European Crisis and Social Movements 3 - Concepts of Democracy

18 – 22 April 2016   print this page

Course directors:

Joseph Bien, University of Missouri, Columbia, United States
Hauke Brunkhorst, University of Flensburg, Germany
Gerard Raulet, University of Paris - Sorbonne, France

Course description:

The notion of democracy is nothing but a univocal concept, neither in the history of the political thinking nor in the social movements which refer to it. There are a lot of democratic concepts: radical democracy, deliberative democracy, representative democracy, participatory democracy etc.

This polysemy raises fundamental problems of political philosophy. Does democracy belong to the civil society, or is it a form of government, or is it both, and how is the relation then? The current liberal option tends to favor the civil society which is interpreted mostly in market-terms. No wonder that in this case the state is considered as a mere implementing bureaucracy or technocracy. – This leads obviously – especially but not only on the transnational European level – to a crisis of representation and legitimacy. The participatory democracy can be seen as an attempt to close this gap. But the reverse of the medal is that it puts forward societal issues and that it creates a new critical front opposing societal claims to the constitutional framework. Are there alternatives to parliamentary democracy available, which are not less egalitarian? And is transnational egalitarian democracy possible.

This comes out onto the most fundamental problematic of the constituent of power and political autonomy. If power and political economy are to coincide (which might be in the end the perspective of democracy as such), which are then the concrete political forms answering this problematic? And what does that mean under conditions of accelerated and economy driven globalization and europeanization? Whereas the blackmailing power of the economy increased dramatically through globalization, the blackmailing power of workers and unions, of peoples and parliaments, which are mostly reduced to national influence, decreased at the same time.

The question must be examined again from both ends: starting from the social movements on the one side, and from the constitutional conceptions on the other side. Of what kind are the new political movements? Which concepts of democracy – from populist issues to democratic participations and self-administration – do they put in the forefront? Which is the offer of political theories capable of taking up the challenge?