a follow up of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital for the twenty-first century. Piketty is similar to Marx in his ambition to give a large historical, or a world historical perspective on the significance of capitalist economy for the development of global society. Given this background it could be interesting to consider the relations between Piketty’s Capital and Marx’s Das Kapital.

 

 

Main Thesis

My main thesis is that although Piketty gives a very essential theoretical and historically based prognosis and critique of the development of inequality as he expects it to increase in the twenty-first century. Ultimately, he is not able to provide a conceptual critique of capitalism which can surpass the basic market perspective in Adam Smith’s tradition of classical and neoclassical economy.

On this basis my thesis is that Marx’s conceptual determination of the capital, das Kapital, the capitalist mode of production, and capitalism in general could contribute to sharpen the outcome of Piketty’s enormous empirical and historical research on the development of inequality in capitalist societies beginning from the French Revolution. In addition, Piketty has also presented a calculated prognosis for the exacerbation of inequality in global capitalism during the twenty-first century.

According to Marx, the development of inequality is not accidental but inherent in the principle of capital and the capitalist mode of production. Therefore, Piketty’s empirically documented development of inequality should lead to a fundamental critique of capitalism. However, this is not the case.

On this background, I would like to consider a change of perspective from Adam Smith’s liberal market perspective to Marx’s productive perspective on capitalism. For Marx, capitalism is seen as an autopoietic bureaucratic and productive machinery or social system, which not only determines the production of inequality but also the basis for all social relations on a global scale.

Outline of the paper

In the following paper, I would like to substantiate this thesis with a presentation of Piketty’s theory, method and main results. I would further like to present Marx’s critical concept of the capital and capitalism. Finally, I would like to illustrate some of the consequences of Marx’s critical theory for the understanding of Piketty’s empirical work.

Piketty’s Capital

 

Piketty’s theory is situated in Adam Smith’s liberal tradition.

Piketty’s work is situated in Adam Smith’s liberal tradition. Adam Smith’s main work Wealth of Nations (1981 I-II) from 1776 is interesting because it represents the foundation of modern economy. Smith’s theory can be read in many ways and it has brought inspiration to many different perspectives on ethics, societal ethics, common moral, political philosophy, political theory, sociology and economy. Normally the economic perspective has been emphasized, but one could say the same regarding the other perspectives.

Wealth of Nations begins with a presentation of the division of labor as the basis for creation of wealth in a nation. Therefore, it should be emphasized that Smith has a general concept of work as the basis for his economic theory. Smith formulated this generalization on the basis of the Physiocrats’ more restricted idea that only agricultural work created value.

The second essential line of thought by Smith is that the products of work should be sold at a price determined in an open market, which on a larger scale implies the world market as its perspective. Therefore, the free market is essential for Smith.

The third line of thought is that the price of the commodity is determined by the work behind the creation of the product. However, Smith is not completely clear on this topic. The other perspective in Wealth of Nations is that the price is determined by the exchange in the market. In other words, Smith’s theory is ambivalent concerning the creation of value.

It is this ambivalence in Smith’s theory, which is in the center of discussion during the next two hundred years among economists, especially in the neoclassical economic tradition.

On the one hand, the work perspective leads to an internal understanding of the fundamental role of work in comprehending societal relations and institutions. This is what leads to the sociological perspective on the relationship between economy and society. Marx’s, Durkheim’s and Weber’s theories should also be mentioned here.

On the other hand, we have the price and market perspectives, which become the dominant perspectives in later economic traditions. It is in these traditions that we find the most economists having an influence on economic practice and on economic education. Thomas Piketty should be placed in these traditions.

Piketty’s research method: economy as part of the social sciences

Piketty is a market economist based in Adam Smith’s liberal tradition and the later neoclassical liberal tradition. However, Piketty has a much broader theoretical and methodical horizon, which should be understood on the background of Piketty’s French formation.

The interesting thing about Piketty’s method is that he wants to integrate economics as a sub discipline of social sciences, alongside history, sociology, anthropology, political science and even literature (Piketty 2014: 573 ff.). Piketty has his specific methodological perspective from the French Annales School and from Francois Furet’s quantitative historical method, which gives him a long and convincing historical perspective (Bouvier & Furet 1965; Piketty 1998; Piketty 2001; Piketty 2004; Piketty 2006). Piketty would not have been able to come to his results, if he had not integrated all these different perspectives.

Following this, Piketty wants to reconstruct the classical political economy as a value based science, which is connected to its political, normative and moral purpose (Piketty 2014: 573 ff.). This is the same ambition found in Adam Smith and further back in classical political philosophy by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. The fundamental question according to Piketty is, how public policies and institutions can bring us closer to an ideal society (Piketty 2014: 574). This was also the question raised by Aristotle, Aquinas, Adam Smith, Hegel and Marx. They had very different answers to this question, but they all had in common that the economy should be subordinated to the political, normative and moral value horizon. Economy could not be sustained independent of the moral, social and political interpretation.

According to Piketty, political economy should be a part of public discussion meaning that the shared values should be found in public democratic discussion. According to Piketty, this is not the case in most economic theory and practice in which economic models are used without regard to the political, social, cultural and historical context.

Piketty’s basic thesis: r > g – revenue is bigger than growth in a long historical perspective

Although Piketty has these critical perspectives on economy, he is in many ways still a traditional market economist based in Adam Smith’s liberal tradition and the neoclassical tradition. Piketty’s focus is price, market and equality in the distribution of goods. It is in this background that Piketty is concerned with the liberal discussion of inequality.

Piketty’s basic thesis is that revenue, r, has been bigger than growth, g, during the last two hundred years in Europe and the US, and more generally in all higher developed societies in recent history. Therefore, there has been a tendency towards a strong inequality in the last two hundred years in Europe. In general, this has also been a tendency throughout European history and in all higher developed societies. In that sense, all societies in history have been class based societies, albeit in different forms.

Patrimonial Capitalism

It is Piketty’s expectation that a new form of capitalism has been created, which he calls patrimonial capitalism (Piketty 2014: 173). It could seem to be a new form of capitalism, but in fact, it is a form of capitalism, which was known from the late 1800s until 1914. It is characterized on a huge accumulation of private wealth among a small part of the population, the upper 10%, 1%, 0.1% and 0.01%. At the beginning of the 1970s, the total value of private wealth in the Western societies stood between two to three and a half years of national income. Forty years later, in 2010, private wealth represented between four to seven years of national income in the Western world. The general evolution is clear: This is a strong comeback of private capital in the rich countries since 1970 (Piketty 2014: 173). This concentration of wealth is what Piketty calls ‘patrimonial capitalism’.

Piketty regards the new patrimonial capitalism as a repetition of something, which was formerly known in history from the late 19th to early 20th century. It is characterized by a high concentration of wealth in a low-growth environment like the nineteenth century (Piketty 2014: 237). The crisis of 2008 was according to Piketty the first crisis of the globalized patrimonial capitalism of the twenty-first century (Piketty 2014: 473). He expects that it will be followed by other crises. This is the scenario that Piketty expects for the twenty-first century.

Patrimonial capitalism, heirs and entrepreneurs

Consequently, the strong concentration of wealth can give rise to a tendency where the ‘entrepreneur’ transitions to the ‘heir’ as the basic figure of capitalism. According to Piketty, all large fortunes, whether inherited or entrepreneurial in origin, grow at extremely high rates, regardless of whether the owner of the fortune works or not (Piketty 2014: 439ff.).

Piketty gives a very illustrative example comparing Bill Gates, the entrepreneur among all entrepreneurs, and Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of the cosmetics company L’Oréal. Between 1990 and 2010, Bill Gates’ fortune increased from $4 billion to $50 billion. In the same period, Liliane Bettencourt’s fortune increased from $2 billion to $25 billion. Both fortunes thus grew at an annual rate of more than 13 percent from 1990 to 2010.

Piketty also mentions Steve Jobs, who is regarded as a more creative entrepreneur than Bill Gates. But at the top of his career, his fortune was only $8 billion in 2011.

Piketty’s conclusion is that inheritance becomes the main access to the creation or growth of fortunes, and not the entrepreneurial spirit. Therefore, wealth is not just a matter of merit, and capital grows according to its own dynamic, when it has passed a certain size. The reason for this is the simple fact that the return on inherited fortunes is often very high solely because of their initial size.

Inequality – The economic system is the problem

It is a common discussion in liberal political theory that inequalities are acceptable if they serve the common good. This is also what has been stated in §1 of the Declaration 1789: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be found only upon the common utility”. It is on this basis that entrepreneurs becoming extremely rich while compared to other people becomes acceptable.

However, Piketty claims that the entrepreneurial argument cannot justify all the inequalities of wealth, no matter how extreme (Piketty 2014: 443). This is a claim that we find in Rawls’ liberal theory as well (Rawls 1971). As we have seen, the general class based inequality r > g combined with better returns on capital as a function of initial wealth makes it possible that fortunes can grow and perpetuate themselves beyond all rational limits and beyond any possible rational justification in terms of common utility.

In this way, it does even not take one generation to move from an entrepreneur to a rentier. Entrepreneurs can be transformed into rentiers in their own lifetime, and their wealth can be multiplied more than tenfold in twenty years as in the case of Bill Gates and Liliane Bettencourt (Piketty 2014: 443ff.).

The consequence is that even the merit criteria in §1 of Declaration that social distinctions are acceptable if they serve the common utility or the common good is very difficult not to say impossible to concretize. It is very difficult in praxis to sustain the distinction between the entrepreneur and the rentier when the first can be transformed into the second in a very short time as has been exemplified with the case of Bill Gates.

As I understand Piketty, he draws the conclusion that the most important problem is not to clarify whether inequality serves the common utility or not? The most important problem is that the accumulation of wealth among the 1%, the 0.1% and not at least the 0.01% tends to represent 70%-90% of all the countable wealth in global societies. It is this enormous concentration of wealth that justifies Piketty’s use of the concept of patrimonial capitalism.

Patrimonial Capitalism

The concept of ‘patrimonialism’ is situated in Max Weber’s classification as a traditional form of governance (Weber 1980: 682 ff). It has its origins in the specific patriarchal form of authority in the family. Following up, it can be broadened out to concern patrimonial forms of government in which political and or economic power can be concentrated. In this form of government, authority and power form a political unity. It is this traditional unity which transgresses into the power and authority of economic wealth in the patrimonial form of capitalism, as has been described above.

Problems with Patrimonial Capitalism

Per my observations, Piketty draws the following conclusions concerning the patrimonial form of capitalism.

Society will fall behind the French Revolution

Piketty’s perspective is overall that patrimonial capitalism will bring society back to before the French Revolution. Some of the modern institutions may formally be maintained but the reality may be different.

Suspension of basic principles of Human Rights 

The second point is that the basic values of modern society are suspended as they are formulated § 1 of the Declaration: “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be found only upon the common utility”. In patrimonial capitalism, there are basic distinctions which are bound to inheritance and which therefore are transferred from generation to generation. This is exactly what characterizes a traditional pre-modern society. In such a society, men are not equal in rights, because wealth is the basic structuring parameter for the life chances of people in all matters concerning wealth, education, health, work, and political, social and other positions in society. In short, human rights are suspended in such a society.

Suspension of democracy 

The third point is that democracy will be strongly weakened or even suspended in such a society, and there can be no possibilities to develop democracy in such a society.

Stagnation of society 

The fourth point is that patrimonial capitalism will not be able to develop a society because the entrepreneur and innovator will lose their possibilities compared to the primacy of secure reproduction and accumulation of the inheritance.

Violence and corruption will dominate society 

The fifth point is that such a society will be built on violence and corruption instead of legal and deliberative political institutions.

The rule of war between states 

The rule of war between states will be dominant because interstate conflicts cannot be solved through diplomacy and international law.

 

Patrimonial capitalism does already exist in many societies in the world

The description of patrimonial capitalism may seem like a doomsday prophecy, a description of the last days. But in fact, the reality is that this form of capitalism does already exist in different forms in many societies in the world and maybe even the most societies with a developed economy combined with a strong authoritarian and corrupt regime. Even in the US we find signs of patrimonial capitalism, when wealthy people have enormous possibilities to influence elections, political life, allocation of resources and social decisions.

Piketty’s Capital: A platform for a critique of capitalism and its perspectives

In the end, the interesting thing about Piketty’s analysis is in the end that it is an economic analysis on the basis of the fundamental principles of the French Revolution. Piketty’s own conclusion is that the French Revolution failed and is an illusion.

With this background, one could have expected that Piketty had been critical toward capitalism as an economic system. But this is not the case. Piketty is worried about the historical consequences of capitalism, but he does not criticize capitalism in itself as an economic and social system. However, this seems to be a relevant topic as he has at least created a new platform for a discussion of capitalism, because he has uncovered some of the historical destructive perspectives in capitalism.

Marx’s Das Kapital

Introduction to Marx

It is in this background that I would like to discuss Marx’s concept of capital, das Kapital, and some of his perspectives on capitalism. Marx is such an interesting thinker in this context because no one has delivered such a strong critique of capitalism and political economy as him.

If we want to understand Marx’s critique of capitalism, we have to look shortly at his intellectual background and development. Marx (1818-1883) is a German intellectual strongly influenced primarily by Hegel’s political philosophy. Marx is a Hegelian who criticizes Hegel’s perspective on state, civil society, politics, and economy in Kritik der Hegelschen Staatsphilosophie 1844 (Marx 1841/42: 20-149). His basic critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law (Hegel 1955; 1991) is that Hegel ‘aufhebt’, lifts up or sublates the basic contradictions in civil society into a reconciliation, ‘eine Versöhnung’, in the State as an all-encompassing unity of the contradictions in civil society. According to Hegel, the contradictions in civil society were first of all constituted through the struggle between economic agents, who were only concerned with their own business. This is an insight Hegel had acquired through Adam Smith’ Wealth of Nations (Smith I-II 1981) and David Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economy and Taxation from 1817 (Ricardo 1996).

In his Kritik der Hegelschen Staatsphilosophie 1844, Marx mostly critizised Hegel’s Aufhebung and Versöhnung. Later on, his project became to reconstruct this political and political-philosophical critique of Hegel as a critique of political economy. Therefore, it would be right also to consider Marx as a Hegelian in this later period of his life after 1849, when he arrived as a political refugee to London. This is also what Marx remarks in his postscript to the second edition of Das Kapital (Marx 1970: 27f.). Marx comments on his method and claims that there must be made a distinction between the research (die Forschungsweise), in which the subject is taken in consideration, and the presentation (die Darstellungsweise), in which the topic is reconstructed as it has taken place. Die Darstellung, the presentation, means for Marx the same as how the subject can be developed in an idealized way which gives the impression that it could be a pure construction. One could say that it could give the impression of being a pure construction without relation to the reality in so far as it should present the essential (das Wesen) of the topic. In that sense, ‘die Darstellung’ could also be considered as a form of presentation and interpretation at the same time. Although Marx claims to be a materialist, he has such a style of presentation that it does remind us of a constructed model in the idealistic tradition of Plato and Hegel.

Marx’s Hegelian method

It is very essential to understand Marx’s Hegelian method, because it indicates that for Marx and for Hegel there are always two levels in the understanding of social phenomena. On the one hand, we have the surface, ‘die Erscheinung’; this is the empirical level, where the events happen. On the other hand, we have the understanding of the phenomena; this is the level where the essence, ‘das Wesen’, is expressed. As the third step, Hegel and Marx claim that it is only from the perspective of the essence, ‘das Wesen’, that we can understand the empirical level, where the events take place. According to Marx and Hegel, this was the meaning of dialectics.

It is exactly this phenomenological double perspective with the movement from Erscheinung to Wesen and from Wesen to Erscheinung, which is so strange for the American and English way of thinking, and is also the dominant perspective in modern liberal economy. However, it is this double perspective, which gives Marx the possibility to make a critical reconstruction of the political economy and present a new perspective on the relation between economy and society.

Marx’s project is to reconstruct the classical political economy

With this background we can discuss what Marx is concerned with in Das Kapital. Here we should remark on the subtitle of Das Kapital, which is Kritik der politichen Ökonomie – Marx wanted to criticize and reconstruct the political economy because it did not present what should be its essence, das Wesen. One could say that Marx wanted to write a new edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations. According to Marx, political economy had moved away from a scientific project to a political project that was only concerned with price and market, the surface, ‘die Erscheinung’, because it served to hide that the dominant economy’s ‘Wesen’, the workproces, was based on exploitation of the workforce, who produced value and surplus-value.

Marx did not finish his project; he did not finish the presentation of the total reproduction of the economic system. In that sense, we cannot say that Marx has presented a model for the total reproduction of the economic system. Marx edited only the first volume of Das Kapital in 1867. Friedrich Engels edited the next two volumes with support from Marx’s remaining manuscripts. Therefore, the question is what status can Marx’s theory have, when it is not finished in the same sense as Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is a finished work?

The three edited volumes of Das Kapital, the collection of Marx’s preparatory work papers collected in Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Marx 196-?), combined with the rest of Marx’s work give a sufficient basis to understand Marx’s new theoretical contribution to the political economy. Marx presented the basic principles in a critical theory with a new perspective on political economy understood as the reproduction of what he called the capitalistic mode of production or the capitalistic economic system. Broadly speaking, it gives a new understanding of the basic principles in a capitalistic society. In that sense, Marx’s theory provides the basis for a sociological understanding of the relation between economy and society, and in a wider perspective for the interpretation of history.

The glorious and tragic days of Marxism have ended. Therefore, today Marx’s theory should be seen in line with other economic and sociological theories, and it should be seen as part of a hermeneutical work, which in the end determines the integration of the different possible scientific perspectives.

With this background, I would like to present some of the essential topics in Marx’s theory in Das Kapital and Grundrisse, which will be relevant for a discussion of Piketty’s Capital. I will concentrate on the first chapters of Das Kapital as it is here that we find the basis for all of Marx’s theoretical construction.

The concept of Capital – The constitution of das Kapital

It already becomes clear from the title page itself that Marx’s Das Kapital is a very special treatise. On the one hand, it is in fact very similar to Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Hegel 1955), and on the other hand, it is very different compared to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Piketty’s Capital. Therefore, it can be enlightening to compare it with these treatises.

Smith’s theme is the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, and chapter 1 begins immediately with a presentation of the division of labor as what has mostly improved the production of wealth (Smith 1981, I: 13 ff.). All the categories here and in the rest of the treatise refer to empirical matters. All of Smith’s categories have an empirical reference.

The same could be said about Piketty’s subject, which is equality and inequality with reference to the distribution of wealth.

Marx’s Introduction does not have this character. The title of the book, Das Kapital, is an abstraction and does not have an immediate empirical reference. The subtitle is Critique of the Political Economy. This means that the treatise is concerned with a critique and reconstruction of political economy as we know it from Smith and Ricardo. The subtitle of the first volume of Das Kapital is the Capital’s Production Process. The subject in Das Kapital is the capital. This is very strange in itself. How should capital be understood in a determined form? Normally we understand capital in quantitative terms, however, in Marx’s determination of das Kapital (Marx 1970: 12) we have to do with a concept. Capital is a conceptual abstraction, and it is the production and reproduction process of this subject, which is the topic of Das Kapital. This is also, what Marx emphasizes in the introduction to the first edition of Das Kapital in 1867 (Marx 1970: 11-17). In the postscript to the second edition from 1875, Marx comes back to the same theme concerning his method, which he designates as being the same as Hegel’s method, although turned around, because Marx claims that Hegel is an idealist, and Marx claims to be a materialist (Marx 1970: 27). I think that the two methods are very closely connected, and I find it difficult from a methodological perspective to see the difference between the beginnings of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Marx’s Das Kapital.

Marx’s development of the concept of capital

The first chapter of Das Kapital begins in the same abstract style with an analysis of the wealth in a society dominated by the capitalist mode of production, which presents itself as an amazing collection of commodities. The skeleton, ‘die Elementarform’, the basic element of such a society is the commodity. This is the reason why Marx begins his analysis with an analysis of the commodity.

In chapters 1-3, Marx develops all the basic concepts of work such as the production of the commodity, the use and exchange value of the commodity, the equal exchange of commodities, and the invention of money as the means of exchange of equal values.

I would especially like to emphasize chapter 1, section 4, where Marx introduces the fetish character of the commodity and it’s secret. In a commodity producing society, all social relations become hidden in the commodities, which are all a product of the work process. It is the commodities that seem to be the real actors in society (Marx 1970: 86). This is the beginning of the creation of the alienation in a society dominated by the capitalist mode of production.

In the third chapter, Marx describes how money becomes the general presentation of the circulation of commodities. There is a change from the form ‘commodity – money – commodity’ to the form ‘money – commodity – money’. In this way, money comes into the center of society and becomes an aim in itself.

In the fourth chapter, The Transformation of Money into Capital, Marx questions the addition of value when only equivalents are being exchanged all the time. Marx’s simple answer is that the workforce, ‘die Arbeitskraft’, is a commodity, which has the ability to produce more value, a surplus value or ‘Mehrwert’, than it costs to reproduce it.

Marx speaks about the transformation of money into capital, when the production takes the character of a production of surplus value, ‘Mehrwert’, and in that sense a production of Capital (Marx 1970: 180 ff.). Marx speaks about society as a capitalist society when the production of capital dominates society.

The term ‘capitalism’ is a technical term, a concept for a specific form for economy and society. The concept capitalism has its origin in the Late Latin word capitale derived from caput, meaning ‘head’, which is also the origin for chattel and cattle in the sense of moveable property. Capitale emerged in the 12th to 13th centuries in the sense of referring to funds, stock of merchandise, sum of money, or money carrying interest. In English language, the word capitalism is used since the 1850s as the determination of a specific form of society, in which capital and capitalist modes of production have a determined significance.

On the basis of the concept of capital, Marx’s project is to develop an all-encompassing description of the reproduction of a society dominated by the capitalistic mode of production. As mentioned, Marx did not finish this project. In this sense we could say that Marx did not succeed. However, this would not be a correct judgement, because Marx developed the base for a new understanding of economic significance in a modern society.

I will not go in detail with a further presentation of Das Kapital, but would only like present some of the consequences of Marx’s perspective. I speak here about the abstract theory in itself and not about the specific historical forms, which are determined by many other historical and social factors. In that sense, the abstract principle of capital does only indicate the determinate productive principle in a specific historical form of society.

Marx gives a totally new perspective on liberal economy

The essence is that Marx determines a new perspective on economy and society. Das Kapital, the capital, is a driving machine or subject, which aims to produce capital in an escalating intensity and quantum. This is also determined as accumulation of capital.

Das Kapital is a critique of the liberal market economy

Marx theory is a critique of political economy. The word ‘critique’ could be mystifying. Therefore, let me first express what I think critique means in this context. It primarily means to show what is inconsistent, hidden or suppressed in the understanding of a liberal market economy, and secondarily to present a reconstruction of a basis for another understanding of economy. In the liberal economic perspective, the economy does only mediate social relations; it does not produce social relations. The basic categories are therefore price, market and commodity. In this perspective, the economy is in itself a neutral mediator. In Marx’s perspective, it is different.

Das Kapital is the productive and destructive subject of society

In Marx’s perspective, das Kapital not only produces ‘Mehrwert’ and ‘Kapital’, or is not only an economic productive force. Das Kapital forms a society, its institutions and its social relations in a specific adequate way. In this context, the following topics can be emphasized:

Commodification

Das Kapital has a tendency to create a commodification of all social relations and all human life.

Die groβe Profanierung – All pre-given norms are broken down and restructured in accordance with the new historical imperatives

All pre-given norms are broken down, because they are under pressure to be relativized and commoditized. This is ‘die groβe Profanierung’, this is the big profanation of the Holy and of all social norms. In The Communist Manifesto, it is stated in this way: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind” (Marx 1968b: 529).

Die groβe Verschleierung – the big concealment

The big paradox in capitalism is that its consequences are ‘verschleiert’ or veiled. The astonishing thing is that this veil is constituted through the liberal market economy, in which all distinctions are ‘aufgehoben’, lifted up and abolished in the general equivalent, money, at the market. All social distinctions are relativized and hidden on the market. In the end, there is only the distinction more or less of the general equivalent, money.

The big illusion – the liberal market economy produces the big illusion about society

The liberal market economy creates or produces the big illusion about this same form of society, because the abolishment of all distinctions becomes a hindrance for critique. We are all equalized in the general equivalent, money. Therefore, there is no internal way from the liberal market economy to a critique of the specific formation of the social relations, because these distinctions are not inherent in the economic theory. The liberal market economy is constituted through an abstraction from the possible distinctions.

Summing up – Marx has presented a specific theory which can be applied on empirical work with economy and society

What I have presented are the basic principles in Marx’s critique of the political economy. As mentioned, Marx has developed a much broader and differentiated theory compared to, what has been presented here. However, in the end, what we have from Marx is a theory with a specific perspective on economy and society, making it possible to apply it in specific empirical work.

From Marx to Piketty – From Piketty back to Marx

 

Marx and Piketty on empirical work – What is the difference?

In this context, it could be interesting to question how empirical research would be different in a Marx perspective compared to a Piketty perspective. Let us imagine that Marx had conducted similar research as Piketty on the development of inequality in France the last 200 years. What would be different? I am not sure that the concrete research method would be different. Piketty has gone down to the sources and tried to give an answer to his question. The difference would lie in how the questions are posed. Piketty poses his questions inside the horizon of the liberal market economic theory and the neoclassical economic theory. He does not pose questions to or discuss this economic perspective. It is as if it were pre-given or impossible to fundamentally question it. Consequently, we do not move outside the framework of this economic perspective.

The practical results of Piketty’s research are not very significant compared to the enormous research he has done.

The taxation card is Piketty’s only solution to the huge problems created by growing inequality. However, Piketty does not really believe that it is possible to establish the necessary taxation system. Therefore, one could say that there is a lack of critical potential in his theory although he delivers amazing empirical material. The practical results of his research are not very impressive compared to the enormous research he undertook.

Marx’s perspective on empirical economic research

On the other hand, Marx has an incomparably stronger critical theory, which can help pose many interesting research questions and could be integrated in an empirical project.

In the end the dividing line between Piketty and Marx is the following. For Piketty, the liberal market economy is regarded in itself as a neutral system. For Marx, the problems of inequality observed by Piketty are an inherent consequence of capitalism. It could simply not be otherwise because a basic principle in capitalism according to Marx is capital accumulation and capital concentration. Piketty remarks that contingent historical events, the first and second world wars combined with a strong left wing policy, created the basis for diminished inequality in the period 1945-1975, and not fundamental changes in the liberal economic system.

In Marx’s perspective, it would also have been a good idea to change inequality through taxation. However, the interesting perspectives are the basic contradictions in the economic system itself, and whether these contradictions can find a practical solution is a political question.

 

Marx and Piketty – research perspectives and strategies

What to do in a world dominated by the liberal economic perspective?

A basic question would be how one should conduct research in economic oriented topics when most research resources are concentrated around the liberal economic perspective. The strategy could be to integrate research from the liberal economic perspective in a hermeneutical horizon, which is more influenced by critical theory. In this way, it would be possible to use the given empirical resources in another critical hermeneutical perspective in which an inherent critique of capitalism could be formulated.

References

Declaration of Man and the Citizen 1789

Bouvier, Jean; Furet, François; Gillet, Marcel (1965), Le mouvement du profit en France au XIXe siècle, Paris and La Haye, Mouton & Co

Hegel, G. W. F. (1955), Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts, Hamburg, Felix Meiner Verlag.

Hegel, G. W. F. (1991), Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Marx, Karl (1968), Die Frühschriften. Stuttgart, Alfred Kröner Verlag.

Marx, Karl (1968a), Kritik der Hegelschen Staatsphilosophie 1841/42, in. Marx, Karl (1968), Die Frühschriften. Stuttgart, Alfred Kröner Verlag

Marx, Karl (1968b), Manifest der kommunistischen Partei, in: Karl Marx, Die Frühschriften. Stuttgart, Alfred Kröner Verlag.

Marx, Karl (1970), Das Kapital band I, MEW 23, Berlin, Dietz Verlag.

Marx, Karl (196-?), Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Frankfurt, Europäische Verlagsanstalt.

Piketty, Thomas (1998), Les hauts revenus face aux modifications des taux marginaux supérieurs de l’impôt sur le revenu en France, 1970-1996, CNRS, URA928, numero 9812. [High-Income Taxpayers’ Reaction to Marginal Income Tax Rates Changes in France, 1970-1996].

Piketty, Thomas (2001), Les hauts revenus en France au 20e siècle: inégalités et redistribution, 1901-1998, Paris, B. Grasset.

Piketty, Thomas (2004), L’impact de la taille des classes et de la ségrégation sociale sur la réussite scolaire dans les écoles françaises: une estimation à partir du panel primaire 1997, EHESS, Paris-Jourdan.

Piketty, Thomas; Valdenaire, M. (2006) L’impact de la taille des classes sur la réussite scolaire dans les écoles, collèges et lycées français – Estimations à partir du panel primaire 1997 et du panel secondaire 1995, Ministère de l’éducation nationale, Paris.

Piketty, Thomas (2014), Capital in Twenty-First Century, Cambridge Massachusetts, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Rawls, John (1971), A Theory of Justice, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ricardo, David (1996), Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Amherst, Prometheus Press.

Smith, Adam (1981), An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Volume I-II, First edition 1776, Indianapolis, Liberty Fund.

Weber, Max (1980), Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriss der Verstehenden Soziologie, 5. Rev. Aufl. Tübingen, Mohr.

“Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas” (Lysebu Conference Centre in Oslo, Norway, April 9th — 12th, 2015)

This special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum contains select proceedings from the third meeting of the Nordic Summer University research circle called “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas”, held April 9th — 12th, 2015 at the Lysebu Conference Centre in Oslo, Norway. The circle’s research program runs from 2014 to 2016 and is aimed at examining the concept of crisis as it is used today in academia and public discussion. In this collection of papers from the symposium we present some of the different ways in which the topic of the study group was addressed.

Continue reading “Crisis and Crisis Scenarios: Normativity, Possibilities and Dilemmas” (Lysebu Conference Centre in Oslo, Norway, April 9th — 12th, 2015)

Jón Ólafsson (ed.), Lýðræðistilraunir. Ísland í hruni og endurreisn [Democratic experiments. Iceland in collapse and renaissance] (Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan, 2014)

 

The indications are that the costs are 44% of Iceland’s GDP, meaning that it is internationally the third costliest financial collapse ever (Luc Laeven og Fabian Valencia. 2013. Systemic Banking Crises Database. IMF Economic Review, 61, pp. 225-270). The series of events leading to the collapse and what has happened afterwards has had serious consequences for Icelandic society and government. The most obvious sign of these consequences is that trust levels within Icelandic society have declined. The banks enjoy least trust of all Icelandic institutions, as is to be expected, as only 10.2% of Icelanders said in October 2014, six years after the financial collapse, that they trust Icelandic banks (MMR Market and Media Research). Just 12.8% trust Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament, according to the same source.

 

One of the consequences of the financial collapse was that in 2009 the Icelandic republic had the first left-wing government in its history, i.e. since it was established in 1944. This government had to deal with all the most serious consequences of the financial collapse. On top of that, it tried to engineer changes to important Icelandic social institutions like the fishing quota system, which has been controversial since its inception in 1983, and the Icelandic constitution. The reasons behind the changes to the quota system were based on justice and fair allocation of natural resources. The reasons behind changing the constitution were not as clear, but it seems to me that the best construal of them is that the attempt to change the constitution was a confidence-building measure, an attempt to reconstruct the most important legal document of the republic´s legal system and secure general trust in governmental institutions. According to the same survey firm as referred to above, the legal system as a whole enjoyed the trust of 28.9% last November, but in November 2013 the same measurement was 38.1% and in October 2009 the trust in the legal system as a whole in Iceland was 36.5%. There is no reason to read too deep a meaning into these measurements, but they are some indication that the preparation, writing and rejection of the draft constitution have not affected public trust in the legal system. Some may think that we can infer from this that the whole affair surrounding the drafting of a new constitution was in vain. But this may be too hasty.

 

What actually happened in this process? First, there were public protests against the sitting government ending in its fall in early 2009. Second, after the general election in 2009, the first left-wing government in the history of the Icelandic republic was established. The prime minister of that government had long been of the opinion that the constitution needed revision. Third, some general meetings were arranged early in 2009, trying to find out which were the most important values of Icelanders. The government organised a similar meeting in early 2010 to figure out those values that should govern the revision of the constitution. Fourth, the government established a committee gathering data and evaluating various ideas about such a revision, thus preparing the work of a constitutional assembly. Fifth, the government decided that an assembly should be elected by the general public to write a new constitution or revise parts of the existing one. Sixth, the election to the constitutional assembly was declared null and void by the Icelandic Supreme Court after a legal challenge. The government decided then to establish a constitutional committee with the same mission and the same individuals as voted onto the assembly. Seventh, the constitutional committee delivered in four months a draft of a new constitution. This draft was never assented to twice by the majority parliament with a general election in between, as it must do according to the rules laid down by the present constitution.

 

This book is a collection of essays in Icelandic about this whole process and other democratic experiments in Iceland’s recent years. It is written by two Icelandic authors and six international authorities on democracy and democratic developments. Jón Ólafsson edits the book and writes an introduction describing the development of the constitutional project and other democratic experiments in Iceland. James Fishkin analyses some of the processes that took place in the constitutional preparation and the drafting of the new one, and he evaluates to what extent deliberation and rational discussion were features of them. His conclusion is that neither the general meetings nor the constitutional committee reflected the general population and we should be careful about drawing any conclusion about the views of the meetings and the committee coinciding with the views of the population as a whole. He is also critical of the lack of rational discussion both in the preparations and the drafting of the new constitution.

 

Hélène Landemore examines the process of preparing and writing a new constitution in Iceland from an epistemological point of view. She is interested in: how the constitutional committee dealt with the problem of writing a constitution; and how it used “crowdsourcing”, meaning the competence and the intelligence of the general public, especially in writing the draft of the new constitution. She is critical of the role of experts in writing and editing the draft of the new constitution; she believes that the process had serious drawbacks, as she thinks that the general public and its representatives are capable of writing a constitution upon the condition that as many as possible take part in the process. She believes that the current Icelandic method for establishing a change to the present constitution or adopting a new one is too restrictive. Tom Ginsburg and Zachary Elkins approach the preparations and process of writing the draft of the new Icelandic constitution from a comparative point of view. They review various views of transparency in such a process, as well as the role of experts. They are, like the other experts writing in this book, favourable to the opening up of the process for preparing and writing a constitution and the government process in general, but they realise that there is no simple solution or simple recipe for a constitutional process, in Iceland or anywhere else. Thus, they ask the difficult question: If the new constitution was the result of a grassroots movement, why was it so easy to stop it in parliament? Why were those parties that opposed the new constitution elected as the new parliamentary majority in 2013? There is no simple answer to that question and there are two appendices to their article that are informative and interesting.

 

Paolo Spade and Giovanni Allegretti write about novelties in democracy or new initiatives in democracy, especially participatory financial budgeting as practised in a number of Brazilian cities. They explore the connection between these new initiatives and the new possibilities that have opened up on the net. They realise that these connections are complex and they can easily become counterproductive from the point of view of participation, if not used carefully. Democratic experiments in other places are drawn into the discussion such as Portugal, Germany and the United States, and in Reykjavík, Iceland. This is not directly relevant to the process around the constitution but the discussion broadens the picture of new initiatives in democracy. The last article is by Kristinn Már Ársælsson and is an overview of democratic initiatives in Iceland in the years 2009-2013, i.e. the years of the first left-wing government of the Icelandic republic. These include the preparation and the writing of the draft constitution, plus two national referenda on the Icesave agreements between the Icelandic government and the British and Dutch governments. These referenda were engineered by the refusal of the Icelandic president to sign two laws supported by the majority of parliament. In both cases the general public voted against these laws. These were the first national referenda since 1944, when it was decided to establish a republic. He also discusses the initiatives taken by the city council in Reykjavík.

 

All these articles are interesting, make important points and throw light on the events that have taken place in Iceland in the last five years. This is of particular value for a small society like Iceland, because very few people outside the country can understand what happens here and why. Icelandic scientists are a part of their own society and sometimes find it difficult to analyse what actually happens. The critical distance of foreign scientists can bring benefits.

 

This distance has its drawbacks too. This is clear from the discussion of the constitutional process. There is no attempt to relate it to the political culture in Iceland. What is most interesting about this process, which elected a constitutional assembly from members of the general public, is also a major break with the Icelandic tradition of politicians and legal experts discussing and drafting changes to the constitution. Part of this tradition is that all the major parties have had to agree to the changes put forward. Even though this is not literally true of all the changes proposed, it is true of most of them. This has guaranteed that the changes proposed and consented to in parliament before it is resolved, are consented too unchanged in the newly elected parliament. This threshold to changes to the constitution has not proved to be serious or impossible in the Icelandic context. Changes have regularly been made to the Icelandic constitution. It is not fashionable nowadays to take Icelandic political culture seriously, since its vices rather than its virtues have been more prominent in recent years, but it seems to me that one of the reasons working against the new constitution was that there were serious political disagreements about it. Pushing it through parliament would have been a serious break with the national consensus tradition. You may not think very much of this tradition, but it is an historical fact; besides, traditions in political cultures have to be reckoned with.

Deweyan Democracy: The Epistemic Context

Dewey’s characterizations of democratic conduct show that he thinks of it as involving a give and take. One’s contribution (according to ability) creates a claim (according to need). The individual has duty to his or her community (or society) and society has corresponding duties toward him or her. The mutual dependence of individual and society is the dynamic that generates values. Intellectual freedom, cultural and intellectual diversity, growth and participation are examples of central values made possible by the democratic dynamic. Democracy for Dewey is thus primary: It is an ideal because of the conditions for value formation that it creates. Other values are then (or can be) derived from the democratic ideal.

It is in this complex sense that Deweyan democracy is a “way of life.” The claim is not that democracy is just one of many possible choices of a way to organize society or a way to live. It is in Dewey’s view the only possible framework for the ever-increasing intricacies of the modern world.

There are two ways to explore the conception of democracy sketched here. One is a thorough exegesis of Dewey’s works to investigate whether this characterization of his view makes sense – to check its correctness. Another is to look beyond Dewey and see whether the approach to democracy so inspired by his philosophy is a good approach to democratic theory, if the goal is to seek a useful justification of democracy. In this paper I am interested in doing the latter. In what follows I will attempt to show that “Deweyan democracy”—i.e. the idea of democracy as a way of life—offers interpretive possibilities that help understand how we can both have a substantive notion of democracy and put it in a justificatory framework where rejecting it is certainly possible, but fails to make sense unless, before rejecting it, one is prepared to accept it, in which case rejection, of course, does not make sense.

 

I

The democratic ideal—democracy as a way of life—looks like a moral concept. It has, obviously, a moral side to it in the sense of presenting a morally superior way of organizing social life (to use Deweyan vocabulary) to other available ways of doing so. But it is a mistake to overemphasize this moral side of the concept (although a frequently to be seen in comments on Dewey’s philosophy). The moral side in my view is less important than the epistemic side of Deweyan democracy. Democracy as a way of life provides the environment that protects and fosters science or, more generally, inquiry. The reason is proximity in method: In a democratic arrangement moral and political problems get a treatment similar or even analogous to what scientific method would dictate for inquiry. One must be careful not to take the analogy too far however. It does not mean that the method of science should be used to solve moral issues, but it is a recipe for moral cognitivism. Moral as well as political problems should be approached by reason and argument: Democracy is the intellectual environment that fosters reason and argument.

One should also follow Dewey in drawing a distinction between the idea of democracy and the manifestations of democracy (Dewey 1954, p. 143-144). The forms of power associated with democracy, such as representative government, majority rule, parliaments, elections etc. are no necessary features of democracy. Democracy is thus characterized by its ends rather than by the specific means that have traditionally been used to reach them.

Deweyan democracy has evoked considerable discussion in recent years. Many philosophers, who are generally sympathetic to Dewey, have been skeptical about his democratic theory and some have rejected it outright. Robert Talisse has argued that if democracy is a moral ideal it must be treated as other (possibly competing) ideals and values, from the point of view of value pluralism. Talisse correctly points out that from this perspective one cannot think of it as a shared or basic value, it would only amount to a moral value which could certainly be chosen or desired by any reasonable person, but could equally well be “reasonable rejected” by anyone adhering to different values (Talisse 2012, p. 109). For Talisse, Deweyan democracy fails the “pluralism test.” He argues that Deweyan democracy is simply one version of perfectionism because of the emphasis on human flourishing that it entails. In other words, if we read Deweyan democracy from the point of view of a Rawlsian conception of liberalism, the democratic ideal turns out to be just one more “comprehensive doctrine” which can never serve as a basis for a political organization acceptable to all reasonable persons (Talisse 2012, p. 112-114).

Matthew Festenstein points out—contra Talisse—that the notion of reasonable rejectability is not the kind of constraint that the pragmatist (i.e. the Deweyan) could accept. Since it only proposes a fixed standard to adopt or reject basic values it amounts to an a priori evaluation, which is not very useful from a pragmatist point of view. While Festenstein recognizes that one can reasonably reject the democratic ideal that, in his view, does not exclude it from being a possible “basis for the justification of state power.” It is difficult to see, however, what is gained by his result, since relativizing the democratic ideal does not remove Talisse’s objection, it only refocuses the difficulty (Festenstein 2010, p. 42).

Eric MacGilvray picks a useful element out of Deweyan democracy when he argues that it provides a kind of a test, similar to the pragmatic maxim, to determine whether one or another belief is fit for public discussion. It means that holding—and promoting—a belief about how to justify state power e.g., requires willingness to present it in experimental terms. The threshold for access to discussion about basic values for the social contract need in his view not be higher than that. If a belief can be tested and discussed experimentally—it would not have to be experimentally tested—and its meaning (conceivable consequences) for society can thus be assessed and discussed, there is no way to say that it is unfit for providing a justification of state power (MacGilvray 2004, p. 163-167; see also Festenstein 2010, p. 33). While MacGilvray provides a more interesting way of filtering issues fit for public (and political) discussion, his argument is no direct counterargument to Talisse’s. He carves out a role for Deweyan democracy, i.e. to offer a framework for determining the democratic meaningfulness of beliefs. While I think this is an interesting and in fact very useful and practical way of using the idea of Deweyan democracy, it limits it to a methodological tool.

Other authors such as Elizabeth Anderson have praised Dewey’s experimentalist account of democracy and yet other, such as Cheryl Misak, suggest that by using the more rigorous Peircean approach to inquiry as a model for understanding Deweyan democracy, one can exploit the inquiry/democracy analogy and apply methods of inquiry to the search for common solutions to social, political and even moral problems (Anderson 2006, p. 14-15; Misak 2000, see p. 45-47).

II

The question still remains whether and why Deweyan democracy should be chosen as an ideal, what kind of choice that would be, and what one has so chosen. I think this choice must be seen as a result of two related beliefs:

  1. Value articulation: The choice of democracy as a way of life implies accepting the claim that democracy is a necessary condition for articulating central activities, goods and values in community such as freedom and equality, education, public discussion, openness and opportunity.
  2. Opportunity creation: Democracy is a better way to create opportunities for inquiry, experimentation and in general solve problems using best available means and methods than other models of social organization.

If these beliefs can be sustained, one could see democracy as a prism through which certain values become articulated rather than itself a simple or core value. To reject democracy is therefore to refocus or rearrange social or moral values. If a democratic approach is not seen as basic, values such as the ones already mentioned, as well as many other central values of modern society such as pluralism, toleration and participation loose the meaning that democracy as a way of life gives them. Democracy thus should be chosen as “a way of life” in the sense of a principle of articulation and arrangement.

I depart from the authors I have mentioned in this paper since I want to show that the best argument for democracy comes neither from the independent standard that a Peircean model might create, nor from the experimentalist vision that it entails. The public action test does not per se provide an argument for democracy it only explains how we can make a useful distinction between issues that properly belong to public discussion and those that don’t. One might simply argue, of course, that there is no alternative. In a very practical way democracy is accepted as the only viable kind of social and political arrangement in modern society. The superficial acceptance of democracy does not mean that democracy is ideally practiced (or even practiced at all) in every case. It only reveals the dominance of the discourse of democracy.

There are however alternatives to democracy, some of them quite powerful. Sometimes these alternatives are presented as the necessary basis of democracy and there are social forces that promote them as necessary restrictions of democracy, since without certain restrictions democracy could lead to undesirable results.

As Bo Rothstein has shown, the correlation between democracy and good life is not always in democracy’s favor (Rothstein 2013, p. 15). Many surveys show it to be negative over a range of accepted indicators measuring quality of life. Good governance seems, on the other hand, to be strongly correlated to success in improving the lives of citizens, and increased democracy may lead to deterioration in governance. The alternative to democracy might thus be efficiency and justice in the design of institutions, as well as basic liberties that promote equality and individual freedom in accordance with liberal principles. It is clear in any case that if increased democracy is shown to go against improving the quality of life for citizens that indeed would deliver a strong argument against democracy.[1]

My contention is that by “choosing democracy” one is not choosing a particular method or procedure for a specific kind of decision-making but rather a general framework for public choice and deliberation. One could see such democratic commitment as a moral commitment. In such a case one would argue that the fairness of democratic approaches should commit one to them, even in cases when certain problems might seem better solved using a different approach. But the commitment is clearly epistemic as well: If there is an approach to problem solving best described as democratic to which one is committed, then one is also committed to the limitations of the approach. While Dewey seems not very keen on providing a moral justification for choosing democracy, he seriously attempts to provide an epistemic justification, i.e. argue that democracy will, in the long run, provide a better environment, better tools and on the whole better approaches to problem solving than other conceivable (or available) approaches.

From the Deweyan point of view the epistemic commitment must therefore be seen as prior to the moral commitment. It means that democracy should be seen as a way of dealing with and solving problems. It would not do to argue simply that democracy somehow ensures that the best methods are used or that solving problems democratically will always yield the best solutions. What it does mean is to take seriously the duty to seek not only solutions that can be had by majority decision or solutions that can be forged by negotiation and compromise but to seek the best solutions. If “real” democracy often (even most of the time) falls short of the democratic ideal, this does not make the idea of democracy any less clear. Quite the contrary, since it is the idea by which political decisions should be elucidated and criticized.

 

III

In the last part of the paper I want to sketch how I think that the idea of Deweyan democracy should be used to discuss and judge political and administrative practice. The objective is on the one hand to see how democratic practice falls short of an ideal of democracy (or not), on the other to provide a healthy angle of democratic criticism. Dewey’s emphasis on experimentation in connection with democracy, i.e. seeing democracy as the free exchange and discussion of ideas where the point is to have a generation and selection process based on making full use of “intelligence” is key to understanding this conception of democracy (Dewey 1985, p. 362). This means that in democracy as a way of life, individual contribution to decision and policy-making is matched with (conceivable) individual influence on decisions and policy.

In addition to the two basic democratic beliefs—that it is a framework for value articulation and opportunity creation—one should think of two central conditions of democracy:

  1. The efficiency condition: For each participating individual success does not necessarily entail being able to convince others of one’s point of view or being in the majority but on the efficiency of democratic process. Success is to be a part of a conclusion based on discussion, fact-finding, deliberation, debate and eventually (perhaps) voting that harvests the input of the participants.
  2. The integrity condition: A decision made, or policy adopted, must be a result of what has been democratically concluded. If the logical space of decision-making is different from the logical space of reason-giving, the procedure used is meaningless.

The efficiency condition deals with the ability of a group to come to a conclusion and the integrity condition with the relation between that conclusion and an eventual decision or action. Democratic failures may appear in both parts undermining either grounds for policies or legitimacy of decisions. The work of parliaments often evokes suspicion about the integrity of the democratic process when the connection between arguments and information revealed in deliberation and the eventual decision seems vague or absent; when positions are known in advance, more or less, and the debate carries only a symbolic function.

The give and take mentioned earlier need not be understood as individual willingness or commitment to participate in public debates or policy-making and therefore the efficiency condition does not depend on actual participation. Instead of seeking a standard to determine the content of public reason, one should seek a framework to connect participation and policy. The point should be access rather than inclusion, where the possibility of participating, not only in exercising free speech, but in actually providing input into policy, is at stake. The problem with participatory approaches taken by governments is often their reluctance to acknowledge the importance of public participation seeing it rather as a possible hurdle in successful governing. Therefore there is tendency to both limit the power of extra-institutional participation and place all kinds of security valves on the possible decisions to be reached by such extra-institutional participants. To illustrate this and at the same time probe the conditions of democracy and the basic democratic beliefs, I want to discuss four recent examples from Icelandic politics:

  1. National assemblies 2009 and 2010
  2. Annulment of the elections to the constitutional assembly 2011
  3. The first Icesave referendum 2011
  4. National referendum on the constitutional bill 2012

After the financial collapse in Iceland in 2008 there was considerable pressure on the government to use unorthodox methods to change the course in Icelandic politics and promote democracy. The first attempt to create a public voice in order to influence policy systematically was made by an independent group of people who formed an NGO called “The Anthill”. The Anthill organized a so-called National Assembly (Icel. Þjóðfundur) whose purpose was to articulate basic values and general policy goals for Icelandic society (Gunnar Hersveinn 2010). The National Assembly consisted of over one thousand people, a random sample from the general population, who were asked to participate in a meeting held in one day, 14 November 2009. The Anthill then planned to have the government accept the results of the assembly as guiding principles in the political renewal ahead.[2] Although it turned out to be problematic to simply adopt the results of the National Assembly and include them in the various tasks of the government, these results were taken seriously. The government adopted the methodology used in organizing National assemblies for public consultation regionally and nationally. In 2010 the Constitutional commission, whose task was to prepare for the Constitutional assembly, held a second National assembly elected in 2010 in order to revise or rewrite the Icelandic constitution.

There were several problems in the selection of participants for the National assemblies, which strictly speaking make it difficult to talk of participants as random samples of the population. Some other organizational problems have also reduced value of the results, but here I will focus on something else.

The task of the first National assembly was to articulate core values to guide governmental policy. The task of the second was to identify the core values to guide the revision of the constitution.[3] In both cases a number of general policy statements were also generated by participants to further identify policy goals. The problem with these results was their generality. The meetings neither provided priority rankings for goals nor any interpretation of value commitments and therefore policy-makers could hardly use them to plan policy. Therefore, even if the meetings were admirable exercises of public participation and engaged all kinds of people in thinking and talking about political issues—many had perhaps never been consulted except by occasional opinion polls—their overall usefulness was difficult to see. These meetings may have carried some meaning for participants who saw certain general value commitments articulated in a dramatic way as a result of the one-day meeting. They could however hardly have seen it as an opportunity for inquiry since the meeting was not deliberative. Its purpose was to express rather than critically engage the views of the participants. The assembly also fails both the efficiency and the integrity condition. The lack of systematic discussion created a gap between whatever was said during the meeting and the results published after the meeting. No problem was dealt with during the meeting and therefore nothing can be said about efficiency in doing so. Worse since the results were overly vague, it was difficult to see how the integrity condition could be fulfilled either. The relation between these results and eventual decision-making could not be spelled out. From the perspective of Deweyan democracy one could then say that the meetings were democratically meaningless, since while it allowed symbolic participation, it could not effect policy- or decision-making in any meaningful way.

Elections to the Constitutional assembly were held 25 November 2010. A large number of candidates ran for a place in the assembly – 525 competed for 25 seats. The elections were unusual in many ways. The government was criticized during and after the elections for many flaws in how the elections were conducted. There were certain problems with the design of the ballot, the ballot boxes, the voting booths and some of the procedures used. After the elections a group of citizens complained to the Supreme Court who then reviewed the elections and found it to be flawed in six respects. Although the flaws were technical and gave no reason to conclude that the elections had been rigged or the vote misrepresented, the Supreme court used its authority to annul the elections.

One might argue that a decision, made by a judicial body such as the Supreme Court, should not be evaluated in terms of democracy since it is based on the law and on judicial authority. It was clear however, that having pointed out certain flaws in the way the elections were conducted, the Supreme Court had a choice to annul or not annul the elections. Since the results were not in dispute, the Court had no democratic reason to annul, i.e. doing so did not serve to ensure that the democratic will of the electorate was protected, in fact the will of the voters was in this respect not considered to be the most important issue. The decision was thus undemocratic and one could even argue that it was anti-democratic, or, in other words, an attempt to put an end to a democratic process, rather than facilitate it.

From the point of view of Deweyan democracy one should argue that the Supreme Court had a duty to point out the flaws in the elections but also to base its decision on a commitment to serve democracy. As was later pointed out by critics of the decision, it is not in accordance with the rule of law that a judicial body may decide to annul a democratic election conducted legally, without significant failures and whose results clearly express the will of the electorate.[4] Here a commitment to democracy should have guided the Supreme Court. It is an epistemic commitment in the sense that the will of the people was known, it is also a moral commitment since serving democracy will then be seen as a more important value than technical perfection in the conduct of elections.

One of the bitterest issues debated in Iceland after the collapse of Iceland’s international banks, was the so-called Icesave case. Landsbankinn, one of the three big banks that collapsed in October 2008, had in 2007 started individual savings accounts in Britain and Holland that were quite lucrative for private savers. When Landsbankinn’s foreign operations were separated from its Icelandic operations and declared bankrupt, thousands of people lost their savings but were partially compensated by the British and Dutch governments in accordance with the European banking insurance policy. The British and the Dutch claimed that the Icelandic government was liable to pay the compensation and so they demanded to get back the amount paid to the individual savers. The Icelandic government to begin with accepted its responsibility and an agreement was negotiated. When the agreement was put to the parliament for ratification, a huge controversy ensued. Although the agreement was passed in the parliament it was clear that it created much anger among voters, who felt the Icelandic nation was being forced to pay debts created by irresponsible bank managers. The Icelandic president intervened by refusing to sign into law the bill on the agreement passed by the parliament, after having received petitions to do so from thousands of Icelandic citizens.

The Icelandic constitution stipulates that if the president refuses to sign a law, it must be put to a national referendum. As the referendum was being prepared, however, the government entered into new negotiations with the British and the Dutch. When the referendum on whether to accept the agreement passed by the parliament or reject it was conducted, the agreement was no longer relevant. It made therefore no difference whether the voters accepted or rejected the agreement since the government already had an offer that was clearly better for the Icelanders than the one they were voting on, even if not a formal signed offer or agreement. The referendum was therefore meaningless, and no democratic purpose in conducting it. One might argue that from some formalistic perspective it was unavoidable to conduct the referendum since it had already been scheduled. Parliament could however also have revoked the bill. The question here should be what would be more democratic to hold the referendum or abandon it. From the perspective of Deweyan democracy a referendum that fails to give a meaningful result—whatever the result—is not democratic. Other approaches might yield positions such as that holding the referendum is harmless; anyone who fails to see the point in participating could refrain from doing so, and so on. But it seems to me that if there is no problem–solving purpose in holding the referendum, and the whole point of doing it has become secondary, i.e. declaring support for (or opposition to) the government it has lost its democratic legitimacy. Whatever purpose there may be in participating (or not participating) it is different from the question being voted on.

Finally I want to discuss the national referendum on the constitutional bill submitted by the Constitutional Council.[5] The bill was submitted in the summer of 2011 and was meant to be passed before the end of the term in the spring of 2013. In October 2012 a consultatory referendum was held on the bill and at the same time participants were asked to express their view on six key questions on the content of the new constitution. While expressing support or opposition to the bill itself was relatively straightforward and yielded clear results (around two thirds were in favor of the bill, 50% of the electorate participated), the questions were vague and the results therefore begged the question. I will not go into detail in describing the various questions or the problems the evoked. It will suffice to take one example. One of the questions had to do with the national church. Iceland has not taken the step to separate the national church from the state. The current Icelandic constitution says that the state must “support and protect” the Evangelical Lutheran Church.[6] The question in the referendum was whether the voter thought that the new constitution should have a clause dealing with the national church. It did not ask what (if anything) the voter thought the constitution should say about the National church. Since (to many people’s surprise) the result was that the majority wanted there to be something on the church in the constitution, it was unclear how to interpret the will of the voters in that respect.

Again, from the point of view of some democratic theories this flaw in the referendum might not be taken to mean that it was undemocratic, but from a Deweyan perspective one would be able to conclude that since the result was democratically meaningless the referendum did not fulfill the epistemic conditions of democracy. The answer to the question made problem-solving more, rather than less, difficult, and the referendum therefore was meaningless for democratic problem solving.

Conclusion

Dewey’s discussion of democracy and the framework referred to as Deweyan democracy makes sense of a democratic commitment according to which we can assess democratic initiatives and results from an epistemic and moral point of view. The epistemic commitment is prior to the moral commitment since in many cases the moral commitment is a result of the epistemic commitment. Once democracy as a way of life is understood in this context, there is no need to fear that a democratic commitment amounts to committing oneself to a comprehensive doctrine such as an ideology or a religious belief. It is simply to make demands not only about democratic procedure, participation or deliberation but also in regard to the results of democratic decision- and policy-making.

References

Anderson, Elizabeth. “The Epistemology of Democracy.” Episteme (2006).

Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Free Press, 1966.

—. Reconstruction in Philosophy. Boston: Beacon Press, 1957.

—. The Public and Its Problems. Athens: Swallow Press – Ohio University Press, 1954.

Festenstein, Matthew. “Pragmatism, Inquiry and Political Liberalism.” Contemporary Political Theory 9.1 (2010): 25–44.

MacGilvray, Eric A. Reconstructing Public Reason. Harvard University Press, 2004.

Misak, Cheryl J. Truth, Politics, Morality. Routledge, 2000.

Talisse, Robert B. “Can Democracy Be a Way of Life? Deweyan Democracy and the Problem of Pluralism.” Transactions of the Charles Peirce Society XXXIX.1-21 (2003).

—. Pluralism and Liberal Politics. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Endnotes



1 The terms democracy and governance are sometimes conflated. In his introduction to a collection of papers on democracy, Giorgio Agamben maintains that “the word democracy is used in most cases to refer to a technique of governing” (Agamben 2011, p. 1). While it is probably true that the term democracy is often used inaccurately, the distinction between governance and democracy is quite clear. Agamben probably overstates the confusion. There is however a tendency to describe administrative restrictions of democracy as part of a democratic framework.

2 The website created for the 2009 National assembly only has information in Icelandic. See thjodfundur2009.is. In the Q and A section of the page it is stated that the goal of the assembly is to create “a strong common vision” for the nation which will help “solve difficult and complicated problems”. In another section the intention to present them to the government with, as well as to institutions and associations whose role it will be to contribute to the recovery of the country after the crisis.

3 The National assembly (also referred to as National forum and National gathering) is described on its website, also available in English. See http://www.thjodfundur2010.is/english/ n.d.)

4 Reynir Axelsson, Athugasemdir við ákvörðun Hæstaréttar um ógildingu kosningar til stjórnlagaþings. Published 23 February 2011 at stjornarskrarfelagid.is.

5 The Constitutional Council was appointed by parliament after the nullification of the elections to the Constitutional Assembly. All 25 elected Assembly members were appointed except on who decided not to participate in the appointed body.

6 Constitution of the Republic of Iceland, Article 62. See: http://www.government.is/constitution/.

Mammonist Capitalism – Ubiquity, Immanence, Acceleration. And the Social Consequences

 

In this paper, I will elaborate on a conceptual sketch of nothing less than contemporary capitalism, whether we call it new capitalism, finance capitalism, flexible capitalism, or rentier capitalism, and some of its social and human consequences.

 

It is a bold undertaking. I put together concepts from both classical and contemporary social theory in order to develop images and conceptions of capitalism and what it does to society. I understand concepts as ”means of orientation”, as Weber (1988a, 536) defined his ideal types. Claims are on the one hand experimental or essayistic – an attempt, an outline that tries to approch this thing capitalism from different angles without enclosing it. I also will use the hyperbole – stretching descriptions, using generalizations. Brief, a reflection, an essay, certainly not founded on extensive research but on interest and extensions of other things I did. Hopefully, thus, the presentation will be a point of departure for an interesting discussion.

 

Some key concepts will be Mammonism, acceleration, ubiquity, self-dynamics, precariat, inertia, conformity, flexibility, specter of uselessness.

 

Among others, I will refer to classical modern thinkers like Marx, Simmel, Musil, Benjamin, and to contemporary ideas in the works of Deleuze, Rosa, Crouch, Illouz, Standing, Hochschild.

 

 

 

Mammonism

 

 

In his famous short essay on ”capitalism as religion”, Benjamin called capitalism a ”cult”, if not the cult, of modern culture. We all belong to it, and for all the differentiations it leads to, it also means a belonging – to which we cannot say no. Capitalism saturates and structures society and mentalities. It provides life with meaning – or it substitutes meaning for capitalist values and objectives. Capitalism also is the object of worship, the profit being its core ”ornament”.

 

Weber did not conceive of capitalism as a religion, not even a ”secular religion” (Voegelin 1993). But this prime manifestation of rationality, of the processes of rationalization which run through history and shape it, had one of its origins in religion – that is, in a most irrational phenomenon, if we limit rationalization to instrumental or goal-oriented rationalization.

 

Simmel talked less of capitalism and more of money – what we do with money and what money does to us. Money is an awesome instrument with which you may destroy and construct anything – ”creative destruction” in Schumpeter’s (1942) words.

 

But money emancipated itself from the mere function of an instrument a long time ago. It regulates life, it deprives everything of its inner value and attach to it an alien, quantitative value and so reduces everything to one and the same level. On the marketplace, everthing becomes a commodity, whether we talk of material goods, services, thoughts, bodies, competences, subjectivities. And money, according to Simmel (1999, 17), emerges as divinity: the Mammonism of modern, capitalist society.

 

Religion, says philosopher Hermann Lübbe (1975, 177), is first and foremost a ”praxis of coping with contingency”. Obviously, this would be a core definition of capitalism as well. Not the invalidation of contingency, but its optimal exploitation.

 

 

 

Acceleration

 

 

Capitalism and money replace society, community, religion. And they replace or at least define time. ”Time is money”, Benjamin Franklin wrote – a modern, quantifiable answer to that eternal question what is time. And inversely: ”money is time”, writes Samuel Weber (2009).

 

Time, especially when expressed through speed and acceleration, is a core element in contemporary capitalism, whether we talk of the productive or the non-productive, financial capitalism.

 

Trade with shares and other sophisticated, esoteric securities – funny label – are chiefly made by computers. Algorithms are the core component in selling and buying – not human decisions. The quicker the reactions, the more likely the profit; the closer the location of the computer to the main servers, the more milliseconds to gain. Average time of retaining shares has imploded to less than half a minute. (Who, then, is the owner of companies? Who is responsible for their business?) Wall Street rather employs mathematicians than financial analysts. Time is money. And the more resources, the more time to gain.

 

Since the financial crisis some five years ago, a financial crisis largely provoked by computers and algorithms, a number of studies have been made on this ”doomsday machine” (Lewis 2011), this ”monster” (Hudson 2010), which is financial capitalism. Frank Schirrmacher (2013) talks of the financial markets as a ”cyberwar” where players are predominantly machines and man himself has become an egoistic, narcissist machine nourished by self-interest, anxiety, distrust (bellum omnium contra omnes – also a core characteristic of Tönnies’ Gesellschaft). To understand this reality, a mere rational choice theory would do. In fact, Schirrmacher says, the influence of rational choice theories and of game theories have brought forward this new anthropological form which we call homo economicus. They are, like any other theory, especially economic theories, performative, are, in the words of Donald MacKenzie (2006, ), ”engines”, not ”cameras”. However, they change not just man, but the entire world: the world as ”arithmetical problem” (Simmel 1989, 612).

 

(Man becoming a machine…: he is attracted to machines since he resembles them, envies them, worships them – the machine as fetish. And: machines invade him, literally – drugs regulate his moods, communication devices govern his attention, channel his thoughts.)

 

German sociologist Hartmut Rosa (2003, 2006) talks of that ”acceleration” which is characteristic of a global and globalizing ”high-speed society”. Acceleration defines virtually all segments of society, but emerges as most significant in and through technology. Technology in turn, especially information and communication technology, penetrates and saturates social structures and individual lifeworlds – and occasionally invades or replaces subjectivity, ”the human factor”. Identity, Rosa says, becomes ”situative”, and actions are characterized by ”reactive situativity”. Brief, identity defined in subsequent situations and moments, actions being immediate responses to situations; identity, action and situation as elements of an immanent game without past and future.

 

Some variations of Rosa’s elaboration would be:

 

In his discussion on flexible capitalism, Richard Sennett (1998) portrays a fragmented, ”corroded” social character, by nature slow, now facing swift, permanent, uncontrolled and uncontrollable technological and organizational transformation that shapes a life in ”episodes”.

 

Philosopher Odo Marquard (1987, 126) side immediately with Rosa. Modernity is not merely permanent transformation, but permanently ”accelerated transformation”; accordingly the ”rate of obsolescence” increases. Acceleration has become the ”usance of modernity”, a modern commonplace.

 

Korean media theorist Han (2012), in turn, talks of ”hyperacceleration”: productivity and communication occur far beyond their ‘own’, ‘original’ goals and consist of ”hyper-productivity” and ”hyper-communication”. On an ordinary human level, uncontrolled behaviour in the form of ”hyper-activity” is a common characteristic. We may receive medical treatment for that. What about society?

 

Acceleration appears as a modern, contemporary category. Austrian novelist Robert Musil (1978, 402) conceived of it as ideal and ideology too as he talked of the ”accelerism” which characterized especially economic life. An ideology that promotes oblivion and undermines memory, cultural as well as individual.

 

Back in 1848, Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated that modernity turns everything that used to be solid into air.

 

 

 

Ubiquity

 

 

Does acceleration move in a linear direction, does it mean progress? If we mean technological, logistical progress – obviously. With regard to other aspects of life – not necessarily. With regard to some issues, for instance climate – no.

 

Contemporary society and capitalism take place in what appears as an eternal present. Bauman and others have varied this fundamentally aesthetic view. Activities lack collective direction. They lack origin. They occur, they happen, the entire society is in permanent movement, a mobile society where social and economic and financial mobility is praised. An endless process of trial and error, an eternal and changing loop, a ”blind flight”, as Norbert Bolz (2005) writes.

 

Time not as linear, not as evolution and not as cycles, but in the shape of a expanding and contracting ”sphere”. (Bernd Alois Zimmermann) A sphere that contains, that consists of, that expresses emergences and disappearences, immense manifoldness and multiple movements. A sphere constituted by the simultaneousness of differences and of differerent times. (Cf. Koselleck [1992, 323ff] and Blumenberg [1986, 249]: Gleichzeitigkeit des Unglichzeitigen.) A temporal expression of Durkheim’s anomie.

 

Ivor Southwood (2011) discusses this state of contemporary capitalism with regards to individuals on the job market. The individual is constantly on the move. Navigating in a world of ”unknown unknowns” (Rumsfeld), he or she is working (at best) and simultaneously working for labour (more job, other job, securing job).  It’s a 24/7 activity, a hyper-activity – a ”non-stop inertia”, Southwood writes, a furious standstill, in the words of Paul Virilio (1999) a ”polar inertia” (cf. Rosa). Immobility is for those socially excluded only.

 

Individuals on the flexible labour market have to achieve this and that simultaneously, have to be proactive, to be able to ”let go”, have to live ”on the edge” (Sennett 1998). And capitalism and its transforming logics are present everywhere, all the time – un unstoppable chain reaction of the same and of differentiations. The ubiquity of capitalism.

 

 

 

Sovereignty, autonomy, self-sufficiency

 

 

Capitalism emerges as the perhaps most viable institution in world history. No institution has changed society that much, no institution has proven so able to adapt to new circumstances (those circumstances that capitalism itself brings forth). The entire classical sociology agreed on this. And was itself a response to the transformation which capitalism generated.

 

Classical sociology observed how capitalism was not merely an instrument in the hands of capitalists, but a force in itself, instrumentalizing the capitalists, for whom only the exploitation of the workers remained.

 

Simmel (1996) developed the dual notion of ”objective culture” and ”subjective culture”. Man created money, machines, laws etcetera in order to regulate and facilitate life. Yet money and machines tended to emancipate themselves from their creators. They developed a life on their own, manifested a self-dynamics, gained autonomy and sovereignty. Man was subordinated under his own creations – ”isolated”, ”alienated” (1996, 405). Simmel spoke of ”the tragedy of culture”.

 

After Simmel, who might not have been first, we have seen many conceptual variations of this theme. Simultaneously, experiences of the self-dynamics of institutions grow.

 

The most suggestive expression today might be the banking system. Banks are absolutely necessary and relevant for the system, we are told. Without them, the system fails – society, economy, family…

 

The financial and economic crisis in 2008 meant not the collaps of banks (except for the very worst), but their momentum. Colin Crouch (2011) speaks of their survival and in general of the ”strange non-death of neo-liberalism”. Banks and global enterprises under neo-liberalism are less interested in free markets and more in dominance and support. And in that very ideology which tells us they are necessary. It is an ideology that makes it possible to exploit states and tax payers and borrowers. Banks embrace states, states embrace banks – which in turn generate ever larger profits (the states taking the losses). Banks are at the heart of that financial capitalism which is non-productive.

 

Politics grant bad banks financial support. Power and responsibility are separated: banks make profits, tax-payers take the losses, there are the fortunate ones and those plagued with misfortune. Protests have been occasionally fervent, bu no cause for alarm. Foucault (2003) might explain. He writes about the nature of sovereign power: it is not essentially brought forward from above, but from below, by the subordinated, those who fear for their lives, their well-being. They manifest a ”radical will to life” just as the child does to its mother.

 

Money (banks, financial or rentier capitalism): ”a creative, specialised manifestation of violence”, Musil (1978, 508) wrote, emancipated from society, community, those 99 per cent of the individuals.

 

And too big to fail. There is no alternative – TINA. An insult to reason, to imagination.

 

 

 

Precarious life

 

 

A new social class is emerging, writes Guy Standing (2011): the precariat. It is described also by for instance Richard Sennett, Arlie Russel Hochschild, Saskia Sassen and Barbara Ehrenreich.

 

The precariat is swelling, differentiated and universal. It is populated by people coming from the dwindling middle class, from the working class and from the remainder – ”the outer class”, which Bill Clinton spoke of, Lumpenproletariat in Marx’ vocabulary, in the Weimar Republic the Luftmenschen, scattered characters living from this and that. It consists of people who have jobs and who may have lost them soon, and of people who have no jobs and weak prospects. Of the internship generation and the post-crash generation. Of the digital bohemians. Of people who are haunted by what Sennett (2005) calls ”the specter of uselessness”. Of people in permanent suspense. Of people accustomed to continuous availability and persistent debt (study loans, mortgages). They find themselves responsible for their own life but have insufficient means to govern this life.

 

Competition is sleepless and restless, fierce and global, right down to the simplest business. (On competition as permanent state, see Simmel 1995 and Rosa 2006.) Decisions about existing and potential positions are taken elsewhere. Labour hiring companies, providers of HR solutions are the specialists in managing that contingency which is flexibility (they may have peculiar names, for instance CoCo Job Touristik GmbH). They manifest contemporary labour life as ”space of flows” (Castells 2000) or it’s ”non-place” character (Augé 1995): work disembodied from local and geographical context and meaning and rather a matter of functional, contingent networks (shopping malls, internet retailers).

 

Precarious people have but insufficient means to master flexibility’s permanent instability. The salariat, in turn, the well-paid managers, professors and government officers, lives off flexibility and knows how to manage their lives and hearts; they also manage the precariat and its hearts, its habits. The elite, the upper one per cent, the oligarchs, is emancipated from social realities. Their conspicuous wealth is created out of wealth and smartness. Reality is abstracted and emerges as investment options.

 

”Rage” is growing, writes Peter Sloterdijk (2009). It grows with uncertainty, with increased ”unknown unknowns”. It may or it may not have obvious reasons, but the potential is massive. Spain and Greece, London and Paris have seen rage in different forms, some emptied of all meaning and legitimacy, but most expressing protest or despair of citizens threatened to become ”denizens” (Standing 2011).

 

The Occupy movement exists no more, but the context that brought it forth has changed little.

 

Where is the tipping point? Is there a tipping point?

 

 

 

Human optimization

 

 

A century ago, Max Weber (1998b, 521) described modern man as ”not an integrated human being but a combination of singular useful and functional qualities”.

 

His description easily fits as ideal and ideology today. Optimization is required everywhere – swift, complete, compliant, life-long, reactive, proactive optimization. (Makropoulos 2002) And possibly happy – ”smile or die” is our recurrent daily ultimatum, writes Ehrenreich (2010).

 

Optimization concerns individuals, concerns organizations, concerns markets, concerns societies (which turn in to markets). The functional, adaptive, compatible network is the general form. Man, organization, market, society and further products and consumers constitute unimpaired continua.

 

Niklas Luhmann (197) writes about what he calls the most significant social quality or competence today: ”connectivity”. We relentlessly re-apply for jobs, demonstrating our employability and our compatibility (to men and to machines); we persistently re-apply for social roles, adapt to social settings, using our ”radar” (Riesman 1950).

 

Gilles Deleuze (1990) develops the image of the dividual: a contemporary human form divided into different parts, functions, segments and optimized for different roles and settings. For multi-tasking. The disciplinary individual, of which Foucault talked, was a specialized, discontinuous producer whereas the dividual is ”undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network”. Contemporary man prefers ”surfing” rather than isolated, specialized sports, writes Deleuze (1990, 244).

 

No project is forever; any time is the time to move on.

 

To be undulatory, to adapt – to be conform. The large majority stay there. Some reside at the front edge of conformity. They are not the avantgarde, just hyper-active, hyper-functional, being the fittest and possessing the strongest impulses for survival. Those who are up for a career must be cunning cutting-edge conformists.

 

One indispensable quality in the optimization of individuals regards the competence to control and deploy emotions in the presentation of self and the management of impressions of the other. Eva Illouz (2007) and Arlie Hochschild (2011, 1983) discuss how emotions have become not merely elements in consumption and marketing, but a force of production to the extent that we may talk of capitalism as emotional capitalism, as capitalist emotionalization, especially in the service industry. Emotions become technically reproducible, varied, enhanced (Benjamin); they are no longer the adversary of reason and rationality, but their manifestation in the age of technology. Just as there are social and economic forms of capital, there is emotional capital, which may be individual or organizational. Emotional capitalism, capitalist emotionalization: manifestations of the collapse of the frontiers between private and public (labour life), manifestations of intimacy as means of optimization.

 

The classical modern assembly line produced material goods. It manifested standardization, routines, repetition, fragmentation, simplicity, and looked just about the same in Detroit, in Stalin’s factories and in the handbooks of the management schools.

 

A century later, an assembly line 2.0 has appeared, populated by the well-educated and continuously upgraded information engineers, project coordinators, symbolic analysts, and communicators, and below them the simple office executors. They are all functionaries absorbed in abstract processes and systems. Expected and actual results are blurred and replaced by evaluations. Informality (Informalism) is natural. Each and everyone has to be reachable anytime, everyone is armed with smartphone and laptop. Everything is temporary and everything that has been done can be, ought to be, will be made undone. The new assembly line: information processing and partial implementations, imperfection, dependence and ambiguous origins and goals, all of it ”lean”, naturally. Marx would have recognized it all: the executors of ”virtualism” (Crawford 2009) constitute a progressive derivative of the alienated working class.

 

 

 

Democracy, post-democracy, society, post-society…

 

 

At the end of these sweeping, uncompromising conceptual generalizations – a few questions.

 

How will society be possible when characterized, constituted by accelerism and fierce, increasing competition (individual, organizational, national)?

 

How will vast unemployment, insecure labour markets, and generational cleavages affect solidarity?

 

What are the alternatives when markets invade and replace politics and the public sphere?

 

What are the possibilities of civil society? (Perhaps a question most interesting in societies where previously a strong welfare state had marginalized civil society, and now neo-liberalism assumes this dominating role. I think of Sweden, for instance.)

 

How may individual lives hold together when torn to pieces by availability, employability, competition, flexibility? Relations, families?

 

What do political alternatives, alternative politics look like when established parties, from leftist to conservative parties, all embrace privatization, deregulation and new public management as both ideology and practical solution? When politics emancipate itself from responsibility and transfer it to enterprises and consultancies – none of which can be accused for having anything to do with democracy? Or when decision making actually becomes so complex that outlines of future societies are impossible?

 

What is, accordingly, the meaning of democracy, when alternatives are blurred, power diffused and responsibilities outsourced? What’s there to vote for? Are we entering a ”post-democratic” society? (Crouch 2004) What would be new forms of democracy – forms which would attract the interest of the 99 per cent.

 

 

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Castells, Manuel, The Information Age. Economy, Society and Culture. Volume I: The Rise of the Network Society. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000

 

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Ehrenreich, Barbara, Smile or Die. How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World. London: Granta Books, 2010

 

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MacKenzie, Donald, An Engine, Not a Camera. How Financial Models Shape Markets. Boston: MIT Press, 2006

 

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A reply to the reviewer of “Totalitarismo, democrazia, etica pubblica. Scritti di filosofia morale, filosofia politica, etica”

As it is written in the foreword, what the book offers is, immediately, an overview on the current status of the moral and political philosophical debate (each chapter is a sort of piece of this mosaic). But reading deeply the book is possible to find, as is normal, a fil rouge, a background thesis, that runs through all the chapters: an attempt to define in a critical way the moral and political framework of the current society, trying to delineate alternatives in the way in which we intend our aggregative forms – especially starting from the idea and the practice of democracy, nowadays reduced into formal mechanisms –, and possible escape lines.

 

As for the quoted authors, as ever happens in the essays, I made a selection – it’s strange having to specifying this. And so, I chose the authors that, for me, are fundamentals and those that are secondary, in the economy of my speech, deepening the first – and the same with the arguments, some are main themes same are collateral analyses for me. And so, I criticized the authors with which I disagree, specifying why – without obscure them from the philosophical scene, for their impact on that –, and I used quotations with which agree, specifying the source – for not assign to me those ideas – but declining them in the economy of my personal speech. And about some mentioned contents of my discourse, I would like to clarify in short at least two important issues. First, Arendt and Jonas sit well together for me because in Arendt is possible to find an indirect but very cogent critique to the naive and dangerous stances of Jonas: the sacralization of biological life, the mythologizing and the normative use of the nature, is at the ground of the Nazi ideology, as Arendt shows speaking about the modern triumph of the anthropological figure of the animal laborans, emblematically represented by Eichmann. Second, to affirm that the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 is universal, modern and Western, is not a disclaimer of its advancements – why should it be so is not clear for me – but is a reasoning on another level than that of the socio-political decisions: that of the conceptual background of our society – that contains also its advancements. This critical view is extremely important because permit us to intend our society – and its advancements – not as the only one possible society – like for example in the Eurocentrism or now, we can say, in the “Westerncentrism” – but as a possible society; avoiding so also the theoretical “Westerncentrism” that is given in the reading of authors that are not modern and/or Western with the eyes of a modern and Western person – e.g. the sui generis Popperian reading of Plato, Hegel and Marx.

 

For me too the book would have benefitted from an analytical index and a bibliography, it is a pity that the publisher has not made, however, as is written in the premise, the footnotes are enriched with the necessary bibliographic details.

Axel Honneth: The law of freedom – Institutionalization of freedom in modern societies – A reconstruction and some remarks

 

 

Introduction: A theory of institutionalization of freedom

I understand Honneth’s book Das Recht der Freiheit (Suhrkamp 2011) as an argument for human freedom and autonomy in modern society that is based on a normative interpretation of legal, moral and social institutionalization of freedom in modern societies. In this sense Honneth’s book represents a re-interpretation and application of G.W.F Hegel’s concept of Freiheit als Sittlichkeit der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. I would argue that the central theme of the book is the description of processes of institutionalization that lead to the emergence of freedom as the most important legal, moral and social value of the modern society.

 

The book begins with a presentation of Honneth’s method that can be characterized as a kind of normative sociology or sociological philosophy in the sense that he characterizes theory of justice as analysis of society. The method is based on “normative reconstruction” of the basis of the social institutions of liberal democracy. Here we can say that the starting point is closer to the later Habermas’ idea of facticity and validity and to the later Rawls’ idea of overlapping consensus than it is to the more idealist and metaphysical positions proposed by these authors in their early works (p. 21). Honneth describes the prevailing norms of justice and morality of freedom in liberal democracies of the Western world with Hegel’s philosophy of rights as points of inspiration. Normative reconstruction also means reconstruction of the legal and moral legitimacy of the institutions of liberal democracy. Normative reconstruction leads to an analysis of the social reality of liberal democracies. The idea is to describe the institutionalized conditions of normativity. The premises for this are: 1) Social reproduction of a society is determined by the shared universal values of such a society; 2) Justice cannot be understood independently of these generally shared values and ideals; 3) The plurality of these values and ideas can be found in the social practices of this society that must be distilled out of the society; 4) This leads to the understanding of the Sittlichen institutions and practices of this society (p. 30). This concept of justice is to be considered as a post-traditional concept of Sittlichkeit in society.

 

Honneth begins by considering the historical conditions of the emergence of the values and ideals of justice of modern society (p. 35). Important for the emergence of modern society is the idea of individual autonomy and authenticity as the meaning of life. Individual freedom has replaced collective conceptions of the good. Honneth sees the focus on autonomy and self-determination as essential to modernity. In particular we can speak about a negative, a reflective and a social conception of freedom that express a differentiation of the concept due to the complexity of modern society. Negative freedom is linked to the philosophy of the social contract coming from Hobbes. But we also find this concept of negative freedom in Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy and finally in Nozick’s his philosophy of the social contract. Honneth argues that this concept is not enough to constitute the goals for the subject, because something must be presupposed. Therefore the reflective and the social conception of freedom become important. The reflective concept implies that the free individual can determine rationally his or her actions. This is based on a distinction between heteronymous and autonomic action. Rousseau and Kant are representatives of this conception. Autonomy and self-realization according to the idea of rationality are important dimensions of this concept, which forgets however the institutional dimension of freedom that we find in the social concept of freedom. This concept of freedom goes beyond the individual concepts of freedom in Habermas and Apel and goes back to the concept of freedom in Hegel’s philosophy of right. Mutual recognition in social institutions is an important part of this idea of freedom (p. 85). This is what Hegel calls the mutual institutions of mutual recognition. In this context, the central aspect of Honneth’s argument is Hegel’s concept of recognition of freedom as essential to the institutions of liberty in the modern society that are realized not only in the state, but also in the market and in civil society. Honneth gives a detailed account of the concepts of recognition and institutions at the basis of Hegel’s concept of law and justice as emerging as a part of the social institutions of the “Sittlichkeit of society” (p. 85-118).

 

On the basis of this discussion of Hegel, Honneth is able to present his own conception of “democratic Sittlichkeit” as essential to the institutions of freedom in modern liberal societies (p. 199) . Here Honneth understands his theory of democratic freedom as a theory of the legitimacy of the social order. He researches into the institutionalizations of values and conceptions of justice in liberal democracies where the value of freedom and equality through recognition become integrated in the institutional spheres of action in society. In this sense the idea of freedom is essential to justice and we can use this concept of universal freedom and recognition as a defense for correction of social pathologies and deviances in relation to the generally accepted normative ideas of freedom and justice. In this, through the research on the conditions for freedom and justice, the normative ideas of the democratic Sittlichkeit are explained.

 

On this basis Honneth discusses the possibility of freedom (p. 129) in relation to law and ethics. He begins with the presentation of the concept of legal freedom. This freedom is the condition of collective autonomy in civil society’s cooperation and also for democratic decision-making based on collective autonomy. The ethical idea of legal freedom is the effort to ensure private autonomy. In this sense legal freedom is understood as individual freedom. Honneth defines legal freedom on the basis of Hegel’s concept of personal rights (p. 134). Hegel proposed a system of positive rights in modernity. With Hannah Arendt we can refer to legal personhood as “protective mask” of the individual. The law of freedom implies this development of the legal rights of the subject. Subjective and negative rights are essential for the freedom of individual action, as suggested by Mill in his defense of the rights of belief, opinion and freedom of expression. This category of subjective rights includes rights of freedom and of participatory rights as the foundation of democratic communication and decision-making. However, it is also a limit to this idea of freedom that it is built on private autonomy and rights defined by its negative character. It is true that the law shall protect personal autonomy and freedom, but this is not enough – behind this lies the development of a society built on communal practices and cooperation in civil society (p. 156). 

 

Indeed, Honneth is well aware of the social pathologies of legal freedom in modern society. Social pathology is defined as something that emerges when people don’t understand the meaning of social norms of freedom and law and here we can speak about social pathologies. These pathologies can be people who misuse the system and ignore the rationality of subjective rights. They use the law to promote their own interest. This happens for example in the increasing tendency of legalization of the human life world and of life communities. This dynamics of the social pathology can for example be found in the movie with Dustin Hoffman Kramer vs. Kramer, where a divorce ends in a bitter fight about the custody of the child in court. The pathology is that the life world is ignored and the legalization of human affairs becomes an end in itself and we experience alienation and misunderstanding of the significance of moral freedom (p. 172).

 

Honneth describes the institutionalization of moral freedom in modern society as closely related to the institutionalization of legal freedom. Originally morality was the regulation of desire and a sort of rationalization of life in nature. Morality can be said to constitute the intersubjective limitations on actions. Moral autonomy comes from the idea of self-determination, as discussed in Rousseau and Kant. The Kantian idea of moral freedom is built on the concept of moral autonomy. This implies that human beings should strive to be moral persons and valued by others as moral persons. Respect and recognition of human dignity in the social life world is an essential dimension of this concept of morality (p. 181). To have dignity is not only due to intrinsic dignity as being created in the image of God, but indeed also a social dignity to which the individual him- or herself is important. Dignity can be defined as linked to the moral self-definition and self- creation of individuals with good moral identity. Kirstine Korsgaard has in this context defined the Kantian approach as an approach to the building and construction of one’s own practical identity. What are important are not only the categorical imperatives but indeed also the practical identity of the subject. To have a moral identity is to have a moral aim with your own life where you take responsibility for your own humanity. Self-legislation and moral autonomy in the Kantian sense means to take responsibility for your own life as the moral self-legislator of your life.

 

Habermas contributes to this discussion by emphasizing the importance of the moral socialization process. Legal freedom is interpreted through social freedom. Here we have the institutionalization of moral freedom in modern societies. We can refer to a cultural idea of moral in post-traditional societies where the cultural institutionalization of freedom is a part of this institutionalization of recognition. This process is a communicative and dialogical process where there is an on-going public discussion about conceptions of dignity and appropriate intersubjective moral norms in civil society.

 

Like his description of the legal social pathologies Honneth also describes the social pathologies of morality. Here we can observe a focus on personal absolute morality in contrast to intersubjective norms. The pathologies of morality could for example be the moralism of personal autonomy, where the duty to follow a certain kind of universalism means that the individual fails to take into account the social context (p. 209). This kind of focus on personal autonomy leads to rigid morals where the moral conception can lead to personal moral self-destruction. This is for example described in the novels of Henry James where the will to do good is in danger of leading to self-destruction (p. 212). Here personal autonomy leads to bad moralism and ignorance of social conditions of recognition and dignity. A similar pathology can be found in the moralist political extremism of terrorism, for example in the position of Ulrike Meinhof, who adopted a personal leftist moralism as the justification of her terrorist actions.

 

On the basis of this reconstruction of the foundations of freedom Honneth goes on to describe the reality of freedom in democratic liberal democracies. The reconstruction of the social life practice as based on recognition and personal autonomy in moral decision-making has to be demonstrated as being institutionalized as patterns of social action in different aspects of society. Honneth distinguishes between three important spheres of institutionalization of the norms of freedom and moral autonomy: 1) friends, love and family relations; 2) market relations; 3) relations in the political community. The intersubjective dimensions in these different groups illustrate different determinations of decisions based on freedom in the different institutions of society.

 

Honneth emphasizes that personal relations between friends and love relations in personal relations and in the family are based on freedom rather than on paternalism or pre-established social norms and hierarchies. Although it is considered informal, friendship may be conceived as social institution today. There is a difference between the ancient and modern concept of friendship, because friendship today is build on mutual affection without interest. Friendship is based on the romantic concept of the free encounter between friends. As an institution friendship can be said to illustrate the institutionalization of common ideas of community in a common normative structure. Even though it is based on freedom and mutual affection we can now say that friendship based on freedom has become an important institution in modern society.

 

With regard to love and intimacy, freedom is also considered an essential concept. Honneth argues that we can perceive the institutionalization of the principle of romantic love as the basis for intimate encounters. We are free to make our intimate connections and these are built on our own moral responsibility. Autonomous morality and freedom are proposed as the basis for sexual relations. The relations are based on love and freedom and the emergence of all kinds of couples or singles show this principle of freedom as essential in modernity.

 

The principle of free sexual relations has had an impact on the concept of the family where the encounter of man and women is also based on social freedom and the family as such is today becoming a place of social freedom. The family is now a place for individual self-realization. We see the emergence of different forms of constructed families that to a large extent are built on principles of free self-realization. Equality rather than authority is an important principle for organizing the family. Equality in families is indicated by the fact that the relation between man and woman is built on partnership between father and mother. Also recognition plays a much bigger role in the relations between children and parents in a situation where people live longer and mutual recognition between generations is emerging. In this sense moral autonomy plays a great importance in the social roles of family members. We see the institutionalization of a much more democratic family built on freedom and moral responsibility. This is a family based on mutual cooperation, love and recognition in contrast to a family based on authoritarianism and paternalism.

 

We can, according to Honneth, also see the emergence of the new law and morality of freedom if we look at the economic market. Honneth argues that the economic market also contributes to the institutionalization of social freedom in the capitalist economy. Honneth wants to provide a normative reconstruction of the contribution to social freedom of the market economy. He goes back to Adam Smith and takes up his problem about the morality of the market. The problem is how the market can be said to mediate social action. Here we can consider the market freedom as an extension of social freedom in the spheres of consumption and production. However, the question is whether this is an error in capitalism – a subversive doctrine that leads to the dissolution of capitalism.

 

Honneth defines capitalism and its markets as free economic exchange of goods and services. Historically speaking it was the legal subject (most of the time a man with property) who had the right to exchange in the market. The basis for behavior in the market was strategic utility maximization and calculation of cost/benefits. According to Honneth, both Hegel and Durkheim tried to investigate the normative dimensions of the capitalist system in order to go beyond that system and propose a new economic order with another value-orientation of the economic institutions. Honneth finds a paradox in this line of question that ask the questions about why the market should refer to pre-market norms when the market is about individual utility and utility maximization. The answer of Honneth is that intersubjective norms govern the market when we consider the market from the point of view of normative institutionalism, where morality is considered to be a part of the economic exchange. Honneth refers to Polanyi and Parsons to explain this dimension of the market economy. The question is “What is the Sittlichkeit of the Market System?” (p. 343) Such question have occupied the communitarian philosopher Etizioni and the German economist Hirsch and they search for the capacity of coordinating social action within the economy itself and contribute to legitimacy of the market system in society. With the focus on the principles of social cooperation it the market, Honneth wants to overcome Marx’s negative concept of capitalism and give a normative reconstruction of the concept of freedom within the market economy in liberal society.

 

Honneth focuses on the sphere of consumption and in particular the development of consumer culture where the market receives legitimation from the norms of the consumers. In fact, the culture of consumption can be seen as a medium for recognition, whilst the moral reaction of the consumers to corporations has an impact on the corporations. Honneth emphasizes that today the capitalist system requires its legitimacy from the consumer and these new conditions of consumption and production contribute to the legitimacy of the market through the consumer. We see how globalization of the market is realized through mass consumption and we see the emergence of morally and legally responsible critical consumers, what we can call “the consumer citizen” (p. 377). This critical consumer is aware of the necessity of having respect for human dignity (p. 377). At the same time reference to consumer citizens may be able to incorporate the critique of consumer society, since there is a struggle for recognition and a possible mutual recognition implied in the moral economy between seller and consumer where they struggle for the realization of the mutual legitimate recognition (p. 381). So Honneth emphasizes that the principles of legitimation are implicit in the consumer market. There is a search for ideal perfectibility regarding consumption built into the individual and corporations have to respond to this in order to get legitimacy. Moreover the consumer citizen takes up the criticism of mass consumption (Adorno, Arendt) and act critically in relation to this. In contributing to establishment of international institutions the consumer citizen also pushes for the establishment of national and international institutions that contribute to the moralization the economy.

 

After this normative reconstruction of market mediated consumption Honneth looks at the labor market. He reminds us that work was important for Hegel in his Philosophy of Right. Honneth also considers work and the labor market as central for the emergence of a moral economy. The capitalist organization of work has historically implied manipulation and oppression of the workers. Then they organized themselves in workers movement and organized struggle for recognition and social freedom on the labor market. This fight for social freedom implies a struggle for cooperation and recognition in the labor market (p. 431). The organization of workers in trade unions is an important dimension for establishing freedom in the capitalist system. It is important to humanize the work in this world. In particular, democratic organization of the economy and of business can contribute to this. Honneth argues that social freedom in the organizational sphere of corporations and business is dependent on the struggle for recognition by the workers. It is important to contribute to this humanization of work. Since the 1970s there has however been a neoliberal rationalization and technification of the capitalist system and workers have more to fight for in order to achieve freedom in the organized capitalism of the Western world. Here, all kinds of organizations, for example trade unions or welfare organizations, can contribute to the mutual recognition. In particular transnational unions in times of globalization are important for creating freedom in a civilization of capitalism.

 

The final section of the book presents the reality of democratic will formation in liberal democracies in a historical perspective. Honneth focuses on democratic public spheres, the democratic legal state and political culture. He begins by emphasizing that the potentiality of public deliberation in a free public sphere is essential to understand the reality of freedom in a modern society. Since the French revolution and the enlightenment this has been essential for creating social freedom in the public sphere. Deliberative decision making in a public sphere is an essential legitimation principle of a liberal democracy. We can say that we have experienced the social institutionalization of principles of democracy through the emergence of the free public sphere in Western democracies. Here equality of citizens and liberal rights of freedom based on the constitution are essential for creating a democratic public sphere. The morality of citizens is created through the institutionalization of social and democratic public spheres and debates. The normative idea of social freedom is a result of a democratic public sphere (p. 500). Public exchange of opinion is essential for this democratic public sphere in modern society. As Arendt and Habermas have shown, the media are important for democratic politics. Communicative freedom and the deliberative public sphere contribute to exchange of opinion and different points of view. With Habermas we can emphasize the importance of having both a national and international public sphere. With the new media and digital divide and the development of the internet we face, however, both possibilities and possible limitations of democratic freedom in open and free public spheres.

 

The democratic legal state built on the rule of law implies the realization of social liberty. The rule of law is a reflexive dimension of the state. The state is a reflexive notion and the democratic state was conceived as the opposite of National Socialism. This state is based on the legitimation by the people’s sovereignty in democratic legislation processes. Constitutional states follow specific norms of Sittlichkeit with a reflexive distance to the democratic legal state. The normative self-understanding of the European states implies a reaction against totalitarianism and in particular the rule of law against Hitler. In particular, we can talk about totalitarianism as the opposite to democracy. The universal declaration of human rights that was very modern even for modern democracy was established as a counter-reaction to the totalitarian regimes of the Second World War. We can also talk about the tension between nationalism and the rule of law in the Rechtsstaat or the tension between nationalism and people’s democracy. The concept by Habermas about Verfassungspatriotismus has been proposed to deal with this topic.

 

Finally Honneth discusses the concept of political culture as essential to the reality of the Rechtsstaat. Political culture is the reality of the realization of freedom in a democratic society. This institutionalization of the rule of law of the Rechtsstaat today also has an international dimension in the sense that the political public sphere, for example in the EU goes beyond the national borders towards the international community.

 

Some critical remarks to Honneth’s theory of the liberal state follow.

How should we evaluate his approach to the institutionalization of freedom in modern society? I will now propose three critical remarks for discussion.

 

The first remark concerns Honneth’s method of analysis. This method is very promising and I think that this constitutes the real novelty of the book. The focus on institutions and institutionalization is very important to make the bridge between philosophy and the social sciences. Moreover, I agree that this approach is very important for the definition of the relation between ethics and law in modern democratic states. However, it may be argued that this approach has already been worked out before. This is for example the case in Ricoeur’s work One-Self-as-Another from 2002, where the concept of institution as inspired by Hegel is a central concept. Ricoeur has an advantage with regard to Honneth because Ricoeur is able to introduce the concept of the good life that is not really there in Honneth’s approach. Ricoeur talks about “the good life for and with the other in just institutions”. Moreover there is no reference to the whole tradition of institutional theory within the social sciences in Honneth’s book. This is sad because then we don’t really have the dialogue between philosophical institutionalism and other kinds of institutionalisms. Moreover, it may be argued that the kind of combination of normative and descriptive analysis that Honneth proposes makes it difficult to advance any real argument of normative ethical, legal or political theory. In fact, this book is not so much a normative argument as a presentation of some lines of development in modern society. As such the book is confronted with competing arguments, as for example the Danish professor of political science Ove Kaj Petersen with his book about the recent developments of the state from welfare state to competition state in the book Konkurencestaten (the competition state). Why is the story that Honneth presents more compelling than the more negative story that is presented by Ove Kaj Pedersen? Here we need better and more advanced argument.

 

The proposal of the theory of law and morals may be conceived as the strongest part of the book. However, we can also propose some critical questions to this theory. In particular, we can address the substance of the theory that focuses so much on individual rights. I may be argued that it is not individual rights that are so important in the Rechtsstaat but rather democracy as community. It is not clear how this focus on individual rights makes the move from negative freedom to positive freedom. Indeed, it may be argued that the concept of rights may destroy the possibility of really founding a political community based on shared interests in the good. What Honneth seems to propose seems to be a very liberal theory that does not really correspond with his Hegelian starting point. Moreover, we may criticize his use of Kant to define the basis of his approach to the morality of freedom. It seems very idealistic to presuppose that people today act according to the moral law when they create their identity. Rather, we may refer to existentialist or postmodern concepts of identity, which seem much closer to the reality of life in the modern state and correspond to the elimination of politics in favor of individual rights. I cannot see that Honneth really achieves his point by reintroducing the Kantian concept of morality as a case of identity. In fact, Honneth’s position also becomes nearly neo-liberal, because so much emphasis is laid on individual rights rather to present the common good in the Res Publica as important. Here I also think that Ricoeur’s concept of the good life with and for the other in just institutions gives the communitarian elements of analysis that we really need to make Honneth’s argument convincing.

 

When we deal with the reality of freedom in modern society there are many problems in the book. The analysis of the spheres of recognition in the family seem to forget all the power relations that still persist in society and a Foucauldian approach to the family would be able to show many contradictions of the freedom of individuals in the family. Moreover, there are many critical questions to ask in relation to Honneth’s analysis of romantic love as the basis of intimacy. There may also be the manipulation of individual through forcing them to be free. As Rousseau says “L’homme est libre mais partout il est en fer”.

 

Moreover, the analysis of economic life and freedom in the market is far from convincing, although the general intention of moralizing the economy is very important. Honneth has understood the necessity of rethinking the capitalist economy in the perspective of virtues and ethics, but his Marxist basis of analysis and the prejudices of critical theory make it impossible for him to take the final step and understand the real emancipator elements of the idea of the moral economy. Here we should look at the whole basis for ethical interaction in the economy and, taking the Weberian perspective of looking at the ideal values of economic exchange, make it possible to understand much more of the functions of the moral economy. Honneth mentions the work of Etizioni on this point but he does not get into deeper analysis of much more recent literature on business ethics and corporate social responsibility and this makes his analysis rather general and not very innovative in relation to the recent debates in business ethics and management ethics.

 

Honneth has a good argument for the political consumer and legitimacy of consumption but he does not include recent literature in business ethics and institutions and therefore he does not really contribute something new or relevant. To propose unions as the basis for political freedom in the workplace also seems to be not very new in today’s discussions. Much more detailed analysis is needed here. For example of the interactions between unions and top management and how they contribute to develop stakeholder management in large corporations.

 

Indeed, in his final discussions of the deliberative politics and the importance of critical public space as essential for a democratic political culture, I can hardly see that Honneth presents anything new in comparison with Habermas. In fact we may argue that Honneth is much too positive to the reality of this political culture and that he does not take into account the many recent distortions of that culture. However, the critical remarks on the internet and the digital divide and democracy show a certain awareness of the important contradiction of democracy in the present context of society.

 

Reference

Axel Honneth: Das Recht der Freiheit. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2011.

 

The Dialectics of Democracy

 

 

Modern democracy cannot be conceived only in terms of political equality, mass participation, competition, or tolerance. Nor can it be defined as a system where the public good is determined through rational or ethical deliberation. All these are, at least in principle, possible even in autocratic or oligarchic systems. What is peculiar for modern democracy is that opposition and dissent are not only tolerated, but they are recognized as necessary aspects of the system. Governments need oppositions, because their right to govern is legitimized only through the presence of an opposition. The task of the opposition in a democratic system is to express distrust: to criticize the actions of the government and to provide an alternative. The opposition institutionalizes distrust, and, paradoxically, the presence of this institutionalized distrust is, for the citizens, one important reason to trust the democratic system. Insofar as the opposition is incompetent, or bribed or otherwise made toothless, the system appears as less democratic, and the democratic legitimacy of the government is consequently diminished.

The idea that an organized or institutionalized distrust embodied in the opposition could ultimately be the basis of legitimacy is complex and even paradoxical. It is no wonder that the classical normative theories of democracy have not been able to conceptualize the role of opposition. The idea of democracy as the sovereignty of the People was born in the French Revolution. Typically it conceived the People as united and homogeneous. The Marxist and nationalist conceptions of democracy (for example, that of Carl Schmitt 1985; 2008) are direct descendants of this idea. Even when it was admitted that the “Will of the People” could, in practice, only mean the will of the majority, the unavoidable presence of a distrusting minority was conceived as a defect, a deviation from the pure ideal of democracy. The perfect democracy was, ideally, based on unanimity and a complete identity between the rulers and the ruled (see Rosanvallon 2006, ch 3.). There was no room for organized opposition in this conception.

The liberal version of popular sovereignty presented in John Locke’s Second Treatise (Locke 1988) was not based on the hypothetical identification of the rulers and the ruled. According to Locke, the government was based on trust. Trust was, unlike a contract or identity, an asymmetrical relationship. The people or the community could unilaterally withdraw its trust and replace the government by another. If the rulers refused to obey, the ruled had a right to resist the rulers, and if necessary, rise to arms. Nevertheless, trust was for Locke, the normal and natural situation. Distrust remained exceptional and external.

The epistemic conception of democracy as a method to find the true, best or most justified solutions to problems which concern all derives from Aristotle’s Politics. There, Aristotle famously argues that a decision-making group may be wiser or better informed than any of its individual members. In The Social Contract Jean-Jacques Rousseau expressed this idea in the following terms:

When in the popular assembly a law is proposed, what people is asked is not exactly whether it approves or rejects the proposal, but whether it is in conformity with the general will, which is their will. Each man, when giving his vote, states his opinion on that point; and the general will is found by counting votes. When therefore the opinion that is contrary to my own prevails, this proves neither more nor less than that I was mistaken, and that what I thought to be the general will was not so. (Rousseau 1973, p. 250)

In this conception, disagreement is the starting point. Yet, opposition becomes irrational and unjustified when the democratic decision has been made. The legitimacy of democratic decisions is based on the hypothesis that a democratic majority is more likely to find the correct solution than any individual voter or a sub-group of voters. Hence, post-decisional opposition must be a sign of irrational stubbornness. The contemporary theories of deliberative democracy (for example that of Jürgen Habermas 1986) are partly based on the epistemic conception. Habermas and his followers (Benhabib 1994; Cohen 1989) argue that in the ideal conditions constituted by free, unlimited discussion, the discussion partners would ultimately agree on reasons as well as on conclusions. This rational consensus would guarantee the truth or validity of the conclusions, for, ideally, it would incorporate into itself all imaginable counter-objections and criticisms. The deliberative theorists are ready to admit than in the real life, disagreements are unavoidable. But, again, such disagreements only show that the democratic process falls short of the ideal. Again, the presence of a persistent opposition appears as a (perhaps unavoidable) defect.

Finally, the “realist” theorists of democracy (for example, Weber 1994, or Schumpeter 1962) conceive democracy in terms of power struggle. For them, struggle for power is the essence of all politics, and democratic competition is one form of it. The “realists” admit the unavoidability of disagreements in democratic politics. However, when conceptualizing democratic politics as “war by other means” they neglect an important difference between the democratic competition and other forms of power struggle. In democracy, unlike, say, in international politics, the relations between the competing parties are internal rather than purely external and contingent. True, parties compete for power. However, power in a democratic society is not simply an ability to realize one’s own will. The winning party, which forms the government, has power only because it is obeyed by the citizens, and it is obeyed (at least partly) because the citizens see its claim for power as legitimate; it deserves its power. It is perceived as legitimate because it has temporarily won its opponents in a fair competition, yet those opponents may challenge it again. Hence, the permanent presence of an opposing force is a necessary condition for the power of the government. Within the democratic political body, the idea is thus not to press into consensus, or to silence the parties which do not belong to the government after the last elections. The winners are winners because there are losers who recognize their defeat, but still continue to disagree. While competition for power may be a near-universal phenomenon (as the “realists” claim), this mutual dependence between competitors is a unique property of democracies.

Opposition as an internal controller

I would characterize democracy as a necessarily contradictory whole, in which the parties are internally related to each others. The idea is to continue the struggle over matters which concern “all”. This internal struggle between mutually contradicting parties serves democratic purposes. There can, of course, be no opposition without a government which it opposes, but equally, there cannot be a democratic government without an active opposition. The opposition provides, by its public criticism and inspection of the government’s actions, a “system of checking” of whether the government is doing what it has promised to do and whether it is acting in the best interest of “all”. In fact, the role of the opposition is to try to reveal that the government is actually not acting in the best interest of the community as a whole, but, instead, pursues more or less parochial aims i.e. it pursues too much the aims of the party which has last won in the elections. Interestingly, a system which comprises of a government, checked and radically criticised by a sort of “internally external” opposition that also provides an alternative choice for voters in the next election, is considered a trustworthy democratic system. While an external controller, for example a Supreme Court or a body of scientists or experts, are supposed to present impartial, disengaged, neutral and apolitical (“power-free”) evaluation, the role of opposition is to be fully engaged concerning the things under discussion. One important aspect of the opposition is to criticise the rationale, by which the government legitimizes its decisions, for being biased or parochial.

In her article ‘Unpolitical Democracy’ Nadia Urbinati (2009) discusses the role of contestation and criticism in various theories of democracy (for example, in those of Pierre Rosanvallon and Philip Pettit). She promotes the idea that democracy, as a system in which things that concern “all” are decided by all, should not diminish the role of partisan, engaged opposition. If the evaluation of things is transferred away from the area where politically engaged parties confront each others, into an area where neutral parties are supposed to evaluate or judge the public good impartially (from the point of view of an apolitical judge or a scientist), democratic decision making is compromised. Power becomes hidden behind the veil of a neutral judge or some other external evaluator. Issues under discussion become easily divided into “political” and “apolitical” parts, into issues which can be struggled upon politically and issue which are thought to belong to the sphere of external evaluation. Urbinati writes:

It prefigures a transformation of the meaning of politics according to goals and criteria that recall the nineteenth-century utopia of the rational power of the experts. It suggests that politics is a cognitive practice for reaching true outcomes, solving problems, and moreover eradicating “politically-relevant reasonable disagreement. (Urbinati 2009, 74)

For Urbinati, one problem with the external controlling is that experts typically give evaluations on a restricted frame of questions, the framing of which is not part of the political process itself:

in the deliberative fora the formation of the agenda and the frame of questions to be discussed by the selected citizens are not part of the political process. They are instead kept outside the forum as the task of the mediators and organizers of these deliberative experiments. In clear violation of the democratic principle of autonomy, both the issues to be discussed without prejudice, and the procedures regulating the discussion, are not decided and chosen by the participants. (Urbinati 2009, 74)

The practice of splitting issues into political and apolitical aspects is not itself part of the democratic (political) process. It is done externally by actors which are not themselves exposed to democratic criticism. The grounding idea of democracy is that it exercises autonomous power over things which concern “all” (res publica). There is no party external, beyond or not accessible to it, which would determine the problems to be discussed, or which would set the frame, outline or circumscribe the politically relevant aspects of things under discussion. When issues are divided into those aspects which are discussed politically and into those which are left to neutral, external experts, it can be forgotten that there are hardly any aspects which do not relate to questions of power or carry ethical implications. Few aspects are purely technical, power-free or abstract. Moreover, even that neutral parties, like judges, scientists or various selected citizen bodies are important sources of knowledge and opinions, they are not external in the sense of being completely “power-free”. Scientific or legal expertise is always practiced in a cultural context and, hence, it should not be considered as beyond democratic criticism and analysis.

Hegel and the dialectics between the self and the Other

The claim defended here is that the relationship between the government and the distrusting, internal opposition can be understood in terms of Hegel’s dialectics. At the first sight, Hegel is not a promising starting point for democratic theorizing. His main political work, Philosophy of Right, is not a particularly democratic work. Admittedly, Hegel does defend representative institutions, constitution, and the basic rights. Thus, the once widespread claim that Hegel was simply an apologist of the contemporary Prussian state is mistaken, for Hegel’s Prussia had none of these. Moreover, in the lectures held before the publication of Philosophy of Right Hegel did discuss the principle of opposition (see, for example, Hegel 1974, 707-9). Nevertheless, in the published version of Philosophy of Right Hegel conceived the State basically in terms of a unity. Conflicts appear at the level of the civil society where parochial aims are pursued; nevertheless, they are superseded and reconciled rationally at the level of the State. Thus, it is not surprising that both Hegel’s right-wing adherents and his liberal and leftist critics have emphasized the unifying aspects of his philosophy: disagreements are solved by rational communication. Even his radical interpreters, who – like Alexandre Kojève – have emphasized the more conflictual aspects of Hegel’s theory, have seen a “homogeneous state” as the ultimate outcome of the historical process.

However, other readings are possible. The British Idealist political theorist Sir Ernest Barker (1942; 1951), while accepting the standard liberal criticism of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, nevertheless argued that the other aspects of Hegel’s philosophy had democratic potential:

His conception of the eternal debate of thesis and antithesis, and of the opposition of thought to thought in the operation of Mind [Geist], involves the necessary conclusion that debate and discussion must always be at work in any society of minds, now emphasizing this idea, and now emphasizing that, but always seeking to achieve a synthesis, or as we also say, in one of our common terms, ‘to find a compromise’. If we think of political parties as representing thesis and antithesis, and of Parliament as seeking to find a reconciling synthesis, we can defend parliamentary democracy in terms of Hegelian ideas. We can even argue that Hegel himself was untrue to his own ideas when he became a political absolutist. He failed to see that the sovereign thing in political thought, as in all the thought of the world is the process of thought itself, as it works its way between the clashing rocks of thesis and antithesis. (Barker 1951, p. 23)

According to my interpretation, the dialectics between the self and the Other, presented in Hegel’s earlier work, Phenomenology of Spirit, offers still a valid theory of why the on-going clashing of thesis with antithesis is the base for democratic equality and freedom between people. An important instance of this dialectics appears in the contemporary parliamentary systems where the government clashes with the opposition. In the next chapter I will go shortly through Hegel’s theory of the dialectics between the self and the Other. Then I will offer an interpretation of how it relates to the theme of democracy and distrust.

For Hegel, self-consciousness – in short, “self” – is a complex construction. The basic feature of the self is thinking. Thinking is situated: it is conditioned by time, place, cultural context and various individual, personal and material factors. Consequently, thinking makes up a limited, interpretative system, a particular universe. Thinking is a universalizing and generalizing activity, yet, at the same time it is parochial and limited. By conceptual and abstract thinking the thinker may obtain a critical distance towards itself and its cultural limits. However, even abstract thinking is situated because it is internally linked to, and it mediates with, the subjective parts of the thinking system. Thinking is always subjective. The Other is, like the self, a complex construction: subjective particularity is one of its features. Like the self, the Other is an interpretative, meaning-giving system: a particular universe. A grounding idea in Phenomenology of Spirit is that with the Other or, ideally, from a point of view which is constituted jointly by the self and the Other, the self can go over its respective limits. In fact, only by trying to see the world from the point of view of the Other, the self can acknowledge that it’s own universe is particular and limited. With the Other, the self may go over its limits and see the world, including its own self, from a new perspective which can be called a more democratic perspective, even that democracy did not belong to Hegel’s terminology. However, the new perspective is also a located perspective. The self cannot rise above perspectivity as such, because subjectivity continues to be a basic feature of its thinking. (Hegel 1977, pp. 109-112)

Self’s way to relate to the Other is, however, not easy. The relationship between the self and the Other can be called a radical difference, or, mutual otherness. It might, however, be also called a radical similarity. The Other is, like the self, its own, self-determining, internally differentiated system of subject-object-relations. Both the self and the Other are centres of their own universes. Consequently, both selves appear to be, from the point of view of the other, threatening. Freedom of the Other – the Other as a self-determining being and a universalizing, generalizing being (a being who has views about things which concern “all”) – appears as a threat. (Hegel 1977, pp. 111-119.)

Nevertheless, the dialectical narrative in Phenomenology shows that the self is not satisfied until it creates a relationship of reciprocal recognition with Other. What self yearns for most is freedom and only reciprocal recognition – or, actually an ethical society which is based on reciprocal recognition of parties which are “other” to each other – satisfies this yearning.

According to Hegel, the self strives for a contact with the Other because, ultimately, it wants to be free. Freedom includes various inter-related aspects such as epistemological freedom (knowledge which is not parochial, instead, constituted in mutual recognition, for self and for Other), inner freedom at a psychological level, and social freedom. For Hegel, the self can live a satisfactory life – at these various levels – only if it acknowledges Other as its equal and enters into a recognizing relationship with it. In recognizing the Other as an equal self and, reciprocally, recognizing itself as the Other’s Other, the self is able to reconcile contradictions at the aforementioned levels. In Hegel, freedom means that people and societies can, both, reconcile contradictions, and, at the same time, see contradictions as the permanent part of a free, ethical society. This means that both the self and the Other, as bearers of mutually contradicting world-views, are recognized as valid sources of knowledge, views and opinions over things which concern “all”. A free society does not try to silence contradicting world-views because that would mean that some specific, parochial world-view, of some specific particular self, would gain a dominating position in the society. Freedom as reciprocal recognition is a process where the existence of, and the on-going clashing together, of contradicting world-views are recognized as a permanent part of the society. Contradicting world-views clash together, yet, the clash is considered a source of freedom and good, ethical life. Mutually contradicting selves can all contribute to the constructing of the society, its basic principles, institutions and laws. The clashing together of mutually contradicting selves cannot be disposed of because, at any given time, the particular synthesis which governs or which has a hegemonic status in the society (i.e. displayed at the level of, for example, commonly shared beliefs) cannot take all possible views into consideration equally.

In Hegel, the complex structure of the thinking self is shown also in the complex structure of the things, which are thought by the self. Thought things are complex structures which means, for example that limited subjectivity is always an internal aspect of them. Things cannot be divided into parts which are external to each others in the sense that they would not affect each others. We can not bracket off subjective aspects from things and think of them as pure abstractions. When things are thought rationally, or as abstractions, subjective limitedness continues to be present, too. Things are complex constructions in which political, ethical, cultural and personal aspects are internally mediated with each other.

Hegel, democracy and distrust

According to my interpretation Hegel’s seemingly abstract figures “self and “Other” may be seen to stand for groups, comprising of like-minded individuals. Thinking, which is the basic feature of both the self and the Other, does not develop in a social vacuum. Instead, individuals are, to a great extent, born into those “particular universes”, which render them social subjects. By linguistic, communicative internalization of selfhood, individuals become thinking selves and subjects. Like-minded individuals can be thus seen to constitute the particular universes. These universes may be also called as discursive, cultural contexts. Within them meanings, ethical and moral principles and world-views are generated and kept alive by the individuals committing to them and reproducing them. Hegel suggests that in order for the society to be free, these groups as well as individuals comprising them, need to acknowledge that there is an outside (Other) to their own group. In order for the society not to be parochially constituted – which would mean the suffocation of some groups and closing them out from amongst those who determine what the society as a whole is like – the groups and their world-views would need to clash together. This clashing together of one particular universe with another, or, one thesis with its antithesis, would mean that contradictions are acknowledged as an internal part of the society.

How can Hegel’s theory of the need for contradicting parties to clash together inside a social community be seen to promote an idea of the need for an institutionalized distrust in democracy, embodied in the government-opposition-relationship? As said above, Hegel is often seen to promote the idea of unifying and synthesizing rationality as the way to reconcile disagreements at the level of the state. Theorists like Habermas, with his idea of communicative ethics, draws from this line of thought. To claim that Hegel’s theory would support an idea of an institutionalized distrust and government-opposition- relationship would mean that conflict or distrust between parties, which decide about matters of state concerning “all”, is seen as an internal aspect of a free society. Freedom as reciprocal recognition between its members would not be understood in terms of reaching consensus by rational communication only, say, in the ordinary way of continuing discussion until agreement, compromise or consensus is found. Instead, it would emphasize the clashing together – feature of the mutually recognizing parties as well as the idea that genuine and even passionate conflicts and distrust are a necessary part of how the parties relate to each other in order to produce ethically sound and free decisions concerning “all”. This way to interpret Hegel’s notion of freedom as the on-going clashing together of the self and the Other – thesis with its anti-thesis – implies that the syntheses are temporary and open for further debate and revision.

For Hegel, the self, as a thinker, is a complex system where different aspects influence each others internally. This implies, importantly, that rational thinking, also at the state level, is not neutral or impartial in the sense that it would take place in a power-free or apolitical vacuum. It also supports the idea that any synthesis, resulting from the clashing together of selves and Others with their theses, makes up a new thesis, a particular universe, which should be open to further dialectical revision. Every state-level synthesis is limited because one of its aspects is material objectivity, i.e. the level of limited economical and material resources. When ever a synthesis is made, it is based not only on what the outcome is from the struggle between the conflicting parties in the last elections. When elections are over, the parties, forming the government, make decisions, on how various material resources are concretely distributed between all the members of the society. The government often also makes some alterations to laws, institutional principles and so forth, according to the deliberations of its member parties. In other words, the struggle between conflicting groups leads, through elections, to the formation of a new government and, by the government’s deliberations, to some alterations at the level of the objective reality. The transformation of any synthesis into a new thesis, open to the criticism of opposition, takes place at this point. The government is formed by some parties, enough like-minded to be able to make decisions and compromises together and execute its will through administrative and bureaucratic bodies. The decisions must be particular and limited in order to mean something concrete. The decisions cannot be vague or ambivalent; otherwise they would give room for arbitrary interpretations and arbitrary application. Nevertheless, this rationality, shared by the “like-minded” members of the government renders the government also a “particular universe”. The government provides rational arguments for the decisions it executes, and claims to act in the best interest of all. This claim becomes, however, the base for criticism – or, in Hegelian words claim for recognition – coming from those who claim that it, nevertheless, acts more in the interest of just some, not all. It needs to be checked and critically analyzed by its outside, and clash with its outside (the Other as opposition), in order for its rationality not to fall into parochialism which compromises the democratic idea that the state ought to be governed by “all”.

The agonistic theory of democracy

The Hegelian dialectic insight of democracy, presented in this paper, resembles in some ways the agonistic theory of democracy. Especially the political theorist Chantal Mouffe has spoken for an idea of democracy in which a permanent, agonistic conflict between mutually contradicting parties (between “we” and “them”) is considered as a constitutive and an indispensable feature. Mouffe’s idea of the relationship between “we” and “them” resembles in some ways the dialectical relationship between the self and the Other, defended in this text. However, there are important differences between the dialectical notion of democracy defended in this paper, and the theory of Chantal Mouffe. I shall argue that the idea of agonism as formulated by Mouffe is actually incoherent.

In criticizing consensus-oriented authors like Rawls or Habermas, Mouffe uses the following argument: The criticized authors try to solve the “paradox of democracy” by presenting a comprehensive theory of democracy, and claim that all consistent democrats should agree with them. However, an actual consensus on the truth of any particular interpretation of democracy would, in effect, destroy the agonistic tensions which are central for democracy. An agreement on the basic principles of democracy would stop the movement of democratic society, create a stasis. It is this very process, produced by the tensions and differences that is really important and valuable in democracy. Thus, all attempts to provide a comprehensive theory of democracy are (indirectly) self-defeating. If the correct, true theory of democracy were to be found, and if it were generally accepted it would undo the whole democracy. If a theory of what the relations between the various mutual “others” (the political subjects) were recognized by the political subjects themselves, there would be no attitude of exclusion any more. The political subjects (which constitute each others “others”) would not exclude each others any more from their vision of the ideal society, and try to gain universal recognition just for their own particular ideal any more. This kind of “reciprocally recognitive” attitude would undo the democracy itself:

To believe that a final resolution of conflicts is eventually possible – even if it is seen as an asymptotic approach to the regulative idea of a rational consensus – far from providing the necessary horizon of a democratic project, is something that puts it at risk. Indeed, such an illusion carries implicitly the desire for a reconciled society where pluralism is superseded. When it is conceived in such a way, pluralist democracy becomes a “self-refuting ideal” because the very moment of its realization would coincide with its disintegration (Mouffe 2000, 32)

For Mouffe, pluralism and difference are themselves positive goods. They are something we should “valorize” and “be thankful for” (Mouffe 1993, 139). All attempts to “close” the democratic process are dangerous because conflicts and confrontations are the very essence of democracy:

One of the keys to the thesis of agonistic pluralism is that, far from jeopardizing democracy, agonistic confrontation is in fact its very condition of existence (Mouffe 2000, 103)

Of course, not any confrontation or conflict would do. Pure power-struggles between self-interested actors or clashes of forces between fanatical groups are not radical in the required sense. A radical agonist does not praise all conflicts. Democratic conflicts are, in a sense, always conflicts about democracy, about its content. They arise between principled and sincerely held views:

Without a plurality of competing forces which attempt to define the common good, and aim at fixing the identity of the community, the political articulation of the demos could not take place. (Mouffe, 2000, 56)

According to Mouffe, the existence of different genuinely competing conceptions is essential:

Ideally, such a confrontation should be staged around the diverse conceptions of citizenship which correspond to the different interpretations of the ethico-political principles: liberal-conservative, social-democratic, neo-liberal, radical-democratic, and so on. Each of them proposes its own interpretation of the ‘common good’… A well-functioning democracy calls for a vibrant clash of democratic political positions. (ibid.., 103-4)

Thus, Mouffe shares the idea that a dialectical conflict is fundamental for democracy. However, her own view remains thoroughly relativistic. No dialectical synthesis is possible. This makes her own position ambivalent. Obviously, all the proponents of the different democratic conceptions are expected to defend their own conception as true (correct, valid). Otherwise the views would not “clash”. The theorist of agonistic democracy appears here as a stage-master, as someone standing outside and above the confrontation. She knows that none of the protagonists playing their part in the democratic drama is actually defending the true view, for there cannot be any correct interpretation of the common good or the democratic basic principles – that was her starting point. Nevertheless, because the confrontation between different conceptions of citizenship and/or common good is the very condition of the existence of a working democracy, it is important that there are sufficiently many people around who sincerely hold these various convictions, however misguided they might be.

To conclude, Mouffe’s theory can be criticized by using the same form of argument she herself uses against Rawls and Habermas. The theory of agonistic democracy is self-defeating in the same way as the criticized theories are claimed to be. If all (or sufficiently many) citizens would actually accept the agonistic view that there are no justifiable solutions to the problems of justice and of common good, the essential agonism would disappear. In order to work, the agonistic democracy has to presuppose that most people do not share the agonist view. To put it in Hegelian terms, it presupposes a Lord-Bondsman –relationship.

For this reason, the agonistic theory cannot work as a basis for the self-understanding of those subjects who themselves participate in political struggles. In Mouffe, politics is divided dualistically into two realms. There is concrete politics, where hegemonic claims are made. This realm is conflictual, and its processes take place through a “struggle for recognition”. Then there is the realm of the observing theorist, who does not itself take part in the struggle for recognition. Instead, the external theorists just observes how the various “terms” such as “common good” become politically constructed within the various struggles. This agonistic democracy is possible only when most people continue to believe in something which, according to this theory, is actually impossible, a “necessary error”. I claim that my account does not have these paradoxical consequences. The rival parties are not simply clashing and struggling for hegemony. They may also recognize each others as legitimate rivals who are continuously needed as rivals, because only their continuous presence makes the process itself democratically legitimate.

Conclusion: distrust as the basis for trust

In modern western democracies people are expected to trust a political system which consists of a government and a contradicting, distrusting opposition. Acting and decision-executing government ought to be controlled and checked by an alert opposition, in Hegelian words an Other. The Other provides a necessary “look from the outside” which cannot be disposed of in order for the political system to be considered democratic. According to my analysis Hegel’s theory of the dialectics between the self and the Other, presented in Phenomenology of Spirit, supports this idea. Through it, it can be argued that any government which produces particular decisions, based on specifically circumscribed arguments and rationale (as governments always necessarily and rightfully do, in order not to give room for arbitrary governing) constitutes a “particular universe”. Particular universes carry within them an aspect of particular political subjectivity, democratic checking of which cannot be left to the hands of disengaged external controllers, like judges or experts. Instead, internal controlling of those Others who are fully engaged and fully affected by the governments decisions, is necessary, in order for not only some specific aspects of government (falling under the expertise of for example juridical experts) to be scrutinized. In order for the various inter-related aspects of the acting governments actions to be critically evaluated “from the outside”, the political realm of the outside opposition should not be diminished. The central and seemingly widely acknowledged reason why the existence of an institutionalized opposition is considered as the base for the legitimacy of the political system is that democratic changes in the substantive inside of the government takes place through the distrusting criticism, coming from the outside. The criticism comes from those who are inside the democratic society yet not under the pressure to consent to or comply with the government’s rationale, because of a joint membership in the present synthesis (unity) of the government. In fact, it is considered the ultimate role, even a democratic and ethical duty, of the opposition to look at the government from a critical distance.

The idea that an institutionalized and internal conflict (carried by an institutionalized distrust embodied in the opposition) is the source of general good and ethical life is a novel development. It challenges most of the traditional political theories which considered conflict as a potentially dangerous defect, feared to lead into disorder or possibly even to a violent disintegration or fragmentation of the political body. The important idea in the internal conflict and its capacity to give legitimacy to the political system, lies in the fact that through the dialectics between the government and opposition, things concerning “all” (the present synthesis, unity or “substance” of the state, shown as positive laws, institutions, distribution of material resources and so forth) is in a constant democratic process and under critical ethical evaluation “from the internal outside”.

I have argued that an organized distrust, in the form of opposition, is the fundamental source of trust in democratic societies, and that this paradoxical unity of trust and distrust can be conceived in terms of the dialectics of Hegel’s early philosophy. Would this kind of view help us to understand any real-life political phenomena? Let me conclude this essay with an example. An example of a political community which is often said to suffer from a “democracy deficit” is the European Union. One possible reason why the EU is perceived as undemocratic is the absence of a recognized government-opposition dimension. The Commission is officially an “apolitical” government of technocrats, while in the European Parliament the majorities are built on issue-by-issue basis. While the Parliament is constituted in a democratic way – by free and equal elections – the lack of a responsible government and of an organized opposition which would channel the distrust is the main cause of the perceived “deficit”. According to my hypothesis, the low turnout in the elections of the Parliament and the increasing scepticism and even cynicism towards the Union itself reflects this problem. The Euro-citizens, in Finland for example, are not convinced that the power-holders within the Union have really deserved their power in a meaningful, democratically dialectical process. Without an opposition, this distrust may take a malign form.

 

 

References

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Barker, E. 1942. Reflections on Government, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barker, E. 1951. Principles of Social & Political Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Benhabib, S. 1994. Deliberative Rationality and Models of Democratic Legitimacy. Constellations 1. 2652.

Cohen, J. 1989. Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy. In A. Hamlin and P. Pettit (eds.) The Good Polity. Oxford: Blackwell, 1734.

Habermas, J. 1996. Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy. Tr. W. Rehg, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press

Hegel, G. W. F. 1974. Philosophien des Rechts nach der Vorlesungsnachschrift K. G. von Griesheims 1824/25. In K.-H. Ilting (ed.) G.W.F. Hegel: Vorlesungen über Rechtsphilosophie 1818-1831. Vol. 4. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog.

Hegel, G. W. F. 1977. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A. V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [1807]

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Locke, J. 1988. Two Treatises of Government. Ed. P. Laslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [1689]

Mouffe, C. 1993. The Return of the Political. London: Verso.

Mouffe, C. 2000. The Democratic Paradox. London: Verso.

Mouffe, C. 2005. On the Political. London: Routledge.

Roman-Lagerspetz, S. 2009. Striving for the Impossible. The Hegelian background of Judith Butler. Acta Politica 16. Department of Political Science, University of Helsinki

Rosanvallon, P. 2006. Democracy Past and Future. Ed. S. Moyn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rousseau, J.-J. 1973. The Social Contract and Discourses. Ed. and tr. G. D. H. Cole. London: Dent.

Schmitt, C. 1985. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. Tr. E. Kennedy. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press. [1923]

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From Pericles to Plato – from democratic political praxis to totalitarian political philosophy

 

  1. From democratic praxis to totalitarian political philosophy

It is my thesis that political philosophy has its historical origin in democratic praxis and government in the democratic city-state Athens and that it is taken over by sceptics and anti-democratic critics like Plato. The consequence is a break between democratic praxis and antidemocratic political philosophy that has lasted until our day where the global dominance of democracy is taken to force a reconsideration of the inner relation between democracy and political philosophy (Roberts 1994: 6 ff.; Castoriadis 1997: 227).

In the following I want to consider this thesis. I will first consider Plato’s political philosophy as it has been formulated in his Republic from around 380 and second I will consider Pericles’ funeral oration from 430 as an example of the existence of a democratic political philosophical alternative that was grounded in the democratic praxis of Athens.

  1. The origin of political philosophy in the democratic city-state Athens

Democracy is a form of government that was invented and developed in the Greek city states, first and foremost in Athens. Democracy is first named around 472 in Aeschylus’ The Suppliants (Aeschylus 1970: 102, line 604). The word ‘democracy’ consists etymologically of the word demos, which means the broad population or the people, and kratos, which means power (Aeschylus 1980: 490 – 492; Ehrenberg 1965: 266, 270 – 272). The two words together form the word democracy, which can be translated as the exercise of power in the polis, the city, by the people (Larsen 1990: 15 ff.).

It is significant from a historical perspective that democratic governments have many different forms from antiquity to our times and the historian therefore has a tendency to emphasize these differences instead of the similarities (Vidal-Naquet 1990: 121 ff.; Hansen 2005: 41 ff.; Hansen 2010: 15 ff.).

From another perspective, the different forms of democratic government all share a concern about what should be understood by democracy and whether the given form of government is a real democracy. This discussion raises the question of the validity or the legitimacy of the concrete instantiation of democratic government. This perspective or discussion was conceptualized as philosophy or more specific political philosophy. It is in the Greek democratic city-state that political philosophy has its origin and became determinant for how we discuss modern democracy as well.

From a historical perspective, political philosophy can at best be regarded as a form of ideology (Hansen 2005: 46 ff.; Hansen 2010: 39) because the historian does not accept a political philosophical concept of truth, whatever it might consist in. The historian thus has a tendency to bypass the fact that democracy can only persist by being permanently determined as valid or legitimate. Political philosophy has a definite practical significance in its function of raising the discussion about what ought to be regarded as the right, or, at least from a pragmatic perspective, the best, government and what could be the basis of such a government. This discussion was already raised in the democratic city-state Athens and it continues to our day.

  1. Plato’s political philosophy and the contempt for democracy in the political philosophical tradition

Plato is regarded as one of the founders of political philosophy and many will even say that he is the real founder in so far as Plato’s work is so monumental and forms a beginning where even Aristotle is a scholar of Plato. It is not at least Plato’s Republic that has had a definitive significance as one of the fundamental works in the political philosophical tradition.

Plato’s Republic has been read in many ways but one common distinctive feature in the many readings is that Plato regards philosophy as a special way of thinking that is connected with a special insight that the political leader in the aristocratic republic should have. It is only by this insight that the leader is able to lead in a way that is superior to the leadership that is dominated by desire, which was the case in timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny – the forms of government that Plato brings on concept, describes and criticizes in the Republic (Plato 1970: 545c ff.).

In this perspective, philosophy is elevated over the concrete political fight in the city-state. Philosophy has a special insight which can classify different forms of politics and government in a hierarchical organized history of decline where democracy is surpassed only by tyranny as the worst form of government (Plato 1970: 564a).

This understanding of democracy has not been seriously problematised in the later history of philosophy until recent time. Certainly, Aristotle has formulated a different schema where he poses a contrast between three good forms of government and three bad forms of government: kingdom versus tyranny, aristocracy versus oligarchy, republic (politeia) versus democracy (Aristotle 1977: 1279b 6 ff.). Aristotle regarded also democracy as a deviation or a form of decline.

When we are looking at the later history of philosophy, we find only very few who are emphasizing democratic government like Locke, Rousseau, Madison and Jefferson. But many others like Hobbes, Kant and Hegel did not prefer the democratic form of government. Here one might also mention Karl Marx; although he was one of the significant theorists and leaders in the socialist movement, he did not emphasize democracy. In so far as society was a class society, he could not believe that democracy had an essential role to play.

John Stuart Mill is one of the first who in Considerations on Representative Government from 1861 emphasizes representative democracy as the best form of government for big modern states, where it is not possible to meet in a popular assembly as in the ancient democratic city-states (Mill 1991: 55 – 80). For Mill, the difference between direct and representative democracy is a merely practical matter and has no principled significance (Mill 1991: 80).

It is first in the beginning of the 20th century that political philosophers and sociologist more generally begin to emphasize a form of government with certain advantages (Durkheim, Weber, Schumpeter) or even as a good form of government (Dewey), and it is first after the Second World War that we find serious discussions dominated by the perspective of democracy as the best form of government (Popper, Rawls, Habermas and many others). This corresponds to Mogens Herman Hansen’s periodisation when he emphasizes that democracy first became a positive concept after 1850 and finally became the dominant positive concept of government in the 20th century (Hansen 2005: 47).

  1. Democracy as the new hermeneutical perspective

Just after the Second World War, Karl Popper was one of the first who pointed at this in The Open Society and its Enemies where he claims that the fundamental problem in western political philosophy is that the totalitarian way of thinking has had primacy over the idea of the open democratic society (Popper 1962 a; 1962 b). From this perspective, Plato derailed the political philosophical discussion that was taking place in the democratic city-state of Athens, an event of great significance for the development of the main topics in the political philosophical tradition.

This derailment raises the question what we in modern democratic society should understand by political philosophy and especially how we should understand Plato’s Republic, which is where political philosophy, first off all, is grounded.

One possibility could be in a banal way to pass over Plato and maybe even a large part of the political philosophical tradition. This is also what is partly done in political science, where political philosophy does not play any significant role for empirical research in so far as facts are taken to be more relevant than broader hermeneutical justifications. However, there can be good reasons to hold on to political philosophy because political life in a democratic society constantly raises value-oriented political-philosophical problems that ought to be taken up as a challenge for empirical political science. Here it becomes evident that political philosophy has its origin in the democratic city-state and especially Athens and that we in a conceptual, theoretical and substantial sense are totally dependent on the formation and discussion of political-philosophical concepts in the schools of ancient Athens (Ober 1994: 154 ff.). From a democratic perspective, there are so many similarities that it is possible to speak about a unity between the ancient Greek and the modern political-philosophical discussion (Kagan 1990: 5 ff.; Ober 1994: 171; Ober & Hedrick 1996: 3 ff.; Wallace 1996: 105 ff.).

The consequence is that we have to find a strategy that gives us the possibility of maintaining democracy as our hermeneutical perspective which can be applied in the interpretation of Plato’s Republic as well.

This should not be understood to say that Plato’s critique of democracy should not be essential. On the contrary, Plato’s critique of democracy suggests fundamental and unavoidable political-philosophical problems in the democratic form of governance, and these should be discussed. The problem in Plato’s critique is that democracy as mentioned is situated in a totalitarian perspective of declining forms of government, where aristocracy, timocracy and oligarchy are regarded as better forms of government than democracy. We must not forget that timocracy translated to modern language is a form of totalitarian military dictatorship and oligarchy a government of the few wealthy people. From a democratic perspective, such forms of government were as unacceptable in Plato’s time as they are today.

The problem is that Plato’s political-philosophical hermeneutic perspective is grounded in an ideal of a city-state, politeia. As a counterpoint, it is necessary to create another hermeneutical perspective while Plato’s Republic is at the same time acknowledged as an essential work for the discussion of the political-philosophical problems in the antique democratic city-state and the modern democracy as well.

In other words, it is not possible to follow Plato in all his construction of the political-philosophical architecture such as it is to be found in the Republic, where he moves from the primitive city-state to the constitution of the ideal city-state, aristocracy, which forms the point of departure for the critique of the other forms of government in decline. There is an inner logic in this construction, one that cannot simply be reconstructed as an opening to a political philosophical dialogue about democracy. Plato’s Republic stands as a political philosophical monument; it is a fort that can only be hermeneutically conquered through a new reading strategy where we do not follow Plato’s construction but on the contrary try to deconstruct Plato’s politeia. There is with other words a need for a deconstruction of all Plato’s enormous construction of politeia with the aim to get in contact with the fundamental problematic in Plato’s philosophy that is relevant for the discussion of antique and modern democracy.

  1. Plato’s way from democratic politics to political philosophy

As an introduction to this deconstruction, it is essential to remark on the dialogical form of the Republic. The dialogical form is the political form of democracy and therefore the reader gets the immediate impression that the Republic must be related to democracy. This impression becomes strengthened because Plato lets Socrates be the proper narrator in the Republic. We know very little about the historical Socrates, but the few sources we have tell us that Socrates was one of the many that walked around at the Athenian agora and discussed the political problems in the city state (Larsen 1990: 35 ff.). Socrates is described as the person who poses questions rather than giving answers. In this way Socrates took part in the public political discussion in the democratic city-state. It is this political discussion that Plato gives a philosophical form. This can be seen as a formative transformation of Socrates’s lively critical outspoken questioning in the political discussion in the agora in Athens to a positive written formulation of a political philosophy in dialogical form in the Republic (Larsen 1990: 53 ff.).

When we start to read the Republic, we immediately become uncertain about what we are dealing with. The reader is presented with a discussing and lecturing Socrates in dialogue with Adeimantus, Glaucon, Cephalus, Polemarchus, Thrasymachus and several other persons. But who is the discussant Socrates and where is Plato in the dialogue? Is it the historical Socrates who speaks in the dialogues or is Socrates a marionette or spokesman for Plato? Plato does not give any explanation in the Republic or in his other dialogues (Roberts 1994: 72 ff.).

However, in Plato’s letters we can get an impression of the historical content of the formative transformation of Socrates’ living political discussion in the agora to the positive philosophical written discourse in Plato’s dialogues. It is here, especially in Plato’s Seventh Letter to Dion’s relatives and friends that is of interest (Platon 1991c: 323d – 352b). Dion (409 – 354) belonged to the dominant old family in Syracuse on Sicily who Plato visited in 389 – 388, 366 – 365 and 361 – 360. Dion was father-in-law and brother-in-law to Dionysius the Younger who governed in Syracuse 367 – 355 and 346 – 344 and who Plato tried without success to educate to be the philosopher king he had described in the Republic.

The authenticity of the letter has been discussed but it is a widely held among classical philologist that nothing speaks against the authenticity of the source and that it can therefore be used as a historical source (Raven 1965: 25 f.; Gadamer 1985: 249; Larsen 1990: 54; Castoriadis 2002: 121).

At the beginning of the Seventh Letter, Plato presents his understanding of the transformation from politics to philosophy (Platon 1991c: 324b – 326b; Gadamer 1985: 249 ff.). It is essential to make this transformation clear because the key to Plato’s political philosophy should be found here (Ober 1998: 162 ff.). According to the letter, as young man Plato defined the aim of his life as a participation in the public affairs of the city-state, fulfilling the ideal of the son of a citizen with high status. This life perspective collapsed for Plato because of the political events in Athens which he interpreted through the life and death of Socrates.

What characterizes Socrates according to Plato is his righteousness. It is this righteousness that first brought Socrates into conflict with the thirty oligarch’s tyranny in the year 404 – 403 and, later on, with the democrats who ultimately charged him by the people’s court and finally executed him in 399. Plato interprets these events to mean that those at the head of affairs were no longer guided by traditional morals and that the written laws and traditions had lost their significance. In this way, the Seventh Letter expresses a deep political existential crisis in Plato’s life where Plato’s fundamental understanding of life in the city-state collapses.

This is the reason Plato decides to reconstruct the city state in an ideal philosophical form, which he calls ‘the right philosophy’. Plato will with the right philosophy give an account of what is just, both in the city-state and for the single citizen. What follows is that it must be the people who have this insight in the right that should govern the city-state or eventually that it should be the people that govern the city-state who should acquire this insight.

The interesting thing here is that there is no positive mediation between the collapse of Plato’s existential understanding of the city-state and the formulation of the positive political philosophy. Plato identifies all this political-existential collapse figuratively with the judgment and the execution of Socrates who becomes the form through which the new political philosophy can be formulated in the written dialogue. Herewith Plato gets the possibility to formulate his political philosophy in the dialogical form of the democratic city-state at the same time as the content of this philosophy is a trenchant critique of democracy as a form of governance. Plato’s anti-democratic political philosophy is veiled as democratic through the formal form of dialogue that only could and only can take place in a democratic state. Plato’s political philosophy thus gets its place in the democratic city-state just as its content is turned against the democratic city-state’s inherent philosophical problems and institutional arrangements (Monoson 1994: 185 ff.).

In the dialogue Gorgias, Socrates discusses with Gorgias, Polus and Callicles. Socrates starts with a critique of Athen’s great politicians, first of all Pericles (Platon 1991a: 515b ff.). Socrates’s main question is whether the great politicians have had the good as ground for their politics and whether they on this ground have had as the only aim to make the Athenians as good as possible: Have the Athenians really been ameliorated by Pericles? Have the Athenians not, on the contrary, been brought into depravation such as it has been told that Pericles made the Athenians lazy, cowardly, chatty, and money-grubbing, because he instituted payment for holding a public office? (Platon 1991a: 515e).

These critical questions go to the root of the Athenian democracy because payment for public offices was a necessary precondition to ensure that all citizens, not at least citizens with limited means, could participate in the political institutions of the city-state (Euben 1994: 202 ff.). The oligarchs regarded this arrangement as the final decline of the city-state that the citizens should be paid for participating in the political life (Dodds 1959: 357).

In contradiction to this arrangement, Socrates poses himself – as Plato’s spokesman – as the only Athenian who tries to preserve true statesmanship (t? a?th?s politik? tekhn?), and the only one who transforms it in practical politics by always taking the best (to beltiston) into consideration and never merely pleasantness (to h?diston) (Platon 1991a: 521d).

Herewith, the contradiction is brought to its extreme between on the one hand the leading Athenian democrats with Pericles in front and on the other hand Plato with Socrates as spokesman. Socrates is according to Plato the only representative for the true statesmanship which is a profession (tekhn?), namely, political philosophy as a tekhn? building on insight into the good (Platon 1991a: 521d). In this way, Socrates becomes the only one who puts political philosophical tekhn? into practical politics, the philosophy Plato in the Seventh Letter named ‘the right philosophy’. This is the fundamental contradiction that is developed in the entire Republic.

  1. Republic – From totalitarian political philosophy to antidemocratic political ideology

At first it is not useful to go into details to determine whether Plato is right in his critique of democracy. The problem lies in the general construction of political philosophy. Under cover of democratically formed dialogue, Plato, with Socrates as his spokesman, constructs the ideal city-state in a long monologue. It is hierarchically constructed with three classes, namely, the leaders with insight, the soldiers with courage and the artisans with sober-mindedness where the right order between classes is determined as justice (Platon 1991b: 432b – 435d). The leaders of the city-state should keep desire under control. This should be done by living promiscuously instead of having a wife and children in one family, by not having any property and by being maintained by the third class or estate (Platon 1991b: 450b – 461d). The coming leaders, finally, should be educated through a long philosophical education which should give them an insight in justice (dikaiosyn?) and virtue or the ability to exercise the good government (Platon 1991b: 444d). The ideal city-state is called a kingdom when it has a single leader, and an aristocracy, which means the government of the best, when it is governed by the few (Platon 1991b: 445d).

This ideal, however, appears to be a perverted ideal model of a city-state which in modern language is governed by something like a combination of consistent rationalized technocracy and a military dictatorship. Plato uses the so-called aristocratic form of government as a platform for criticizing the four known forms of government: timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. It stated in advance that aristocracy is not only a good but also the only and incomparable best form of government, which stands in contradiction to all the other forms of government. If the aristocracy is the right form of government, all the other forms of government must be wrong.

Unfortunately, it is not so easy to reject Plato’s critique of the different forms of government. Plato presents a sharp and precise critique of the four mentioned forms of government, not at least of democracy where the problem of freedom is discussed. Since all forms of government are exposed to a sharp critique, it becomes difficult for the democratic-minded reader to reject the critique as irrelevant. The reader can even come to the conclusion that the Republic is a magnificent philosophical work, which is of course the dominant opinion in the history of philosophy.

However, the problem in Plato’s critique is that, if we accept the critique, it follows that we should also accept the premise of the critique. We must then abandon dialogue because the selected leaders have raised themselves, through their insight, above the dialogue with the many who, according to Plato’s allegory of the cave, have not understood anything (Platon 1991b: 514 ff.).

If the reader does not accept the ideal aristocratic state at the outset, he can assume the political realistic perspective and move further on in the historically well known forms for government. Here we meet, first, timocracy, which is signified as the second best form of government after the kingdom or aristocracy. In modern English usage, this could be determined as a form of military dictatorship while it in the ancient context is most similar to the form of government in the city-state Sparta, what Plato also explicit mentions (Platon 1991b: 544c).

For the democratic minded reader this form of government is not acceptable. He can therefore choose to go on in Plato’s hierarchy of governments to the oligarchy where the few have government by means of their fortune. This model is neither acceptable.

This brings us to democracy where the problem, according to Plato, is that all on equal footing are obsessed with unrestrained freedom and no one has the necessary philosophical qualifications to relate to it. What Plato does not mention is that it is only in the democratic city-state that there is developed a genuine political philosophy through the open and public discussion in the city-state and that all this political-philosophical discussion focuses on the concept of freedom and what follows of it (Hansen 1996: 91 ff.). Plato’s political philosophy is in itself a testimony to open discussion in the democratic city-state. It is not developed in the city-state Sparta he praises but in Athens whose democracy he criticizes (Popper 1962a: 198 – 201).

Plato has a point in his critique of the handling of freedom in the democratic city state. It was a problem how freedom should be handled in the same way as it is a problem in a modern democracy. The excessive desire for freedom leads according to Plato to the dissolution of any authority (Jones 1957: 44 ff.). The examples Plato emphasizes are so ironic and living that they could have been examples taken out of our own time such as the dissolution of the authority in the relation between children and their parents, between teacher and pupil, etc. (Platon 1991b: 562e – 563e). In this connection Plato has also some grotesque and humorous descriptions when he makes ironic remarks about freedom that gains ground overall, even among domestic animals where horses and donkeys have been so conscious of freedom and self-confident that they push against everyone who is standing in their way (Platon 1991b: 563c). In the middle of the irony and the grotesque, Plato asserts that freedom in the democratic city-state only deserves critique.

  1. Popper: How can we organize the political institutions so that bad or incompetent leaders can be prevented from doing too much damage?

On this background, it could be a temptation to recognize Plato’s critique but in that case there is only the possibility in Plato’s universe to move upwards in the hierarchy of forms of government to an oligarchy, a timocracy or an aristocracy. But neither of these forms of government is acceptable and we therefore lack a passage from Plato’s critique to an open discussion of how the problems Plato has pointed at should be understood in a democratic philosophical perspective and how they eventually could be handled in praxis. The reader is enclosed in Plato’s hierarchy where there is no way up the ladder because the one form of government is worse than the other and where there is also no way down, where one man’s tyranny is the only possibility. In short, there is from a democratic perspective no possibility to maneuver in the political philosophical universe of hierarchical forms of government. The reader is enclosed in this philosophical construct which thereafter, as mentioned, is presented as an open philosophical universe which is supported by the Socratic and the democratic deliberation, two sides of the same coin.

On this background, it will be right to characterize Plato’s political philosophy such as it has been presented in the Republic as a totalitarian political philosophy which from a democratic perspective is pointing toward some political philosophical choices where neither of them is acceptable because neither of them satisfy the fundamental democratic oriented demand to every form of government that it as a reflexive relation should be open for discussion.

That is not all that can be said, however. Plato is not only a political philosopher in Athens. He is also exactly what he characterize Socrates as, namely, a statesman or a politician, and he may have considered himself to be that outstanding statesman who had the insight everybody else lacked. This is Popper’s opinion: “Plato speaks here of himself” (Popper 1962a: 154). If this is the case, either Plato becomes at best a philosopher king in his political-philosophical hierarchy or, at worst, a philosophically seductive tyrant.

Popper’s fundamental critique of Plato in The Open Society and its Enemies is that Plato presents a closed universe where the essential thing is who with more or less insight should govern such as it is represented in Plato’s hierarchy of forms of government (Popper 1962a: 121). In contrast Popper claims with a reference to Stuart Mill’s mentioned Considerations on Representative Government that the essential question is not “who should govern” but that political leaders in all forms of political regimes, included democracy, potentially are dangerous and that the right question on that background is: “How can we so organize political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too much damage” (Popper 1962a: 121). It is in extension of this question that Popper points at democracy, not because democracy in its positive determined sense should be the good form of government but on the contrary because democracy does not have this positive determination and therefore permanently has to be determined or legitimized and therefore contains the potential for a permanent critique of any political leader or any form of government.

It is therefore not that case that Popper rejects Plato’s critique of democracy’s tendency to let freedom become unrestrained. However, this was not Popper’s urgent problem when he during the Second World War was sitting as political refugee in New Zealand writing against the totalitarian Nazis and fascist regimes that dominated Europe and the rest of the world. Plato’s political philosophy is from Popper’s perspective totalitarian because it is, like in the allegory of the cave (Platon 1991b: 514a ff.), grounded on the idea that a single or some few persons should be able to reach an insight that all others are excluded from and that this insight thereupon should be able to legitimize the power that these few persons – kings, aristocrats and philosophers – without contradiction should rule over all others in the city-state.

In Popper’s perspective, Plato’s political philosophy can only be characterized as totalitarian whose significance in all its greatness is being worthy of critique because it is inevitable and therefore only can be bypassed with critique. In that sense Plato’s Republic can open an interesting discussion about the democratic city-state and of our modern democracy and in that sense can Plato’s political philosophy still have an inestimable significance for its critiques. Plato’s philosophy is unavoidable; it stimulates political-philosophical discussion to this day. In this connection it is, as a hermeneutical opening to Plato’s political philosophy, worth remembering that Plato not only was a philosopher, he was also a politician and political ideologue – a strong antidemocratic political ideologue in the democratic city-state Athens.

  1. Sophism and tragedy – The sophist’s political philosophy and the tragedy at the theatre as critical reflexive institutions in the antique democracy in Athens

Herewith has the question been raised: what is the alternative to Plato? From a hermeneutical perspective, it is not enough to exercise critique of the antecedent philosophers. The philosophers must first of all be seen in their own time and in their own social and cultural context. Here it is interesting that there is an alternative to Plato, namely the democratic city-state itself with its many cultural and philosophical expressions. In the Republic, Plato turned against all that which we in the light of history see as the great and sublime in the golden age of Athens which is connected to democracy. It lasted with short interruptions from its introduction with Cleisthenes in 507 until 322 where it was turned down by the Macedonians. It is in this relatively short period that democracy becomes developed as a form of government and that there is created the political, military, artistic, architectonic and philosophical institutions that in their unity form the democratic city-state. The summary of this form of government is that it is open. Herewith is meant that the last determinations of the city-state concerning government and social life always is standing to discussion.

It is in this context that philosophy arises as a big living discussion of the fundamental problems in Athens. It is here first of all the sophists that start the philosophical discussions in their teaching of the sons and young men in the Athenian upper class. Some of the sophists are known such as Protagoras (490 – 420), Gorgias (485 – 380), Prodicus (470 – 400) and Hippias (480 – 410), also because they are mentioned in Plato’s dialogues, but there has been ´many others. The sophist have through Plato got a bad reputation as seducers, deniers of truth and strategic rhetoricians and this reputation has been passed on through all the history of philosophy because there as mentioned was no understanding of the fundamental background of philosophy in democracy. From a cultural sociological perspective, Socrates and Plato belong to the same typology as the sophist. They are, from a sociological perspective, only different forms of philosophical schools responding in different ways on the open democratic form of government. When Plato claims that philosophy is something totally different compared to sophism, this can only be understood as a part of his anti-democratic rhetoric where he will repress that it is precisely in the democratic city-state that a living philosophical discussion is taking place.

The other big institution is the theatre, which challenges and emphasizes the reflexivity of life and politics in the democratic city-state. Here we have the three great dramatist Aeschylus (525 – 456), Sophocles (495 – 406) and Euripides (485 – 406) who created the Greek tragedy. It is first of all through the tragedy that substantial individual and common conflicts and dilemmas have been brought to reflection in the broad population in the democratic city-state. But in the Republic, Euripides and the other tragedians are related to tyranny and democracy and they should be forbidden to enter city-states with higher-ranking constitutions such as oligarchy, timocracy and aristocracy. In the Republic it is even said that the poets pass from town to town, letting eminent actors with winning and euphonious voices present their plays for the mob and that they in this way mislead the city-states step by step toward tyranny and democracy (Platon 1991b: 568a-d).

  1. Pericles’ funeral oration – the democratic alternative to the totalitarian political philosophy

Plato’s main adversary is Pericles (495 – 429), who is the great leader of democracy in Athens and who Plato see as the person before all others who has contributed to the decline of Athens such as Plato had experienced it (Rhodes 2010: 59 ff.).

Pericles’s speech in the popular assembly has never been published but Thucydides has a reproduction of the famous funeral oration for the fallen in the first year of The Peloponnesian War 431 – 404 (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXIV, 1 – XLVII, 1). In Pericles funeral oration, we find a positive and idealized reproduction of democracy in Athens which in any sense constitute a counterpoint not only in relation to Plato’s critique of democracy but also in relation to all Plato’s political philosophy such as it is presented in the Republic (Loraux 1981: 183 ff.). It is the dominating opinion among philologists that Thucydides’s reception of the funeral oration in all essentiality can be led back to Pericles and therefore can be used as a historical source (Sicking 1995: 404 – 425; Bosworth 2000: 1-16).

In Pericles’s edition of democracy, it is freedom which is presented before all other things as the foundation of the democratic city-state – just as Plato also is pointing at and criticizes in the Republic. Pericles makes a clear distinction between private and public life (Thunderbird 1967: Livre II, XXXVII, 1). The individual citizen should as a private person follow the city-states laws, but apart from that, the city-state should be governed by tolerance and every person should have the right to live in a way which he finds appropriate for himself. In contrast, public life is about doing the good for the benefit of the city-state (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXVII, 2).

In the democratic city-state, pleasure and joy is according to Pericles high evaluated. There are festive competitions in the city, beauty and pleasure has significance in the public and the private life, and there is a rich business with other states that gives access to all the worlds’ commodities (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXVIII).

In military practice, the democratic city-state is according to Pericles an open city where all can see what happens and where nothing is hidden for enemies because military strength not only builds on preparation and strategies but also on individual strength and the ability to exercise judgment in the situation (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXIX, 1). This personal ability is according to Pericles related to the education with a free training where the personality is educated to easily act on his own judgment in the concrete situation, contrary to the Spartan who is only able to make war with military discipline and who has no personal courage (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXIX, 2).

The citizen who does not take part in the public life of the city-state is according to Pericles useless. The public discussion takes place in the city-state in which all problems can be deliberated in common before action (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXX, 3). In this way the Athenians are, according to Pericles, able with greater boldness to make a plan, because the largest inner strength is to be found by those who recognize both the horrifying and the pleasant and on that background does not fall back before the danger. In this context the Athenians should not according to Pericles be afraid of helping others instead of awaiting help from others (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXX, 4).

Pericles presentation of the democratic city-state has a philosophical ground. Pericles says that “we are cultivating the beautiful in simplicity without resorting to the bombastic” (philokaloum?n te gar met’euteleias) (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXX, 1). Herewith is meant that the beautiful is subordinated an aesthetic judgment which the Athenians are able to pronounce (Kakridis 1961: 47 ff.; Castoriadis 1997: 287 f.; Castoriadis 2008: 163 ff.). In the same way Pericles presents also a moral criteria for practice which is expressed as follows: “we take the philosophical deliberation serious without losing the determination (philosophoumen aneu malakias)” (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXX, 1). This means that the Athenians are able to integrate the philosophical perspective, deliberation, and to let this deliberation be the ground for a decision and the following action (Kakridis 1961: 47 ff.; Castoriadis 1997: 287 f.; Castoriadis 2008: 163 ff.). This aesthetic, moral and practical deliberation gives the Athenians the possibility to take care of both their private affairs in the house (oikos) and the public affairs in the city-state (polis) with insight (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXX, 2).

Pericles’s conclusion is, that “Athens is a mentor for the rest of Hellas” and Athens is the city where each single citizen autonomously in one person can unite the most forms of practice with a versatile happiness in life’s beauty (Thucydides 1967: Livre II, XXXXI, 1).

It should be clear that Pericles’s funeral oration expresses many essential features of the democratic city-state. It applies both to the private freedom to live and act as desired and to the public freedom to deliberate together with citizens about the common affairs, commonly to establish the laws for the city and participate in the united warfare. This should all be done by developing the practical, the aesthetic and the moral sense, that is the philosophy which according to Pericles is included in every life situation.

Pericles’s funeral oration should have been kept around 430 and Plato’s Republic should have been written around 380. Historically, Pericles’ funeral speech is prior to Plato’s Republic, but it is also in a philosophical sense prior in the way that it is Pericles and in a broader sense the democratic city-state Athens that poses the agenda that Plato criticize fifty years later. According to Karl Popper, Plato’s critique of democracy is both an expression of a totalitarian political program and a totalitarian political philosophy (Popper 1962a: 86 ff.). Today, it should no longer be possible to maintain Plato’s hermeneutical political-philosophical perspective on democracy in Athens. The hermeneutic perspective should be turned around. It is Pericles and the democracy in Athens that are prior to the totalitarian critique of democracy. However, this is not the end of the reading of Plato. In fact, it has only just begun – and it should continue as a further deconstruction of Plato’s totalitarian political philosophy and practice – and in a further perspective it should continue in a deconstructive reading of all forms of totalitarian political philosophy.

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Rhodes, P. J. (2010): A History of the Classical Greek World 478 – 323 BC, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Roberts, Jennifer Tolbert (1994): Athens on Trial – The Antidemocratic Tradition in Western Thought, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Sicking, C. M. J. (1995): “The General Purport of Pericles’ Funeral Oration and Last Speech”, Hermes – Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie, Vol. 123, Hefte 4, s. 404 – 425.

Thucydide (1967): La guerre du Péloponnèse, Livre II, Paris: Société d’édition “Les belles lettres”.

Vidal-Naquet, Pierre (1990): “Platon, l’histoire et les historiens” i Pierre Vidal-Naquet, La démocratie grecque vue d’ailleurs, Paris: Flammarion, s. 121 -137.

Wallace, Robert W. (1996): “Law and the Concept of Citizens’ Rights in Democratic Athens” i Josiah Ober & Charles Hedrick, D?mokratia – A Conversation on Democracies, Ancient and Modern, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, s. 105 – 119.

Cornelius Castoriadis: A Society Adrift. Interviews & Debates 1974-1997 (translated by Helen Arnold; New York: Fordham University Press, 2010)

In the decades of “Socialisme ou Barbarie”, Castoriadis moved away form Marxist theory and further developed his powerful criticism of the Soviet Union, which he categorized as a bureaucratic party state and eventually a state defined by “stratocracy”, rather than a socialist one. In the beginning of the 1970s he became a French citizen, whilst also quitting his position as an economist at the OECD.

Still he was very active in shifts and turns of the political struggle and in addition to formal written and published texts, some of his important contributions were given in occasional papers and interviews. A selection of these occasional papers and interviews from this period of Castoriadis’ life are published in the book reviewed hereby, A Society Adrift. This is an English translation of the book, which was published originally in French, following a complex editorial affaire caused by the issuing of competing anonymous open-access online translations of Castoriadis’ writings.

The book is divided into two parts. The first one deals with Castoriadis’ basic concepts or problématique, such as the concepts of “autonomy” or the “Project of Autonomy” and “Imaginary significations”. In this part there is also a long interview and revealing reflection from 1974 on the period of “Socialism ou Barbarie”, entitled “Why I am no longer a Marxist”. In the second part of the book there are interviews and texts were his problématique is applied to specific issues.

All in all the collection of texts and the book structure give a comprehensive overview of part of Castoriadis’ career, especially the period after “Socialisme ou Barbarie” had been dissolved. As the editors of the book state in their introduction to the French edition, the book can serve a double purpose. On the one hand it can be a useful guide for those who encounter for the first time Castoriadis’ writings and ideas. On the other hand the book can also serve as a “handy résumé” of Castoriadis’ positions and stands on different issues. For both these purposes there is a useful addition to the texts themselves, because the book has a special chapter comprising an extensive chronology and bio-bibliography, which greatly facilitates the understanding of the context of the different publications and relates them to important facts in Castoriadis’ life. This adds greatly to the value of the book. By the same token, the editors’ note to the French edition and a good deal of their footnotes is very beneficial.

The publication of this collection of texts by Cornelius Castoriadis is in itself a worthy enterprise at any time. To publish it immediately following a major financial collapse in western liberal democracies, which Castoriadis dubbed “liberal oligarchies”, shows indeed an exceptionally good timing. The awakening of the public interest in politics and the general participation of common people in all sorts of protests and discussion on how to rebuild society is in essence an exercise in democratic thinking. It is an exercise in direct and participatory democracy. It questions the representative democracy that has been a “democracy” without “democrats”, leading to the withdrawal of citizens from public affairs, which Castoriadis criticized.

The concepts of the “project of autonomy” and also the notion of the “Imaginary significations” are in fact an interesting framework for the analysis of the present situation in western liberal democracies. They can become a meaningful contribution to the diverse discussion and understanding that is to be found in the wide variety of grass-root and protest movements calling for democracy, democratic participation and the democratic reconstruction of society.

Castoriadis has something to offer present-day radicals. He produces a general theoretical framework that emphasises autonomy in the sense that both individuals and society are aware that they themselves are the continuous creators of laws and regulations of society through direct democracy. But in doing so he also points out to the new radical generation that the answers are not to be found in some external forces, be they liberal phrases like the “rule of law”, the “market economy” or totalitarian conceptions of historical necessity of some sort.

The publication of Castoriadis’ texts and interviews in the book A Society Adrift is thus a well-timed and interesting enterprise. The book itself and its cover are a nice artefact of about 260 pages: the 1926 painting of the Dadaist George Grosz, “Eclipse of the Sun”, is a very fitting picture on the book’s cover!

Christian Joerges and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann (eds.), Constitutionalism: Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law (Hart Publishing: Studies in International Trade Law, 2011)

The overarching approach, as pioneered by the two editors, Christian Joerges and Ernst-Ulrich Petersmann, is to examine the practices of States and other international actors (principally the WTO) and explores these within the political and legal theory of constitutionalism. Where this work differs from much of the comparable scholarship on international economic law is the central place reserved for the individual as a key player (and beneficiary) of international economic relations. Much scholarship exists on international trade from States’ perspectives; and much has been devoted to exploring the contradictions and tensions between international economic law, individual rights and sustainable development. Recognizing that “human rights law and international trade law evolved as separate legal regimes” (p. 17) Constitutionalism, Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law makes a positive case for interpreting international economic law and international human rights as complimentary systems that ought to be brought closer together; indeed, to form a single, coherent system of law. It is an implicit response to concerns about the fragmentation of international law and reflects the classical principle of interpretation of treaties as codified in the Vienna Convention in the Law of Treaties 1969 that: “There shall be taken into account, together with the context, any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties” (article 31(3)(c)). With this in mind, international economic law is viewed as a tool to serve human interests, as opposed to the interests of States and multi-national corporations. Responding to the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ call for a “human-rights approach to trade,” (p. 22) the book provides both an account of the normative basis that would legitimise such an approach by the WTO and makes proposals for how that process might evolve.

The introductory chapter (Petersmann) provides a theoretical framework for what follows, examining different forms of constitutions and constitutional ideas (democratic constitutionalism, rights-based constitutions, national and international constitutionalism, international constitutional democracy and federal and con-federal constitutions) (p7-8). Petersmann also distinguishes process-based constitutional democracies (most common law models) and substantive rights-based constitutional democracies (the continental approach) which provides the setting for much of what follows (pp. 13, 16).

The later edition contains 4 new chapters exploring conflicts-law as constitutional forum and the role that various doctrines in international private law might play in dispute settlement in international economic law (Christian Joerges); the World Trade Organisation and global administrative law (Richard Stewart and Michelle Ratton Sanchez Badin); the interrelationships between different layers of domestic and international governance as a “Five-Storey House” (Thomas Cottier); and a research agenda on the future developments of international economic law (Petersmann).

Petersmann concludes with four propositions based on the contributions as well as his own research. First, the legitimacy of international economic law pivots on its congruence with international human rights standards (p. 539). Second, there is a need for constitutional constraints on international institutions as there is within domestic States based upon “constitutional pluralism,” meaning that there is a range of acceptable constitutional arrangements and no single system that should be required of all players (p. 540). Third, in order to protect global public goods, such as the atmosphere and climate, a “paradigm shift” is required and this involves moving from a system of industry actors to the centralization of human subjects and Petersmann points to the European Union for leadership to this end (pp. 571-2). Fourth, international constitutionalism is necessary to guarantee global public goods in the same way that domestic constitutions have protected supply of public goods on a national scale. The international constitutional system must be rights-based, participatory and democratic (p. 575).

When the first edition of this text was published in 2006, mainstream commentators were not yet ready to question the bases of the international economic order and the priority of trade liberalism. Two years later, the rapid declines of the Nordic and Mediterranean economies of Iceland, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain were met with attacks on human rights and human security. Both the original crisis and the responses of international institutions to the same have led to much soul searching about the principles and priorities of international trade and this volume is a welcome contribution to that debate, sometimes controversial and always challenging. On the other hand, recent events within the Eurozone raise some questions regarding to the extent to which the European Union can be considered a model of international, constitutional, democratic, rights-based governance (compare p. 21) especially if one considers the means by which Iceland (outside of the European Union) has crawled back to economic growth while attempting to protect its most vulnerable residents compared with the demands placed on the Eurozone economies. Something more seems to be needed even within an international organization that positions fundamental individual rights at the heart of its formal constitution. Perhaps the answers are to be found in multilevel trade governance; perhaps they await further research, and one can only hope that the scholars involved in this project continue to devote their considerable talents to challenging the paradoxes and contradictions of the current international structures to develop a regime that remembers it is an instrument for human development, instead of viewing human beings as instruments for its own development.

Die Versprachlichung des Sakralen: The Transformation of the Authority of the Sacred into Secular Political Deliberation in Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action

Taking Weber’s thesis in consideration, it seems difficult to uphold Habermas’ thesis about a happy transformation of the sacred into deliberation. The consequence is that morality can only be successful in so far as the validity claims of communicative ethics can be institutionalized in modern society without any reference to holiness. This seems also to be the general conclusion in Habermas’ work – ironically apart from his theory of secularization.

Cornelius Castoriadis’ theory of the imaginary institution and Claude Lefort’s theory of the empty place of the political as a new insecure moral ground for modern society are presented together as an alternative theory of secularization which can serve as a new framework for Habermas’ theory of communicative ethics and deliberative politics in modern society.

  

  • Die Versprachlichung des Sakralen 

It has been astonishing to observe over the last decade a growing interest for religion not only in more or less premodern societies around the world, but also in the western world. The many theories about secularization seem to have been shocked by this reappearance of religion and this can give a good reason to reconsider what could be a common ground for a modern secular society. Here I find the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas’ thesis about die Versprachlichung des Sakralen, the linguistification of the sacred, especially interesting, because Habermas has formulated an optimistic theory about how the sacred could be safeguarded in a harmonious transformation into deliberation in modern society. By discussing this theory the aim should be to try to understand why secular society has not been safeguarded from discussions of religion such as has been the case in the last decade.

In connection with his development of the theory of communicative action, Habermas claims that the sacred is transformed in a positive way and can take the form of free deliberation in society (Habermas 1981, II: 118 ff.; Habermas 1989, II, 77 ff.). Habermas speaks in this connection about die Versprachlichung des Sakralen. The thesis is that the authority which could be found in religion, and which is of fundamental significance for the integration of pre-modern societies, is taken over by modern society in forms of deliberation.

Habermas develops this thesis in a discussion of Durkheim’s religious-sociological considerations about the transformation from mechanical to organic solidarity. Durkheim indicates this transformation of the authority of law from unconditional, which is exercised through punishment, to contractual, which is exercised through debate, proceedings and compromise. Habermas interprets this transformation of law in saying that the contract represents a linguistic transformation of law that has similarities with the linguistic transformation of the authoritative character of religions in modern society. But so far as I can see, this argument is not valid because we cannot compare religion and civil law in this way. Law can be compared to religion because law in different ways has its origin in religion. But this argument cannot be turned around. Religion cannot be explained by law. I should like to add that, in my opinion, Durkheim is not the most interesting of the classical sociologists with regard to religious-sociological considerations, because he is mostly occupied with primitive religions, which is the case in his main work, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (Durkheim 1960: 67 ff.; Durkheim 1995: 45 ff.).

Habermas would not have been able to make the same analysis if he had taken his point of departure in Max Weber’s religious-sociological investigations, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, which in my opinion are much more qualified and differentiated than Durkheim’s sociology of religion (Weber 1988). Weber studied most forms of religions to find out what significance they have had for the integration of different societies. Weber’s conclusion is that the essential significance of religion in society is to give an explanation of how the divine, and in that sense God’s world, can be just when at the same time injustice is dominant in society (Weber 1988a: 242; 571 – 573.). Religion has had the significance to give a solution to this problem of theodicy in all forms of society so that social injustice did not disrupt social integration. The Judaic and Christian religions have here a special status compared to other religions, because the theodicy problem in these traditions is displaced into a demand for a realization of justice in society. This religious claim of social justice is later secularized and integrated in the European tradition of jurisprudence.

  • Weber’s theory of secularization

Weber discusses the question of secularization in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber 1988b; Weber 1995). He shows in this analysis that the sacred, the absolute authority of religion, is dissolved in the secularization of European culture and that we therefore have lost the relation to religious authority. This is a much more interesting thesis than Durkheim’s thesis. It is also this thesis of Weber which is the real challenge for Habermas and which he discusses throughout his theory of communicative action. Therefore, we also find later on in Habermas’ analysis of the linguistic transformation of the sacred a discussion where Habermas relates directly to Weber’s theory of secularization, rationalization and differentiation of the occidental culture (Habermas 1981, II: 140; Habermas 1989, II, 92). Here Habermas, in the spirit of Weber, points out that neither occidental science nor art can be the heir of religion. The occidental science is founded upon the criteria of objectivity and art is founded upon the criteria of subjective taste.

According to Habermas, it is only communicative-oriented morals that are able to replace the authority of religion (Habermas 1981, II: 140; Habermas 1989, II, 92). However, this is not valid from Weber’s religious-sociological perspective. According to Weber, the authority of the sacred is dissolved through the secularization of modern society. This is the reason why Weber, in the end of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, concludes that we in the occidental culture are dominated by the technical-instrumental rationality because we no longer have a reference to the sacred, which at the end is necessary to uphold morality in any society (Weber 1988b: 202 ff.; Weber 1995: 180 ff..). The paradox is that Habermas follows Weber in this thesis, although he does not follow Weber in his analysis where he, as mentioned, tries to rescue the authority of the sacred in a new secularized form through his reading of Durkheim’s religious-sociological work.

With this background, I will try to sum up my own interpretation. Habermas’ first critique of Weber, which formed the starting point for all of Habermas’ analyses in his theory of communicative action, was that Weber had too narrow an understanding of the rationalization of the occidental culture, because he confounded the potentials of the cultural rationalization with the technical-instrumental rationalization that has taken place historically. I do not only follow Habermas in this critique of Weber; I try to strengthen it because I think that the occidental culture has also been historically rationalized in a communicative direction through historical events such as the Renaissance, the Protestant reformations in their various forms, and through political reformations and revolutions such as the British Glorious Revolution and the French Revolution. Weber does not take these forms of communicative rationalization into regard in his understanding of occidental culture; he is only concerned with the technical-instrumental rationalization. On this point, I think Habermas is right in his critique of Weber. However, I follow Weber in his theory of rationalization of the occidental culture in the sense that I think Weber is right in pointing out that the authority of the sacred is dissolved in this process of rationalization, which could also be called a process of secularization. The question is now what the consequences are for the understanding of the authority and validity of communicative ethics.

The question of the validity of communicative ethics depends on the rational communication in which there can be given good reasons for a specific moral opinion. This is a philosophical problem that Habermas to my mind has treated in a persuasive way. However, the problem is that good reasons are not enough. Habermas sees correctly that in moral questions there is also a problem of authority and he tries to solve this problem through his reading of Durkheim’s religious sociology. But if we follow Weber, the question is whether communicative ethics can acquire an authority in modern society that corresponds to the authority that religions have in pre-modern societies. In this connection, I think Habermas has too widespread an understanding of religion in pre-modern society. Habermas has the understanding that religion in general could give an immediate authority in pre-modern society. But to my mind this is not the case. We have to take into consideration that the authority of religion in pre-modern society was not a free-floating authority. On the contrary, it was mediated through the practice in religious institutions, first of all through cult and worship and secondly through theology in higher forms of religion. Therefore, the authority of religion was not free-floating but bound to institutions in pre-modern society. In the spirit of Durkheim we could even say that it is the institution that gives the authority to religion.

The consequence of this is that communicative action and communicative ethics should be seen in relation to institutions in the same way. From a sociological perspective the decisive point is whether communicative ethics can be institutionalized in modern society, which means the same as whether the institutions of modern society can take such a form that they can mediate communicative ethics in practice.

  • A tragic theory of secularization

The validity of communicative ethics depends upon a philosophical point of view on the tenability of the validity claims. But from a sociological perspective, this is not sufficient. Here the question is whether communicative ethics can be institutionalized in the same way as the authority of the sacred became institutionalized in religion in pre-modern societies. So far as I can see, this is also the line Habermas follows and which he tries to develop in the continuation of his theory of communicative action. But if we do not accept Habermas’ linguistic transformation of the sacred, which I, as previously mentioned, do not, then the consequence for the sociological understanding of communicative ethics is that the claim of its institutionalization is radicalized. Modernity has only a linguistic reference to itself; there are no other references. This internal self-reference can only be upheld if the philosophical validity claims can find their place in practice in the institutions of society.

Habermas presents his thesis about the linguistic transformation of the sacred as a harmonious theory of secularization and therefore it has been an easy target for his critics. However, if we follow Weber in his religious-sociological considerations of modernity, we reach a tragic theory of secularization that poses the real problem that the social ethical challenge consists in securing the institutionalization of the validity claims of communicative ethics in modern society.

The consequence is that Habermas’ theory of die Versprachlichung des Sakralen should be placed in an alternative theoretical framework. In this context, it can be fruitful to look at the philosophers Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort who have pointed at an alternative theory of secularization where they emphasize the imaginary of the political as an alternative to the imaginary of the sacred as the normative ground for modern democratic society.

  • Castoriadis – The imaginary institution of society

Cornelius Castoriadis developed the concept of the imaginary in his major work The Imaginary Institution of Society (Castoriadis 1975; 1987). Castoriadis defines the concept of the imaginary in this way:

The imaginary of which I am speaking is not an image of. It is the unceasing and essentially undetermined (social-historical and psychical) creation of figures/forms/images, on the basis of which alone there can ever be a question of ‘something’. What we call ‘reality’ and ‘rationality’ is its works. …… What I term elucidations is the labor by means of which individuals attempt to think about what they do and to know what they think. This, too, is a social-historical creation. The Aristotelian division into theoria, praxis and poiesis is derivative and secondary. History is essentially poiesis, not imitative poetry, but creation and ontological genesis in and through individuals’ doing and representing/saying. This doing and this representing/saying are also instituted historically, at a given moment, as thoughtful doing or as thought in the making (Castoriadis 1975: 7–8; Castoriadis 1987: 3 – 4).

According to Castoriadis, society is not only in a permanent historical creation but also in a permanent historical creation of imagination, which forms the ground for a following possibility of creation of objectivity, meaning, etc. that have to be interpreted. Castoriadis speaks of elucidations (élucidation), an enlightenment that must be understood in a hermeneutical sense, which harmonizes well with the fact that he takes his phenomenological approach to the interpretation of history from Heidegger. Thus, the imaginary is a critical hermeneutical interpretation of the social, an interpretation (une élucidation) that takes place ultimately in the political as a project (un projet politique). According to Castoriadis, the political is the ultimate horizon of interpretation for the social and societal.

The important thing is that Castoriadis’ definition of the imaginary can be understood as something historically created, which is to be interpreted through critical hermeneutics. The political forms the general horizon of understanding for hermeneutics. Thus, the political becomes an approach to the interpretation of the social and, secondarily, forms the basis for the interpretation of political institutions in a larger interpretation of social life.

In French, there is a clear linguistic distinction between the political (le politique) and politics (la politique), which is a limited form of action within particular institutions and systems in society (Interview with Marcel Gauchet, Philosophie Magazine N°7). In modern Anglo-American political science, this distinction is, for the most part, lost or maintained as a distinction between political philosophy and empirical political science. The problem with this approach is that the political then loses its meaning as a social fact that is generally determinative for politics, and that political science then loses its relation to the determinative horizon of understanding within the political.

The central point is that Castoriadis’ understanding of the creation of the imaginary in the form of the political can be seen as a competing concept to Weber’s concept of the sacred. In this connection it should be emphasized that according to Castoriadis, it is only in the Antique democratic city-state and later on in the modern democratic state that politics is conceptualized and, therefore, it is in the Antique democratic city-state that the political historically first is constituted. This coincides with the fact that it is only the democratic city-state and later on modern democracies that have freedom as the central focal point. In Castoriadis’ perspective history has mostly been dominated by totalitarian states and societies.

  • Lefort – … from the speech of power to the power of speech

This is also the premise of Claude Lefort’s analysis that most societies in history are of a totalitarian character and that the democratic city-states in antiquity and the democratic states in modern times form an exception or a breach with the dominance of totalitarianism. Lefort develops his ideas in a critique of the totalitarian Eastern European societies and states, and he uses the French Revolution as an important historical example of the transition from a totalitarian society to a free society.

What is important in Lefort’s analysis of the French Revolution is that the prince as the incarnation of the totalitarian state is replaced through the revolution by “un lieu vide”, an empty place (Lefort 1986b: 27; Lefort 1988b: 17 f.). Whereas power in the totalitarian state is substantial as an incarnation in the prince, it can only be representative and symbolic in the democratic state, because this lieu vide cannot be occupied substantially. In this way, a new symbolic order is constituted in which democratic society is instituted as a society without a body (sans corps), in which the organic totality in the form of the prince is brought to an end (Lefort 1986b: 28; Lefort 1988b: 18). Democratic society thus becomes a society that, from a philosophical point of view, is in permanent incertitude, because it can never have any real substantial definition. Any definition can only stand as long as it is not made problematic.

This is especially clarified in Lefort’s analysis in the essay ‘Interpreting Revolution within the French Revolution’, that the empty place, le lieu vide, presents the fundamental change in the imaginary of society from the regime of the powers word to the spoken words power, or with Lefort’s word: “But whereas it was once the speech of power which ruled, it is now the power of speech” (Lefort 1986c: 134; Lefort 1988c: 110).

It is this idea that provides the foundation for the understanding that language is the ground of democracy, insofar as it is the essence of language that any statement can only acquire validity by being made problematic. We can say that Habermas develops the idea in Lefort’s political philosophy in a differentiated way including the whole problem of practice and institutions in a modern democratic society. It is Lefort’s paradoxical political-philosophical thesis on permanent incertitude as the cohesive binding in modern society that makes it clear that it is only the possibility of criticism that can lead to the constitution of a morally founded order in modern society. The moral order in modern society is paradoxical; it cannot have a substantial character relating to the sacred or something similar as the moral order has been understood throughout most of history, including our own time. This moral order can only exist in modern society through the possibility for criticism – thus, the moral order cannot ultimately be defined but must be kept open in the sense that it always is in the process of being defined.

It is this abstract definition that we see play out in modern democratic society. Governments are changed regularly, presidents only hold office for limited periods and laws are reformulated when necessary. From a substantive moral and political point of view, this must all seem irrational and reprehensible. But the rationality consists of the fact that le lieu vide has replaced the substantive and, therefore, it would be irrational and totalitarian from this point of view to refer to a positive substantive morality. Norms are constituted by raising questions as to their validity.

  • The union of ethics and politics

Here we find the mediation between Lefort and Habermas. The central point in Habermas’ work is similar to Lefort’s, namely that language is constituting society and in that sense is its fundamental institution. Society has to be understood through language. This is the way whereby Habermas gives the key to understanding the mediation between ethics and politics. Ethics and politics become the two sides of one and the same matter.

Communicative ethics is a Kantian form of language-ethics in which it is possible in positive terms to determine the criteria for action. But Habermas goes beyond Kant’s ethics in three ways. Firstly, in Kant’s ethics, there is an impassable distinction between, on the one hand, the intelligible world, in which the free will and duty in the categorical imperative is found; and, on the other hand, the phenomenal world, which is dominated by desire, subjective motives and institutions (Habermas 1991: 20 f). In communicative ethics, this distinction is mediated through the common use of language. Secondly, communicative ethics transgresses through the public discussion the inner Kantian monologue about the maxims for action. Thirdly, the Kantian problem of the reasonable justification of ethics is transformed into a problem of universal argumentation in dialogue with the other.

The central thing is that discourse ethics is consolidated in the immediate use of language, and that it is not possible to transcend this usage because language is the fundamental instance which is simultaneously used in an immediate sense.

This leads us to the discussion of politics, which according to Habermas is also based on the immediate linguistic practice in the public sphere. This understanding represents a discourse-theoretical transformation of the Kantian understanding of politics. There is in this understanding of politics a moral dimension insofar as the ethical maxims should provide the basis for the general law. However, whereas Kant’s morals are bound to individual reason, morals in discourse ethics are bound to public deliberation where maxims are determined, which should be the basis for common law. In this way the same problems in Kant’s understanding of politics find their solution as in his understanding of ethics. These are the contradiction between the idealistic and the phenomenological perspective, the transgression of the monologue and finally the problem of the justification of norms. Following this, politics can, according to Habermas, be determined as a public deliberation between the implicated parties about problems which concern them all, and as a determination of the maxims which should be the basis for determination of the common law. There is in this way an inner connection between ethics and politics that makes them into the two sides of one and the same matter. On the one hand, ethics cannot be sustained without politics because ethical deliberation must take place between people in the public sphere, and this is also the determination of politics. On the other hand, politics can only be sustained on the background of the discussion of the maxims that underlie the common law, and this is also the determination of ethics. The public sphere is the common meeting place for ethics and politics because both ethics and politics demand the possibility of public deliberation.

  • Bifurcation – negation – validity claims

The public sphere is constituted through the immediate and free public dialogue between people. It is the use of language that constitutes the public sphere, and there is no public sphere except through the use of language. However, the public sphere can be institutionalized. That means that a possibility can be secured for a public dialogue in advance. This is the precondition for politics and political institutions in modern society insofar as there could not be any politics without a public sphere. This is an abstract ideal type in the Weberian sense, which can be further developed in a philosophical, sociological, political-scientific and historical perspective.

The essential matter is to maintain the fundamental unity between ethics and politics, which in principle cannot be divided. This is the positive Kantian perspective. This is broken up in practice, when we take the Hegelian perspective. Modern society, according to Hegel, is bifurcated (Entzweiung), which has the consequence that moral unity cannot be sustained. However, this principle does not abolish the close connection between ethics and politics but it makes the connection more differentiated and complicated. The public sphere can no longer be sustained in the singular. In practice, it takes the form of a plurality of voices that cannot form a harmonious symphony and where it is not consensus but dissent that dominates. Therefore, the public sphere and critical discussion should be viewed as existing together in modern society.

Habermas himself is aware of this and speaks in several works about das Nein-sagen-Können, i.e. about the possibility to negate, the determinate negation, and try out the validity of a proposition (Habermas 1981, II, 113 ff.; Habermas 1989, II, 73 ff.; Habermas 1992: 394, 515; Habermas 1996: 324; 427). However, the principle of negation does not suspend the Hegelian bifurcation. The consequence is that it is not possible from a sociological and a political-scientific perspective to retain the thought of consensus as the fundamental condition for politics in modern society. However, this is not the essential point. The essential point is that politics has its centre in the dialogues taking place in the many public spheres and that it is possible from a philosophical perspective to test the validity of a statement. This represents a negative reading of Kant and Habermas, which aims at retaining the validity claims that are the fundamental crux of the matter in their political philosophies. This negative reading of Kant’s and Habermas’ political philosophies is not in principle suspended by the reality principle, such as it is represented in the traditions of sociology and political sciences. In these traditions, politics must be regarded by necessity as a positive concrete matter, which is subject to the reality principle insofar as praxis is bound to positive action. Nevertheless, the validity claims are not sustained by the reality principle. They constitute the instance that makes it possible to justify human action in the perspective of the reality principle.

In this way we reach an understanding of politics that contains both a reality principle, in the form of the linguistic praxis under the conditions that are given in modern society, and a philosophical principle, which concerns the questioning of the validity of this praxis. The concept of praxis must by necessity be a positive determination; the concept of validity must by necessity be a negative determination. Therefore, there must by necessity be a contradiction in politics between the positive and the negative determinations, which neither can nor should be dissolved. It is fatal only to regard politics under the perspective of the reality principle, and it is an illusion only to regard politics under the perspective of negation, without any relation to the reality principle. It is necessary all the time to take both perspectives into consideration when we deliberate about politics. We have to have both a Kantian and a Hegelian perspective on politics all the time. This is possible in Habermas’ political philosophy.

  • Civil society

Habermas’ political philosophy is fundamentally a Kantian political philosophy, insofar as his fundamental problem is to discuss the possibility to raise the validity claims for moral and political action, which he imagines can be done through free deliberation between the implicated parties. The great problem arises when the Hegelian perspective is introduced, where Habermas has to explain how such a deliberation can take place in modern society. It could be said that Habermas introduces a communicative transformation of the Hegelian perspective. Habermas points, like Hegel, at the decisive significance of civil society for moral order in modern society. In civil society the citizens can form associations in which they can discuss their common business. Hegel relates civil society to these associations, whereas Habermas has a much broader concept of civil society, which contains many different forms of associations, societies, unions, organizations, and so on. However, at the same time he also restricts the concept of civil society, insofar as he has a tendency to regard state and economic reproduction of society from a pure systemic perspective, as he describes in his theory of communicative action.

It is not appropriate to restrict the concept of civil society in this way, because a large part of the interaction in modern society, in which state and economics have a great influence, is excluded. This concept of civil society excludes the many institutions in a modern welfare society such as schools, health care, childcare, care of the elderly, and so on, which are organized by states and municipalities, and economic institutions that also have a central role in this connection. Therefore, I work with the broadest possible concept of civil society, which not only contains the institutions that are organized immediately by citizens, but also institutions that are mediated through the state and economy insofar as they are related to the immediate life of the citizens. This concept can be claimed when we, in accordance with Habermas, focus on the public sphere as the centre of civil society, in that it is more the form of communication than the function that is essential for the determination of the institutions in civil society.

Civil society is characterized by a plurality of communication in a plurality of public spheres which all relate to the immediate life of the citizens. This interaction includes not only social movements and associations of citizens, but also state-organized institutions and corporations, insofar as they all play their role in the citizens’ communication in the public sphere. Herewith is raised the old Hegelian problem of whether it could be possible to sum up this variety of communications in the many public spheres in a common morality.

Hegel tried to solve the problem by saying that it should be the state that mediates the contradictions in civil society. The state was therefore seen as being prior to civil society. However, this had the consequence that there could be a tendency in Hegel’s concept of the state to disregard the interaction between state and civil society, and to focus instead on the sovereignty of the state in relation to civil society. This is the reason why Hegel’s concept of the state has often been regarded as a totalitarian concept. However, Hegel is right in saying that the state is prior to civil society in the sense that there could not be a civil society without a state. The problem is whether it could be possible to create mediation between civil society and state.

According to Habermas, it is through the political institutions of democratic society that the many discussions in the public spheres of civil society can be mediated to political decisions. Habermas speaks in his chief work concerning legal philosophy, Between Facts and Norms, about ‘sluices’ through which the deliberations in civil society can be mediated and transformed to decisions in the political institutions (Habermas 1992: 431 ff; Habermas 1996: 356). However, Habermas is not able to give a conclusive solution to the Hegelian problem of meditation between civil society and the state. On the one hand, the deliberations in civil society should only seek to influence the political institutions. In that sense, Habermas’ understanding of civil society relates very much to Hegel’s. But there is no necessity in this influence. On the other hand, the political institutions can only be representative through procedures which are acceptable to all parties in society (Habermas 1992: 449 ff.; Habermas 1996: 371 ff.). Finally, it seems that we are confronted with the same bifurcation as was thematized by Hegel. Therefore, it is not possible to say that there should be any necessary positive mediation of moral discourses that can constitute a real substantial social morality in civil society.

  • Testing deliberation as the form of morality in modern society

The question now is what the consequence of this could be. This is the central problem in the discussion of social morality and the solution, as mentioned, cannot be a positive substantial social morality. We here come back to the problem of how we should interpret Kant’s ethics. One way is to interpret it in positive terms as an attempt to constitute positive norms. However, it seems as if this way is not passable. The other possibility is to read Kant’s ethics in negative terms as a critical ethics, where the crux of the matter is the possibility to test the normative validity of the maxims of an action. This is in my opinion the right way to read Kant, and it is the same way that we should consider Habermas’ communicative ethics. This should also be read critically as the possibility to test the validity of the normative maxims for an action. The consequence is that it is decisive that the institutions of civil society and the political institutions take such a form that it is possible in praxis to have a testing deliberation about the normative maxims for an action. In this connection it becomes decisive that there are public spheres in each institution where such critical deliberations can be raised. It is not possible to constitute a positive substantial moral in society. But it should be possible under the aforementioned conditions to test critically the validity of the normative maxims, if there is sufficient freedom in the public spheres of the institutions to raise the validity claims in relation to dominant discourses and preconceived opinions. For this reason ethics in society can only be secured indirectly by the constitution of the conditions which are necessary for the critical test of the validity claims.

On the immediate level, we can here refer to Kant, who ascribes the individual with the capability to ask the reasons for the validity which lie at the root of the determination of social norms. We have to start here, because this is the precondition for posing the question of validity. On the next level there is the possibility that more people can question the validity of the maxims, which form the basis for common action. However, here we are still at a level that does not necessarily have any influence on the public discussions in society. The problem is whether these deliberations can become public and take their place in the political institutions in democratic society.

It is evident that the form that politics and political institutions take should be understood positively at first. The social must always be understood in a positive way. But the characteristic of the political institutions and the political system is that they cannot only be understood in a positive way, because they have to be legitimized. The question of legitimization always concerns the validity of the political action in the institutions. Here, we come back to the problem of a critical reading of Kant. According to Kant, political institutions are legitimate insofar as there is a fair chance to participate. This does not necessarily mean that political interaction in the institutions takes an ethical form. According to Kant, we have to make a distinction between ethics and politics (Kant 1966: RL § 43 – §49, p. 311 – 318). Therefore it is not possible to claim that there should be a necessary positive connection between ethics and politics. The consequence is that ethics cannot be directly secured in a positive way in the political institutions. This does not mean that it should not be possible to sustain ethics in the political institutions; but there is not necessarily an internal positive connection between ethics and politics. The connection between ethics and politics can only be created indirectly through the possibility of questioning political action from an ethical point of view. However, this demands that there is a real possibility of raising such a question. According to Kant, this should be possible, and Habermas is of the same opinion. However, we have to take into regard that this is a political and philosophical claim that cannot necessarily be argued from the perspective of political science and sociology. In reality, politics takes its own institutional forms, where it is not deliberation but power which is in the centre. This is the general opinion in political science and sociology. The discussion is whether legal order can be understood by itself or whether it necessarily implies a form of legitimization. As long as we regard the political institutions from a positive perspective, they can be regarded as a part of the legal order, which can be seen as a self-sustaining institutional arrangement without need of further legitimization. This is Hegel’s and Weber’s perspective. But when conflicts arise, this perspective becomes insufficient. It becomes necessary to question the legitimacy and thereby the validity of the political order. This is Kant’s and Habermas’ perspective. Such a questioning does not only concern the political order but also the ethical validity of political action.

  • The open society and the totalitarian temptation

Herewith we return to the problem of whether a critical ethics can be institutionalized. So far as I can see, this is not possible insofar as this would mean the same as that critical ethics could be regarded as a pre-given substantial ethics, which could be determined in positive terms. However, this does not have the consequence that the critical ethical investigation is excluded from the political institutions. On the contrary, it is part of the understanding of the political institutions in a democratic society that they should be a constituent part of the public sphere. This gives the possibility to formalize the rights to question the political institutions, and this is the case in a modern democratic constitutional state. However, we again have to take into regard that such rights are formal rights and therefore do not necessarily say anything about how they function in practice. In this connection Kant would say that it is not possible to go further from a philosophical point of view. In Habermas’ perspective, things are different because he takes Hegel’s perspective, in which the political culture is essential for the understanding of the political institutions in society.

The conclusion is that there should be a close relationship between ethics and politics in modern society. However, this connection can only be secured indirectly through the formalization of civil rights to take part in political deliberation and through the cultivation of these rights in the public spheres of society. Therefore, a philosophical discussion of the relation between ethics and politics is insufficient; at the same time we have to introduce the empirical perspective of political sciences and sociology. It is not enough to have the correct Kantian idea; we must conclude with Hegel that ideas have to be well-founded in social and institutional practice in society. Habermas has created this mediation between Kant’s and Hegel’s perspectives, which should be interpreted critically.

Here we meet the difficult problem which can contribute to explain why religion anew has become a central topic in the discussion of moral norms in modern society. In modern society, it is not possible to present the positive mediation of norms that could give a justification of positive substantial norms. Therefore one could say that there is a fundamental normative insecurity in modern society, or along Claude Lefort’s understanding, an insecure ground of an empty normative space, that can be upheld only as empty so long a time as there is in praxis a living that does not end discussion about norms and their justification, and concerns all forms of normative problems in democratic society. In praxis, it can be difficult to fulfil such a living discussion in a modern democratic society and therefore there can always be a temptation to revitalize substantial norms grounded in tradition and religion. From a modern perspective, this represents what Lefort would describe as an attempt to reinstall a totalitarian formation of society, which falls behind the French Revolution.

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Castoriadis, Cornelius (1987), The Imaginary Institution of Society, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Durkheim, Émile (1995), The elementary forms of religious life, The Free Press, New York.

Durkeim, Émile (1960), Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, Presses Universitaire de France, Paris.

Habermas, Jürgen (1981), Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Volume I-II, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main.

Gauchet, Marcel, Interview: ‘Le politique permet à la société de tenir ensemble’, Propos recueillis par Martin Legros et Nicolas Truong, in: Philosophie Magazine N°7, philomag.com.

Habermas, Jürgen (1984), The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume I, Heinemann, London.

Habermas, Jürgen (1989), The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume II, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Habermas, Jürgen (1992), Faktizität und Geltung – Beiträge zur Diskurstheorie des Rechts und des demokratischen Rechtsstaats, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main.

Habermas, Jürgen (1996), Between Facts and Norms – Contribution to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Lefort, Claude (1986a), Essais sur le politique (XIXe-XXe siècle), Éditions du Seuil, Paris.

Lefort, Claude (1986b), ‘La question de la démocratie,’ in: Claude Lefort (1986a), Essais sur le politique (XIXe-XXe siècle), Éditions du Seuil, Paris.

Lefort, Claude (1986c), ‘Penser la révolution dans la Révolution française’,” in: Claude Lefort (1986a), Essais sur le politique (XIXe-XXe siècle), Éditions du Seuil, Paris.

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Lefort, Claude (1988b), ‘The Question of Democracy’, in: Claude Lefort (1988a), Democracy and Political Theory, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Lefort, Claude (1988c), ‘Interpreting Revolution within the French Revolution’, in: Claude Lefort (1988a), Democracy and Political Theory, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Weber, Max (1988a), Die Wirtschaftethik der Weltreligionen, in: Weber, Max (1988), Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I, 1. Auflage 1920, 9. Auflage, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen.

Weber, Max (1988b), Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, in: Weber, Max (1988), Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie I – III, 1. Auflage 1920, 9. Auflage, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen.

Weber, Max (1995), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Routledge, London.

Francesco Giacomantonio, Introduzione al pensiero politico di Habermas. Il dialogo della ragione dilagante (Milano-Udine: Mimesis, 2010)

Our age of crisis has taken many more forms than just the widespread rejection of Enlightenment ideals. Possibly, its most visible contemporary manifestations are: (a) the devastation of the planet’s “ecological equilibrium” (25); (b) the consistent anthropological impoverishment and individualistic atomisation of human societies (e.g. “social conflicts” read as individual “psychic problems” [26]; “anomie” [31]; “confusion between… [individual] success and… [collective] understanding” [32]); and (c) the undiminished international instability (e.g. religion’s “self-destructive forms” [63]; “Western military interventions in various areas of the planet” [77] ).

Patiently and laboriously, Habermas has addressed in his complex oeuvre all of the aforementioned forms of crisis of our age. It is Giacomantonio’s task to survey Habermas’ accounts in this slender book (99 pages).

Specifically, Giacomantonio praises the erudite, articulate and abstract “theoretical wealth” of leading German sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas (b. 1929) as a rare exception to current scholarly and scientific trends (78). Avoiding academic partisanships and specialist parochialisms, Habermas is said to have scrutinised and engaged with an “ample spectrum of stances” in the attempt to provide a reasoned, synthetic as well as analytical understanding of the enduring age of crisis (77). Swimming against the current, Habermas believes the Enlightenment project—modernity itself—to have to be brought to completion, not discarded.

Habermas’ first major intellectual accomplishments are claimed to be his 1960s and 1970s studies in the economic and administrative structures of late-modern Western industrial societies. Then, Habermas focused primarily upon the legitimisation of such structures via political procedures of mass participation, as well as upon the growing class fluidity, which Giacomantonio describes as the “dissolution” and “fragmentation” of traditional class consciousness and discourses (25).

According to Habermas, the post-war decades had seen capitalist societies benefiting from large-scale entrepreneurial pursuits, under the cooperative scrutiny and sophisticated direction of the State, which allowed these pursuits to serve vastly accepted inclusive social aims (e.g. “urban and regional planning”, “research and development”, “unemployment benefits”, “public welfare”; 25). These aims facilitated the legitimisation of the pursuits themselves, as well as the State’s own authority. Then, this virtuous circularity ended. For Habermas, the 1970s mark the beginning of the age of crisis.

The 1970s “late” or “mature” capitalism (23) continued to display massive State intervention in the economy. Yet, an increasing outgrowth of private interests started to escape from State control, leading to “systemic” failures (24) and to a generalised loss of faith in the State. This reduction of legitimacy was indicated by declining political participation, which was due too to the opacity of class consciousness in now tertiary-dominated economies. A variety of rescue plans were implemented by national governments, often via ever-increasing State intervention and techno-scientific legitimisation thereof. Regularly, these plans proved of little success, at least as the previous inclusive social aims were concerned.

Rather, the recurring reliance upon science and technology as grounds for political action induced considerable “de-politicisation” (28) of collective life and institutional decision-making. Within this novel frame of reference, whereby political issues were turned into “technical problems”(28), the public opinion was morphed into a passive spectator or sheer recipient of the diktats of a self-enclosed—and often self-serving—“expert” bureaucracy. In any case, the vastly accepted inclusive social aims of the post-war decades started to wane, becoming a more and more remote memory of better, foregone times.

It is Habermas’ opinion that the highly educated “expert” bureaucrats of recent decades have failed consistently to perceive the unavoidable connection between factual scientific investigation and value-driven technical application. To counter this phenomenon, Habermas has recommended the establishment of a more open critical exchange amongst experts and between experts and the public at large. In this perspective, communication should serve as an antidote to the former’s intellectual insularity and to the latter’s political disaffection.

Concerned with the de-politicisation of socio-political phenomena and populations of democratic countries, Habermas began to explore the socio-political relevance of “communication and linguistic dimensions” that were to become the hallmark of his later intellectual production (31). Indeed, the 1980s witnessed a vast output of studies by Habermas on the deeper structures of anthropological impoverishment and atomisation in modern nations. In them, Habermas came to conceive of “society” as comprising: (a) the “system” of professional, formal networks of “strategic behaviour”; and (b) the personal, informal “life-world” of existentially meaningful behaviour (“Lebenswelt”; 31). On the one hand, human activity was being described by Habermas as the “success” or “influence” of the competitive individual; whilst on the other stood the truly life-defining, cooperative linguistic (“communicative”) praxes seeking mutual “understanding” and engendering shared “identities” (32).

Initiating the age of crisis, the former dimension had been invading the latter by using communication instrumentally, i.e. the shared linguistic means for genuine self-expression and social cohesion were turned into sheer means of self-maximisation. To respond to this invasion, Habermas has recommended the overcoming of national barriers and the creation of a “cosmopolitan… deliberative democracy” centred upon ethical and normative issues and aims (35). Roughly speaking, more conversation about justice, the common good and the like–as already anticipated in his reflections on science and technology of the 1970s–would mean more democracy; more democracy would mean more legitimacy; more legitimacy more effective laws; and more effective laws more social and socially acceptable results. All of this, however, should be taking place on a global scale.

Habermas’ reflections on democracy became even more relevant in the 1990s. Then, in the face of an even faster-paced post-Cold-War economic and cultural globalisation, it was the very cradle of modern democracy that was to experience its deepest crisis, i.e. the nation State as such. Apart from intensifying the problems that Habermas had already tackled in the 1970s and 1980s, fin-de-siècle globalisation further deprived States of the crucial means of control over the “economic dimension” (40). In particular, free capital trade robbed the State of those vital “fiscal” resources that were needed for its administrative functions (44). Weaker States became even less credible to the populations, whose interests they were still expected to serve. The legitimacy of their power and even their own raison d’être became shakier. In the process, the vastly accepted inclusive social aims of the post-war decadeswere even openly rejected by leading parties and statesmen, who engaged actively in the persistent reduction of the public sphere. Deprived of the State’s support, larger and larger sectors of the population found themselves poorer, marginalised, and more vulnerable.

In the final decade of the 20th century, Habermas stressed further his commitment to a “cosmopolitan” solution of the ongoing crisis (43). In his view, a global economy needs a global deliberative democracy. This is not the same thing as to say that the world needs a world State. Rather, the world needs actual world politics and actual world policies. International organisations are already in place (e.g. the “United Nations”, the “World Trade Organisation”, the “International Monetary Fund” [46]). What is missing is the democratic appropriation of those institutions as positive means for global governance.

Interestingly, the “European Union” has been described by Habermas as an example of existing trans-national coordination and a possible force for progress, which he understands as the generation of a new political community reflecting truly democratic values and substantial ethico-political aims, such as solidarity and social inclusion (45). As an opposite model of global governance, Habermas has often highlighted the “hegemonic unilateralism” of the United States of America, which has accompanied throughout an economic globalisation capable of producing a “more unjust… more insecure” world and a threat to our “survival” as a species (48).

In particular, Habermas has stressed of late the centrality of the rule of law for the proper functioning of any complex social arrangement. As opposed to the brutal force exemplified by military intervention, a binding legal framework springing from democratic deliberation would constitute in his view a powerful means to a noble, desirable end: “to include the other without assimilating him” (50).

As further explained and substantiated in Habermas’ works of the 2000s, democracy should be thought of as much more than just a set of public institutions and formal procedures, for it is also an array of informal social praxes and individual forms of conduct. Within his deliberative and cosmopolitan model of democratic rule, Habermas has ended up combining the “liberty of the ancients” with the “liberty of the moderns” (51). In other words, both republican active participation and liberal individual-rights-protecting public guarantees are embraced as important components of actual democracy. Societies need both enduring compromises amongst rights-endowed self-interested individuals and the formation and expression of collective will via societal “self-clarification” (37).

Habermas resolves in an analogous manner the tension between liberals and communitarians on the much-debated issues of multiculturalism (51-6) and religious tolerance (61-8). Both universal, trans-cultural principles and cultural rights are said to be important for the socially inclusive survival of democratic States in a more and more inter-connected international reality. Disagreements and problems are bound to arise; still, what matters most is to have enough institutional and conceptual resources as to be able to tackle such disagreements and problems without falling into either coercion or social disintegration, which destroy genuine social cohesion and solidarity (54-6).

This, albeit sketchy, is the overview of Habermas’ intellectual production that Francesco Giacomantonio offers in his new book. It is indeed a clear and effective account of Habermas’ nearly unique oeuvre, as the author of the Introduction to the Political Thought of Habermas cites Touraine and Castoriadis as the only other equally daring grand theorists of recent times (80). The book comprises six chapters, an introduction, some final considerations and an appendix by another author. The presentation waves between a thematic subdivision and a chronological organisation of the material. Either way, the book addresses all the essential aspects of Habermas’ vast production. By this feat alone, it deserves much praise.

If any criticism is to be passed on it, then it must be pointed out that the book could be even more slender: the appendix by Angelo Chielli is redundant and unnecessary (83-90); whilst the 6th chapter, which deals with Habermas’ relevance to contemporary academic pursuits (69-75), could have been reduced to, and included with, the author’s final considerations (77-81). Also, the book would benefit from an analytical index of cited topics and authors.

Thomas Jefferson, I dilemmi della democrazia americana, translated and edited by Alberto Giordano, with a preface by Dino Cofrancesco (Novi Ligure: Città del Silenzio, 2007)

On the contrary, the ruling political coalitions in the 1980s, centered on the two-prongs of the Christian Democracy and the Socialist parties, got rid of every sense of measure in spoiling public resources and making recourse to inflation and public debt – which, in those years, rocketed from a normal 60% of GNP to more than 100% (so that we, our daughters and sons, and a host of unpredictable future generations are, and will be, paying dearly for the glorious “statemanship” of those years). 1992 marked a turning-point for the old political establishment: the “Mani pulite” (“Clean Hands”) trials, filed by independent public prosecutors in front of an independent judiciary sent a lot of politicians and fellow transactors and businessmen into jail, and even a former prime minister, acclaimed by somebody as one of the greatest Italian politicians of the XXth century, flew abroad to avoid prosecution. After a while, however, old politicians found a way for taking advantage of the wise advice of Fabrizio, the beloved nephew of Prince Salina (“It is necessary that everything does change for everything to stay as usual”). This way was the founding of a new political party by an influential businessman. This businessman won three elections in the last fifteen-years, qualifying as a perfect demagogue (his party is being defined by his followers as a “charismatic party”), and putting his own private interests on the top of governement and parliamentary agendas. The public sphere deteriorated heavily in those years, and is still deteriorating, for the demagogue and his allies proceeded systematically to turn politics from a civil, though sometimes tough, confrontation of opinions among rival parties into a war against internal enemies, while at the same time undermining the foundations of the Republican Constitution.

 

In such a situation, the selection of eight writings and seventeen letters by Thomas Jefferson translated, edited, and clearly introduced by Alberto Giordano may indeed provide a sample of an ideal, good, politician, to be used as a standard for criticism and improvement in the Italian political life. For instance, Jefferson upheld free public education for all, as a way to provide future citizens with the learning necessary to control politicians and protect democracy; he opposed public debt, arguing that present generations have not the right to bind future generations to pay for it; he opposed religious “fanaticism”, we would now say “foundamentalism”, as one of the most serious dangers for a democracy, while upholding religious freedom and toleration, provided religion is properly considered as a private business of each believer.

Italians should take the Jefferson model, however, with two caveats.

To begin with, Jefferson supported a few, quite unpalatable, views, even for XVIIIth century standards: think about slavery (he was not an uncompromised abolitionist), women (their proper place is home and family management), and native Americans (to be civilized under the protectoship of wasps). But this is a minor drawback, from our point of view and the way society and culture have evolved in the meantime.

Furthermore – a point I consider the most serious flaw in Jefferson’s political thought – he deemed democracy to be capable, by itself, to protect and guarantee to citizens the individual rights he wisely wanted to be ascribed to them in a constitutional Bill of Rights. On this path, we cannot follow him (though we may appreciate his romantic idea of a democracy made up by small businessmen, small farmers, and small manufacturers, with a small government to decide upon). Nay, democracy by itself is prone to become the prey and toy of demagogues; and only a firmly established constitutional democracy, endowed with a sovereign constitution and judicial review, like the one Madison and Marshall cherished, can do the tremendously important trick of a serious protection of individual rights against abusing majorities and the interest-groups pulling its wires. So, to conclude: welcome to Jefferson’s essays, but, as Don Ferrante suggests, con juicio. The book also contains a learned “Preface” by Dino Cofrancesco, where the most recent essays on Jefferson are analyzed and discussed.