“No single size fitting all…”
Democracy from the
perspective of political
philosophy
Netherlands Institute in Saint-Peters...
A few words about myself
• Professor of political philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology,
and Religious Studies...
A few words about political philosophy:
what it is not, and what it is.
• 1. political philosophy is not political science...
A few more words about political
philosophy: three meanings.
• 1. political philosophy is, first of all, philosophical ref...
Three pairs of perspectives
• 1. local / global: the political, defined as the possibility of conflict, is present –and
“i...
Democracy?
Cradle of democracy?
First cradle of democracy?
Democratie
Democracy
Démocratie
Democracia
Demokrasi
Демократия
Democratiaeth
Demokrasy
Demokratio
Δημοκρατία
Δημοκρατία
[Η εηςμολογία ηηρ λέξεωρ βπίζκεηαι ζηα ζςνθεηικά «δήμος» (ηο ζύνολο ή η ζςνέλεςζη ηων
ανθπώπων πος έσοςν πολιηι...
Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR, 1948]
Article 21.
• (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the
government...
Red: countries not claiming to be democratic.
Green: countries that do claim to be democratic
(NB: incl. Myanmar since 201...
NB:
1: Left: green= “free”; yellow = “half-free”;
blue = unfree
Right: green = democratic claim; red =
no such claim
2: st...
Tbilisi, May 2003
Teheran, June 2009
Tunis, January 2011
Cairo, February 2011
New York [Wall Street], November
2011
Moskva, May 2013
Cairo, June 2013
Kiev, January 2014
Odessa, April 2014
Is democracy…
1. free, fair, frequent, universal, competitive, and secret elections
counted by Freedom House & monitored b...
Observations:
• 1. it is not obvious what “democracy” is (and it is not obvious either
whether we should go about this que...
???
What do we mean when we say
“democracy” or
“democratic”
(and also: “non-
democratic”)??
[and: is this a democratic
que...
Three pairs of perspectives
• 1. local / global
• 2. performative / institutional
• 3. normative / analytical
• Three pair...
Definition:
“Democracy” is primarily an (always) possible
quality of any societal situation in which
political power is ex...
What the definition excludes.
• “Democracy” is primarily an (always)
possible quality of any societal
situation in which p...
Advantages of this tentative
definition:
• 1. graduality is possible: something can be more democratic
or less democratic....
Not to be confused: democracy ≠
liberal democracy
• Democratic principles are:
• 1. equality
• 2. identity of those who ru...
Not to be mistaken: democracy is
not a “goal in itself” *самоцель]
• Democracy is good for:
• 1. legitimacy of political p...
Not to be inflated: democracy
serves other goals
• Political goals that people can have: freedom, prosperity,
security, ju...
Quality => system
• We can call a political system (more generally:
a societal situation in which power is at play)
as a w...
Democratic “system” *NB: at “any” level+
• Democratic processes take place at 3 levels (systemically
distinct, but empiric...
Definition:
“Democracy” is primarily an (always) possible
quality of any societal situation in which
political power is ex...
Combined:
• Democracy, as defined, is a quality that can be present / absent, to a varying and
changing degree, in both D1...
Theses within the 3 pairs of perspectives
• 1. local / global:
• global polities (UN, IMF, WorldBank) can be made more dem...
OF / BY / FOR (& TO) the people.
• “Government OF / BY / FOR the people” *Abraham Lincoln+:
• OF: the dèmos recognizes [do...
So, what’s wrong with democracy?
Russian Federation
• “Putin” is clearly doing more FOR the people
than previous administr...
Democracy – No Size Fits All. Evert van der Zweerde, Radboud University
Democracy – No Size Fits All. Evert van der Zweerde, Radboud University
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Democracy – No Size Fits All. Evert van der Zweerde, Radboud University

  1. 1. “No single size fitting all…” Democracy from the perspective of political philosophy Netherlands Institute in Saint-Petersburg Prof.dr. Evert van der Zweerde
  2. 2. A few words about myself • Professor of political philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at Radboud University, Nijmegen, Netherlands (one of the universities that support the Dutch Institute in St Petersburg). In my research and teaching, I focus on democracy, civil society, and ideology. • Currently working on a book about democracy, trying to “make sense” of democracy, for which I try to present my ideas in as many different places and contexts as possible, ranging from the local “philosophers’ club” in Nijmegen to audiences in Brazil, Africa (Senegal, RSA), Russia, ... • With Russia, I have a special connection: PhD about историко- философскaя наука in the USSR; large project about Вл. Соловьёв; teacher of Russian language; first visit to Moscow in 1984, and during those 30 years I have been to Russia 28 times, i.e. nearly every year, and I have, of course, followed the “приключения демократии” during those years.
  3. 3. A few words about political philosophy: what it is not, and what it is. • 1. political philosophy is not political science / politology (which is an empirical science), but it borders on its theoretical part, often called “political theory”; philosophy does not depend on empirical knowledge, but whenit refers to facts, they should be facts. • 2. political philosophy is not political history, not even “history of political ideas”; philosophy does not depend on historical knowledge, but if it refers to history, it should have its history right. • 3. political philosophy is a branch of philosophy, more precisely of practical philosophy (next to ethics); it depends on “the unassisted individual human mind” (Leo Strauss) and on what “unassisted human minds” can develop jointly, in discussion, deliberation, debate, i.e. on “speech” (Hannah Arendt).
  4. 4. A few more words about political philosophy: three meanings. • 1. political philosophy is, first of all, philosophical reflection on politics: what is justice, what is the best form of government, what is politics, what is the nature and/or the aim of politics, what is democracy, what is it good for? In this first meaning, a long tradition goes back to Plato and Aristotle, and probably further. Politics seen as something “given” with human society => “man as political animal” (Aristotle). • 2. political philosophy is, secondly, the question of “the political”: if we ask “why is there such a thing as “politics”?” (government, state, politicians, political parties, elections), the shortest answer is: because there is “the political” i.e. the dimension of possible conflict in everything societal. Because we are many, we have to “deal” with the combination of our plurality and our difference: politics is the general name for this “dealing with the political” (NB: dictatorship is also a form of politics) This dimension involves the “friend-enemy distinction” (Carl Schmitt) *cf. today’s “Crimean Crisis”+, but it does not have to, and much of politics is about “containing” this logic of the political (or giving it a different form, transforming societal antagonism into political agonism: Chantal Mouffe). • 3. political philosophy is, thirdly, the political dimension of philosophy itself. If, generally, philosophy is the work of “the unassisted individual human mind” (Leo Strauss) and what “unassisted human minds” can develop jointly, in discussion, deliberation, debate, i.e. on “speech” (Hannah Arendt), then it is clear that philosophy is not politically neutral or innocent: from Socrates to Antonio Negri; political philosophy is, also, the place where the “politicity” (politicité, Jacques Derrida) of philosophy itself is articulated.
  5. 5. Three pairs of perspectives • 1. local / global: the political, defined as the possibility of conflict, is present –and “ineradicable *неискоренимый+” *radix = root / корень]- at all levels of human societal existence => discourse about “global democracy” (David Held, Jürgen Habermas) and discourse about “local” democracy (school, workplace, even family), as well as all levels in between: town/village, (nation-)state, European Union (Larry Siedentop, Jürgen Habermas). • 2. performative / institutional: ultimately, anything social, and hence anything political, depends on the concrete actions of human individuals, but they partly take the more stable form of repertoires (elections, referendum, “maidan”), practices (e.g. deliberation), and institutions (e.g. presidency, parliament). • 3. normative / analytical: if we want to pass normative judgments (e.g.: democracy is good / not good), we first need to know (more precisely: to agree) what we are talking about, so: “What do we mean when we say “democracy”?” precedes “We (do not) want / need “democracy” in this particular case.” • Three pairs: L / G, P / I, N / A.
  6. 6. Democracy?
  7. 7. Cradle of democracy?
  8. 8. First cradle of democracy?
  9. 9. Democratie Democracy Démocratie Democracia Demokrasi Демократия Democratiaeth Demokrasy Demokratio Δημοκρατία
  10. 10. Δημοκρατία [Η εηςμολογία ηηρ λέξεωρ βπίζκεηαι ζηα ζςνθεηικά «δήμος» (ηο ζύνολο ή η ζςνέλεςζη ηων ανθπώπων πος έσοςν πολιηικά δικαιώμαηα [the whole or the community of those people who have political rights]) και «κράτος» (δύναμη, εξοςζία, κςπιαπσία [power, authority, sovereignty]).] NB: this means that dèmos is a political category, not a natural one [dèmos ≠ nation or people or ethnie (=> tragedy of the first post-Soviet government of Georgia, which adopted an ethnic definition of the dèmos; Russia has managed to avoid this identification, despite pressure from nationalists; in European countries, “right wing populism” is playing the card of ethnonationalism with varying success)].
  11. 11. Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR, 1948] Article 21. • (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. • (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. • (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; 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.
  12. 12. Red: countries not claiming to be democratic. Green: countries that do claim to be democratic (NB: incl. Myanmar since 2011)
  13. 13. NB: 1: Left: green= “free”; yellow = “half-free”; blue = unfree Right: green = democratic claim; red = no such claim 2: striking contrast, but: 3. Freedom House conflates “democracy” and “freedom” [but: democracy ≠ liberal democracy] => expressed will of “the people”
  14. 14. Tbilisi, May 2003
  15. 15. Teheran, June 2009
  16. 16. Tunis, January 2011
  17. 17. Cairo, February 2011
  18. 18. New York [Wall Street], November 2011
  19. 19. Moskva, May 2013
  20. 20. Cairo, June 2013
  21. 21. Kiev, January 2014
  22. 22. Odessa, April 2014
  23. 23. Is democracy… 1. free, fair, frequent, universal, competitive, and secret elections counted by Freedom House & monitored by OSCE etc. [FFFUCS: “democratic 6-pack”]? 2. large numbers of dèmos-members wanting to get rid of their rulers, whose legitimacy they deny? [“colour revolution”] (cf. Karl Popper’s “minimal” definition of democracy) 3. both of them? [1 + 2] 4. an ethos or attitude, at all possible levels? […shall I continue this lecture or shall we have a discussion right away? Shall we vote about that?] 5. all three of them? 6. and more….? ONE claim: If LARGE numbers of ORDINARY people (not hooligans, not fascists, not fanatics) go out on the street to protest, risking more than their chains, the are NOT necessarily RIGHT, but they DO necessarily have a POINT that MUST be taken seriously into account.
  24. 24. Observations: • 1. it is not obvious what “democracy” is (and it is not obvious either whether we should go about this question “democratically”). • 2. “democracy” is, today, (almost) the only political principle that has a priori legitimacy. • 3. that something is called “democratic” does not mean that it is “democratic” – nor the other way around [BRD / DDR]. • 4. (almost) everybody wants democracy or claims to want it – all over the world, people cry and die for it, at the same time, it is a major ideologeme. • 5. in “democratic countries” all over the world, democracy is held to be in deep crisis. *to an extent, “crisis” belongs to democracy, but it is clear that liberal democracy as we know it, no longer works]
  25. 25. ??? What do we mean when we say “democracy” or “democratic” (and also: “non- democratic”)?? [and: is this a democratic question??]
  26. 26. Three pairs of perspectives • 1. local / global • 2. performative / institutional • 3. normative / analytical • Three pairs: L / G; P / I; N / A.
  27. 27. Definition: “Democracy” is primarily an (always) possible quality of any societal situation in which political power is exercised by human individuals / groups over human individuals / groups, and consist in that a preponderant part of those over whom power is exercised have a substantial and (relatively) equal share –a “say”- in the decisive power that determines that exercise.
  28. 28. What the definition excludes. • “Democracy” is primarily an (always) possible quality of any societal situation in which political power is exercised by human individuals / groups over human individuals / groups, and consist in that a preponderant part of those over whom power is exercised have a substantial and (relatively) equal share –a “say”- in the decisive power that determines that exercise. • - democracy is not a “thing” *“The Netherlands are a democracy is inadequate”+; • - democracy is about politicalpower [NB: which forms of power (e.g. economic power) are politicized / depoliticized is itself, a political question / decision] • - democracy, like politics generally, is a human affair *“theocracy” usually means “hierocracy” (IR Iran)+ • - preponderant part ≠ “all” => dèmos is always “selective” / “critical mass” • - relatively equal: it is possible that some have more to say than others [] • - the point is in decisive power (legislation, decisions), rather than in their execution (which can also have the quality of “being democratic”).
  29. 29. Advantages of this tentative definition: • 1. graduality is possible: something can be more democratic or less democratic. • 2. claiming (more) democracy does not imply a black or white choice. • 3. we can distinguish the quality “democracy” from the entity (institution, person, etc.) that it is the quality of. • 4. democracy, as a quality, can be wanted or not wanted concretely, not abstractly / ideologically. • 5. “democracy” can be adapted to local conditions (grafting; in Dutch: “enten”; прививание).
  30. 30. Not to be confused: democracy ≠ liberal democracy • Democratic principles are: • 1. equality • 2. identity of those who rule and those who are ruledregerenden en geregeerden • 3. “demic” sovereignty [rather than “popular”, because every concrete situation has its own dèmos ≠ “nation” or “the People”] • Liberal principles include: rule of law (+ trias politica); human rights (+ protection of minorities); individual rights and liberties [Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (2000): Thesis: Liberal democracy is a strong, but historically contingent combination of democratic and liberal principles. Liberal principles ALONE can lead to depoliticization of power => “neoliberal hegemony” [= West?]; democratic principles ALONE can lead to “tyranny of the majority”, e.g. when a regime rules autocratically but with support of the (vast) majority of the population [= Russia?]. Thesis: “democracy”, as a quality that realizes these 3 principles, is never completely absent (any government needs some form of popular support, and “democracy” is always mixed with other qualities & principles… there is no “pure democracy”)
  31. 31. Not to be mistaken: democracy is not a “goal in itself” *самоцель] • Democracy is good for: • 1. legitimacy of political power • 2. commitment [вовлеченность?] of citizens (because government and decisions are theirs) • 3. transformation of societal antagonism into agonistic politics • Democracy still is a means, not an end: it is one out of many ways of doing politics, i.e. dealing with the possibility of conflict in society. • BUT: • Democracy only works if it is “cared for”, cultivated, maintained, reproduced, regauged *“перекалибрирование”+ • SO: • Democracy is one of those means that must be treated as if they are also ends.
  32. 32. Not to be inflated: democracy serves other goals • Political goals that people can have: freedom, prosperity, security, justice, solidarity, peace, cohesion / unity. • Pragmatic position: democracy, as a means, can make it possible to realize those goals in a stable, sustainable, reproducible way => • it is smart to have democracy as a quality at many points in the political system. • Normative position: people are entitled to have a (substantial) say in those political decisions that shape their life => • it is good to have the quality “democracy” at many points and levels in (a) society.
  33. 33. Quality => system • We can call a political system (more generally: a societal situation in which power is at play) as a whole “democratic” to the extent to which it entails the quality “democratic” at different points and in different ways => • To say “the Netherlands “are” a democracy” or “the KSA is not a democracy” is not only simplifying, it also misses the point.
  34. 34. Democratic “system” *NB: at “any” level+ • Democratic processes take place at 3 levels (systemically distinct, but empirically conflated) [taken from Pierre Rosanvallon, Contre-démocratie]: • D1: active part of a system (e.g. electoral-democratic system; mostly “representative”, sometimes more direct [Switzerland]) • D2: reactive and corrective part of a system (contre- démocratie [P. Rosanvallon]): presuppeses D1 + reacts / controls *representation => “méfiance; mistrust; wantrouwen / недоверие”+ • D3: the reflexive part of the system: presupposes D1 & D2 in their interrelation: critical journalism, democratic theory, deliberation / discussion, incl. what we are doing here & now • Rosanvallon: D1 & D2 & D3 ‘font système’
  35. 35. Definition: “Democracy” is primarily an (always) possible quality of any societal situation in which political power is exercised by human individuals / groups over human individuals / groups, and consist in that a preponderant part of those over whom power is exercised have a substantial and (relatively) equal share –a “say”- in the decisive power that determines that exercise.
  36. 36. Combined: • Democracy, as defined, is a quality that can be present / absent, to a varying and changing degree, in both D1, D2, D3: • Examples: – D1: different political parties that participate within the same electoral system, but have more democratic or more authoritarian inner party structures [Dutch example: PVV vs. CDA; Russian example: Kadety vs. Bolsheviki] – D2: prefiguration Taḥrīr-square Caïro 2011: “mini-society in waiting” including the political dimension. – D3: herrschaftsfreie Diskussion [domination-free discussion; свободная от доминирования дискусссия] [Habermas], e.g. here & now [NB: the political is everywhere] • D1 & D2 & D3 are systemically connected [ils font système+, but they “are” not “democracy” – “democracy” is a quality of them, and hence of “the system.”
  37. 37. Theses within the 3 pairs of perspectives • 1. local / global: • global polities (UN, IMF, WorldBank) can be made more democratic (Habermas), even if a democratic world state is a far-fetched (but not: utopian) ideal. • citizens’ democratic “ethos” always originates at the local level, in their “direct” surroundings. • the exclusive focus on “national” government in countries like the Netherlands is a major cause of both the “democratic deficit” of the European Union and of the “crisis” of democracy. • 2. performative / institutional: • the presence / degree / absence of the quality “democracy” critically depends on the succesful claims of sufficiently large numbers of people • under democratic conditions, people will mistrust, but accept their (elected) representatives, depending on how they represent; under non-democratic conditions, people will either love or hate their leader(s), depending on what they do. • even the most democratic institution can become an emptly shell, just as even the most just law can become an empty letter. • 3. normative / analytical • in (almost) every concrete situation, “more” democracy (more “say” of those affected by decisions) is to be preferred over “less” democracy *exceptions are “emergency” situations, but they can be clearly defined by law, itself legitimated democratically]. [NB: this is my normative position within the debate] • the quality “democracy” can be wanted / “willed” at any level and in any situation, but: a “we” that wants it needs to know what it wants, otherwise concrete choices become abstract ones, and “democracy” an empty slogan. • the quality “democracy” is a “good thing” because: i, it increases the legitimacy of government / governance; ii. It generates commitment on the part of those affected by decisions; iii. it can transform antagonism into agonism (backdrop: all conflict is on the table) [NB: this is my normative position about the debate]
  38. 38. OF / BY / FOR (& TO) the people. • “Government OF / BY / FOR the people” *Abraham Lincoln+: • OF: the dèmos recognizes [double meaning: Dutch: herkennen + erkennen; Russian: сознавать + признавать (NB: несовершeнный вид глагола!!)+ government as “its own” *NB: always conditionally (mistrust) and necessarily a process, not a “result”+; • BY: (members of) the dèmos participate(s) in government and in “counter- democracy”; • FOR: government does what (the) people (really? actually?) want(s); • +: • TO [Mathijs van de Sande]: the dèmos is present to itself as dèmos *“self- awareness” / представление dèmos-a самому себе] • Hypothesis: the stability of a given degree of democracy (presence of the quality of democracy in D1 & D2 & D3, i.e. “democratic system”) critically depends on the balanced presence of these 4 links: of, by, for, and to.
  39. 39. So, what’s wrong with democracy? Russian Federation • “Putin” is clearly doing more FOR the people than previous administrations => popular support; • Most power in Russia is not political, but economic power *“oligarchy”+ – this excludes government OF the people; • The democratic system that was introduced in Russia since perestroika was a copy of an already degenerated European system with little participation BY the people; • Democracy in Russia never had a real chance: it was introduced top-down; • Russian political history is haunted by the idea of a need for strong, centralized power – this is difficult to combine with democratic principles, esp. with democracy as govt TO the people; • What “democracy” means in and for Russia depends, в конечном итоге, on what Russians [россияние ≠ русские] want and succesfully claim. Netherlands • Large numbers of citizens think that government is doing little FOR the people (and much for itself); • The depoliticization of economic power shrinks citizens’ “say” in the decisions that shape their lives => less democracy OF the people => Wutbürger (Dirk Kurbjuweit); • The domination of liberal principles, at the expense of democratic ones, has turned citizens into “passive consumers” who want something in return for their vote => people do not relate TO themselves as a democratic people; • The one-sided focus on national government in a post-Westphalian world (Wendy Brown) kills local government and paralyzes EUropean political integration; • What “democracy” means in and for the Netherlands depends, in the end, on what Dutch(wo)men and Europeans want and succesfully claim.

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