Liberal Democracy and “Other” Democracies

The following paper was presented at the conference “After the End of Revolution: Constitutional Order amid the Crisis of Democracy,” co-organized by the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute and the National Research University Higher School of Economics, September 1–2, 2017, Moscow..

The idea of liberal democracy only makes sense because of a basic contradiction between liberalism and democracy. As a description of a form of government, democracy designates a government by the people, whose decision-making power would not be restricted by any higher authority. The power of democracy derives from its ability to mobilize a majority of the members of a political order for collective goals. This rule by popular will can also entail a freedom from higher authorities, including such entities like monarchs and aristocrats, but also ecclesiastical or moral authorities that would establish basic values for guiding decision-making. Since democracy alone would lack constraints on the popular will, liberalism, as a set of principles that include protection of minorities and freedom of expression, is needed to provide the limitations on democratic decision-making that protect democracy from erratic and changes in the public mood. As such, liberalism sets a limit on democratic power, and the basic contradiction between democracy and liberalism maintains a dynamic equilibrium between popular will and liberal principles that can be stabilizing due to its flexibility.

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Call for Papers: The 2018 Telos Conference in New York

Constitutional Theory as Cultural Problem:
Global Perspectives
January 19–21, 2018
New York, NY

The International Center for Critical Theory and the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute will jointly host a conference entitled “Constitutional Theory as Cultural Problem: Global Perspectives,” to be held at New York University, New York, from January 19–21, 2018.

The challenges faced by the liberal democratic model in the 21st century have made constitutional theory into an urgent topic of global concern. Both the second Iraq War and the revolutions of the Arab Spring frustrated hopes of an easy trajectory toward liberal democratic constitutional orders. If there was the hope that liberation would mean the establishment of liberal democracy, the result has been that emancipation from tyranny does not naturally lead in a particular political direction. Such a conclusion presents fundamental problems for a constitutional theory that is built around a liberal democratic model.

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Populism or National-Populism? A Critical Approach to Cas Mudde's Perspective on SYRIZA's Populism

Cas Mudde’s book on SYRIZA’s “failure of populist promises,” which recently appeared in Greek, lends itself to multiple, successive readings of the current Greek populist experience in a comparative setting. One of the leading political scientists currently researching the populist phenomenon in both its radical-right and radical-left varieties, Mudde combines thorough knowledge of his subject matter’s ideological premises with a thorough analysis of his factual material, namely, the empirical cases he sets out to investigate. Indeed, it is to Mudde that we owe the term “pathological normalcy,” denoting the current form of radical-right populism in Europe. Mudde has used this term to explain the phenomenon of “mainstream thought” radicalization employed by the “populist radical right” with a view to exploiting a social and identitarian malaise that is widespread in several European countries. It is also to Mudde that we owe a number of thought-provoking and, in many respects, pioneering comparative studies (many of them co-authored or co-edited with his fellow political scientist Cristόbal Rovira Kaltwasser) about the differences between European and Latin-American populisms, in which Mudde demonstrates the latter’s rather inclusionary practices as opposed to the former’s rather exclusionary ones. Moreover, we owe him a very insightful discussion of the different outcomes produced when populist political parties come to power.

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Looking Beyond the Westphalian Nation-State: Challenging the Modernist Vision of History with Alternative Political Orders and Worldviews

The emerging exhaustion of the Westphalian paradigm of state sovereignty intimates the profoundly contestable and contingent character of modern, Western claims for a universal model of history. Over several centuries, the state has embodied and enforced foundational postulates, such as the pre-eminence of the individual knowing subject, and the imagined divide between religious and secular realms of existence and authority (with the latter sphere effectively internalizing the sacred import of the former). At present, though, the state’s tenuousness, and yet in key instances fierce tenacity, amidst a world of potent transnational forces, portends the urgency for alternative conceptions of the meaning and arrangement of human life. Contemporary Middle Eastern quandaries are especially illustrative of this predicament: for example, the disintegration (as in Iraq, Syria, Libya) or, then again, coercive retrenchment (viz., Egypt) of state formations and nationalist identities; or, to take another sort of instance, the chimerical prospects for coexistence, or even bare existence, among conflicting national communities, as in Israel/Palestine. Are there political paradigms beyond the Westphalian state that could help to integrate plural traditions in pursuit of less exclusionary, and more just, historical possibilities?

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Adrian Pabst on Commonwealth and Covenant

At the recent Telos Conference in L’Aquila, Italy, Associate Editor Adrian Pabst discussed his new article “Commonwealth and Covenant: The West in a Neo-Medieval Era of International Affairs,” which appears in Telos 168 (Fall 2014), a special issue on the theme of “The West: Its Past and Its Prospects.” Telos 168 is now available for purchase in our online store.

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Conscription through the Eyes of Hobbes and Schmitt

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Beau Mullen looks at Gabriella Slomp’s “Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, and the Event of Conscription” from Telos 147 (Summer 2009).

As Gabriella Slomp points out in the opening of her article “Thomas Hobbes, Carl Schmitt, and the Event of Conscription,” scholars are split on how to view the relationship between Hobbes and Schmitt. Some see Schmitt as Hobbes’s heir apparent, while others think that Schmitt’s thinking is in fact a rejection of much of Hobbes’s work. Both thinkers emphasize man’s warlike nature, they hold that the state exists to protect men from violent death at the hands of other men, and they maintain that a strong state with unlimited power is best suited to this aim. Both agree that man has an obligation to the state that is reciprocal to the duty of the state to provide security. In this piece, Slomp examines both Schmitt’s and Hobbes’s views of the extent of this obligation and comes to the conclusion that the two are in fact in disagreement. Using their writings on conscription, Slomp reveals that Hobbes has much more concern for the sovereignty of the individual whereas Schmitt never wavers in his affording primacy to the group or state.

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