Opening Panel: The Crisis of Democracy

Yves Sintomer, “Condemned to Post-Democracy?”

The last decades have shown that democracy still constitutes an attractive ideal for people who live under autocratic regimes, but old and new democracies face a deep crisis. The great narratives that used to present liberal democracy as the end of history are no more credible. Modern democracy, as institutionalized in the Global North, is only partly universalizable. It has always had two faces, and its stabilization has taken place during a period relatively short (a few decades including both the Welfare state democracy and the developmental democracies after World War 2 and the neoliberal democracy from the eighties to the years 2000’).

The 21th century will not only repeat a model which was invented one or more centuries ago and which is partly over: social changes and new challenges are too important to make the status quo realistic and attractive. Democracy has always relied on hybridizations and inventions. However, we are condemned neither to post-democracy nor to authoritarianism, which are the main trends at the moment. Some new democratic experiments are promising and could represent a “real utopia”. A new democratic revolution is possible and desirable.

Christopher Achen, “Managing Democratic Crises: Some Empirical Foundations”

The current struggles of democracies in Europe, North America, and East Asia have persuaded many that we have entered an era of unprecedented crisis, with electoral forces at work quite different from those of the past. In fact, however, democracies have always fallen ill from time to time for reasons very similar to those we see currently. The normal operating mode of democratic governments provides opportunities for occasional demagogues to lay them low. Thus there is no more reason to be shocked at recent events than there is to discover that influenza visits New Haven most winters. But there is reason to think about better flu vaccines. How might that be done? Empirical scholars generally find that elections work quite differently from what most political theorists believe. The result, in my view, is that many democratic visions have too little connection to the realities of how voters think and what they need. Worse, those abstractions too often lead away from what would truly help the poor and the powerless. I will lay out what I believe is a credible foundation for thinking about democratic elections and the policy process, one on which theorists might build to create deep democratic reform.

J. Phillip Thompson, “The Imperative of Change: Why We Are Not Returning to Post-WWII Normalcy”

The rise of the populist (White Nationalist) Right reflects the failure of neoliberalism to ensure economic prosperity for working people. The failure of the Left to project an alternative to neoliberalism has at least two causes: (a) an inability to think beyond capitalism and traditional social democracy or state socialism; (b) a narrow and historic mis-location of working class agency in white men. There can be no returning to the old New Deal post-WWII politics or economics; the options are to continue as things are now (a downward spiral) or to invent a different kind of political and economic vision.

Frances Rosenbluth and Ian Shapiro, “Democratic Competition: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

Political competition is essential for democratic accountability, but relentless popular pressure for “more democratic” forms of decision making such as referenda and primaries has produced baleful results. Even a cursory catalog of recent events shows how easily political competition, when fragmented and decentralized, can divide voters into blocs that impede the adoption of policies characterized by long time horizons and encompassing bargains. Global economic integration and the growing wealth inequality that accompany it pose challenges for democratic governance. In PR systems, right wing parties have gained ground and in district based systems, gerrymandering and/or voter self-sorting into relatively homogeneous districts sets the stage for increasing electoral and legislative polarization. Yet, economic autarky comes at an unacceptable cost in foregone prosperity, not to mention global peace and security through the interlocking of commercial interests. It is therefore more important than ever to consider the consequences, intended and unintended, of alternative structures of political competition. Our paper assesses political competition across today’s democracies from the standpoint of voters’ long term and encompassing interests (constructing a typology of the good, the bad, and the ugly) and considers the conditions under which countries can move towards more constructive forms given existing constitutional frameworks.

Second Panel: Responses to Populism

Ayşen Candaş, “Revisiting Regime Types: The Lessons to be Derived out of the Advanced Populism in Turkey”

The paper critically evaluates the current diagnosis of Turkey’s regime type, which has been called “hybrid,” “competitive authoritarian,” and “populist;” and argues that “fascism” and “totalitarianism,” categories that are no longer used by comparative politics especially since the end of the Cold War, must be brought back to analyze the current wave of “populism.” To justify this assertion, the paper revisits Karl Loewenstein’s APSR articles published in 1937 to highlight the striking similarities between the fascist wave of the 1930s and the so called “populist wave” of the present time. The paper argues that determining the essential qualities of the regime type and naming it has political consequences.

John McCormick, “Populism, Plutocracy, and the Contemporary Crisis of Democracy”

My remarks will elaborate the reasons why both plutocracy and populism are phenomena endemic to electoral democracy, and are not in any way peculiar to our own particular era in the history of modern representative government. Furthermore, I specify criteria that might be used to distinguish right-wing from progressive forms of populism; and, finally, I sketch the kinds of institutional reforms that progressive populist movements should pursue to counteract rampant economic and political inequality today. In order to determine the means by which progressive institutional change might be achieved, the pressing issue of the relationship between populism and democracy in a plutocratic age must be addressed. Populism, I will argue, is the necessary vehicle for realizing the effective reform of contemporary democracy. However, populism, I will caution, potentially endangers the quality of the kind of robust democracy that can only be achieved precisely through populist means of mass mobilization.

Melissa Schwartzberg, “Democratic Equality in the Age of Trump”

In the wake of the 2016 election, the prospects for social and political cooperation in the United States seem to have dimmed. The differences among American voters in terms of their beliefs and commitments no longer seem to be a feature of ephemeral electoral competition, but of calcified visions of political community. As long recognized, a key problem for democracy is how members of a community can, or should, relate to each other as equals under conditions of grave moral and political disagreement. Is it possible for democracy to endure when citizens question each other’s judgment at the most fundamental levels, believing that others are, for instance, motivated by racial animus or xenophobia; that they disdain members of rural or devoutly Christian communities; that they fail to understand their own economic interests; or that they prioritize the interests of newcomers without documentation over the needs of existing community members long awaiting relief from hardship.

I argue here that the Trump presidency poses a distinctive challenge to democratic egalitarianism, and to “relational egalitarians” in particular, who must at once resist efforts to disenfranchise and demean their fellow citizens without themselves yielding to the temptation to condescend to or excoriate Trump voters. Relational egalitarians may seem distressingly Pollyannaish, holding onto a naïve hope that talking to each other will elicit mutual respect for judgment, or that mutual respect is even warranted. Should we care about understanding our interlocutors – our fellow citizens – when they form judgments that do not deserve respect, or that convey disrespect for vulnerable minorities? Unless we are willing to bite the bullet – to forcefully criticize citizens’ for disrespectful views, while still treating them as competent agents – Trump’s election will in fact constitute a major threat to even avowed egalitarians’ commitment to robust political equality.

Rahul Sagar, “The Case for Decent Regimes”

Why does the United States insist on promoting democracy abroad even when the ensuing regimes often prove to be unstable and illiberal? At least part of the answer is that because liberals believe that there is no morally legitimate alternative to their own form of government, they refuse to consider the possibility of not promoting liberal democracy—even when there is a genuine risk that doing so will unleash forces inimical to the very freedoms they wish to promote. But are there any alternatives that liberals could endorse? I will argue that there is: liberals ought to tolerate, even promote, nonliberal regimes that are ‘decent’. This is a regime that acts as a trustee by (1) advancing well-being and basic human rights, (2) upholding norms of good governance; and (3) consulting with citizens and providing opportunities for dissent. This vision is far from utopian or implausible, as examples from East Asia in particular show.

Third Panel: Institutional Solutions

Arash Abizadeh, “Representation, Bicameralism, and Sortition: Reconstituting the Senate as a Randomly Selected Citizen Assembly”

The two traditional justifications for bicameralism are that a second legislative chamber serves a legislative-review function (enhancing the quality of legislation) and a balancing function (checking concentrated power and protecting minorities). I here furnish a third justification for bicameralism, with one elected chamber and the second selected by lot, as an institutional compromise between contradictory imperatives facing representative democracy: elections are a mechanism of accountability and people’s political agency, but are insufficient for satisfactory responsiveness and run counter to impartiality and political equality; sortition is a mechanism for impartiality and equality, and of enhancing responsiveness, but not of holding representatives accountable or of people’s political agency. Reflecting the recent “political” turn in normative political theory, I make this general argument by way of embedding it within the specific institutional context of Canadian parliamentary federalism, arguing that Canada’s Senate ought to be reconstituted as a randomly selected citizen assembly.

Jeffrey Green, “The Problem of Institutional Reform: The Regulation of the Most Advantaged”

My contribution explores two problems besetting contemporary democracy and suggests that the regulation of the most advantaged class—both economically and politically speaking—may be an effective means of redressing these problems. These problems are the decline in the democratic character of the United States, which historically has played a disproportionate role in democracy promotion throughout the world and, separately, the fact that the liberal-democratic regime is itself imperfect as even the most well-ordered liberal–democratic societies will have their economic and educational systems biased in favor of the rich.

Regulation of the most advantaged offers some redress of these problems, as it allows highly flawed democracies like the United States to focus its progressive energies in an efficient and realistic way; and it allows more egalitarian liberal democracies, such as the Nordic countries, to achieve an even greater level of democratization in light of permanent shortcomings of the liberal-democratic model.

Isabelle Ferreras, “It’s the Corporation, Stupid!: The Bicameral Firm as a Transition Plan toward Economic Democracy”

Democracy is in crisis indeed because the democratic ideal has been segregated from the economic part of our social life. It is time we realize that political democracy can only become viable, and start to flourish again, if the promise of equality enters economic life. In my new book (Firms as Political Entities. Saving Democracy through Economic Bicameralism, Cambridge University Press, 2017), I propose a simple, yet radical solution: democratizing capitalism.

For generations, workers have been viewed as human capital, and firms as private economic organizations. Starting with the sociological observation that workers expect to be treated as full citizens, and drawing on the history of Western democracies, I show that workplaces are part of the public sphere, and that firms can only be fully understood in that light – as political entities in need of democracy. Examining political revolutions since Roman Antiquity, I have identified a “bicameral moment” that was the linchpin of their successful democratic transition. I will argue that the time has come for corporations to undertake this transition in a bicameral moment of their own, by granting the same rights to workers – firms’ labor investors – as the ones held by capital investors. In today’s world of global finance capitalism, labor is the new frontier in the long term struggle for equality – which is in fact a phase in the historic quest for individual and collective autonomy. Economic Bicameralism is part of the way forward to start giving meaning again to our commitment to democracy.

Robert Post, “Reform and Diagnosis”

The appropriate constitutional fixes will depend upon the diagnosis of what is wrong with our democracy. If what is wrong is that our government doesn’t truly reflect the people’s will—a critique that Sandy Levinson and others have been advancing—the fix will be to remove the anti-majoritarian aspects of our constitutional structure, like the Senate. If, on the other hand, what is wrong is that our government is too responsive to the people’s unmediated will—the critique that our government is too populist—then the constitutional fix will be to increase the aspects of our constitutional structure that distance decision making from popular will.

Fourth Panel: Negotiating the Boundaries of the Demos

Rainer Bauböck, “Globalization, New Technologies, and the Future of Citizenship”

Democratic citizenship relies on a distinction between civil and political society. The former is a realm of voluntary associations, the latter is structured into stable and clearly demarcated territorial jurisdictions. Citizenship in the sense of membership in a political community is generally nonvoluntary. In the international state system, nationality is assigned at birth, citizenship at local level includes all residents, and citizenship at regional levels below or above the state is mostly derived from national citizenship. I argue that the current model of liberal democratic citizenship relies on a clear separation and complementarity between voluntary membership in civil society associations and nonvoluntary membership in territorial polities. The virtue of this model is that it allows citizens to affirm and pursue diverse identities, interests and ideologies in association with like-minded individuals while at the same time binding them together with others as equal members of a self-governing territorial polity.

Contemporary social change brought about by globalization, enhanced geographic mobility and digital technologies raises new challenges for the liberal model of democratic citizenship that threaten to subvert its core features. I will discuss four such challenges. The first is the emergence of a “mobility cleavage” in liberal democratic states. The second challenge is a growing potential for purely instrumental uses of citizenship in the international arena by both states and individuals. The third challenge is the general erosion of state sovereignty in a context of increased global interdependency and the rise of new global corporations. The fourth challenge is that enhanced geographic mobility of individuals combined with new digital technologies and diminished power of national governments could eventually lead to alternative forms of nonterritorial political community.

Bernard Harcourt, “When a Liberal Democratic Land of Immigrants Closes Its Borders: The Ethical and Political Implications”

From antiquity, the concept of democracy traditionally was accompanied by a limited concept of citizenship and membership, and many long-established democratic societies continue to restrict membership. But what happens when a modern liberal democracy composed predominantly of immigrants – and predominantly so because the immigrants in large part exterminated the native populations and forcibly brought in enslaved populations – decide to close their borders? What happens, ethically and politically, to that closed community?

Larry Lessig, “Why We (the People) Can’t Help But Embarrass Democracy”

The problem of democracy is two problems — them, or more precisely, the failure of representative bodies to represent equally, and us, or more precisely, the failure of the people to participate meaningfully in their democratic role. In this essay, I sketch the first problem, on the way to focusing on the second. And in particular, focusing on the way that constitutions could better constitute “the people” in the representative process. Constitutions were born in a time when “the will of the people” could only ever be known indirectly, through elections. They have matured through a time when the “will of the people” is knowable constantly. Constitutions should better channel the process for crediting and reckoning the public’s will. The essay ends with some structural reforms to that end.

Diana Mutz, “Globalization, Public Opinion, and Objectification of the Other”

In my comments I will discuss how two threats to the status of dominant groups in American society have combined to make group status threat a dominant motivator of public opinion change and electoral behavior. There is a tendency to think about the simultaneous rise in acceptance of overtly racist and sexist statements and opposition to economic globalization as separate phenomena, rooted in social and economic conditions respectively. In contrast, I argue that they are very much part of a reaction to a single sense that “traditional” American society is under siege. Both growing domestic racial and ethnic diversity and globalization have contributed to a generalized sense that white Americans, and white men in particular, are under siege by these engines of change.

To illustrate the interdependence of these two lines of thought in increasing support for re-establishing status hierarchies of the past, I use experimental research to demonstrate how heightened concerns about globalization have made racist, sexist and xenophobic public statements more socially acceptable, at the same time encouraging more discriminatory judgments of domestic minorities. Consistent with this premise, candidate preferences in 2016 reflected increasing anxiety among high status groups rather than complaints about past treatment among low status groups.

Fifth Panel: Rethinking Democracy in the Global Age

Archon Fung, “Power, Organization, and Liberation”

Many scholars of power have sought to understand how power produces domination. Marx and Gramsci focussed on the domination of workers by capitalists, feminists seek to understand the domination of women by men, James Scott explained the domination and resistance of Southeast Asian peasants, John Gaventa explored the domination of workers and their families in Appalachia, and Foucault explained the domination of regicides, prisoners and the insane (among others). One particular common framework used by activists and analysts is the three faces of power lens developed by Stephen Lukes and John Gaventa.

In this paper, I develop a conception of power that is aimed to enable the politics of liberation rather than understanding domination (though understanding domination may be an aspect of liberation). I argue that there are four important levels at which to understand the exercise of power and perhaps to alter the terms of that exercise. The first level of everyday power consists of retail transactions in which a particular agents face challenges to their interests: Is a fast food worker able to secure a decent wage? Is a pregnant woman able to terminate her pregnancy? Is a fetus able to avoid termination? Is a small dry cleaning business able to avoid over-burdensome environmental regulation and taxation? The second level of power consists of covering policies: general laws and policies (from governments and other organizations) that make it more or less difficult for those agents to advance their interests: minimum wage regulations, laws restricting abortion or governing its funding, environmental regulations, tax policies, or domestic partner policies of companies. The third level of structural power consists in the rules of engagement — the parameters and terrain — that govern the contest between groups and organizations that advocate for individuals at the first level and seek to shape the laws and policies constituting the second level of power. How difficult is it to form a labor union? What are the regulations and sanctions governing protest and civil disobedience? What limits do small businesses and their industry associations face in contribute freely to political campaigns and mounting political activity? Finally, the fourth level consists of Beliefs, Values and Ideologies that shape activity at the first three levels. Does the balance of public opinion favor protecting the economically vulnerable or market-based remuneration? Do we live, as Michael Sandel argues, in a market society? Are unions viewed as an important counterweight to business power or as protectors of aristocratic labor? Is it desirable for women to be economic participants or leaders at home? Is government believed to be generally competent to protect public interests?

John Keane, “Quantum Metaphors”

Political crises are typically described as sudden turning points, moments of gripping drama, flashpoints when everything is up for grabs, when bold judgements and decisions become necessary. But archaeologists, palaeontologists, historians and others teach us that the radical transformation and/or ruination of old orders and their replacement by new power arrangements often happen slowly. Slow-motion ruptures are naturally much harder to spot, and to analyse, but arguably they must be central to the analysis of democracy and its uncertain future, or so my reflections on territory, borders and cross-border democracy propose. The trigger thought is that the old 18th-century ideals and institutions of representative democracy ‘rendered practicable … over a great extent of territory’ (Destutt de Tracy), especially political parties, parliaments and general elections, are today snared in a deepening crisis. The roots of this protracted crisis are traceable to the plain fact that every nation-state democracy is today living in post-sovereign conditions, caught up in a salmagundi of power-wielding institutions designed to solve problems and produce and administer decisions that are not tied in any simple sense to territory.

The task of re-imaging democracy in this way supposes that democratic theory now requires something like a quantum leap, a major breakthrough equivalent to a sudden jump of a particle from one energy level to another. Such a quantum turn has far-reaching implications. It necessitates challenging the taken-for-granted methodologies and sizeable investments in Freedom House-style ‘national’ data bases that reinforce the dominant place-based, territorial imaginary of contemporary research on democratic politics. It sets its sights on explaining in fresh ways why questions of territory, place and space matter to democracy; why they need to be moved to the heart of democratic theory; and why the concern of quantum approaches in physics and astronomy with first century future of democracy now vitally depends on challenging the scholarly flatlands by developing quantum styles of thinking and a new practical politics of democratic space.

Hélène Landemore, “The Principles of Open Democracy”

The crisis of democracy can be traced to a number of fundamental design flaws in the way democrats reinvented popular rule in the 18th century, including the elitism of the selection mechanism for democratic representatives (elections). What would democracy look like if we could reinvent it from scratch, in the 21st Century, on the basis of theoretical knowledge that wasn’t available until recently (such as statistics) and empirical evidence of what works and what doesn’t in our electoral and party-based democracies? In this presentation, I do not offer a definitive blueprint but rather delineate a set of institutional principles that I believe a genuine democracy should reflect. I call this new paradigm “open democracy” to distinguish it from representative democracy, although it retains certain representative (not necessarily electoral) features. In open democracy, popular rule means the mediated but real exercise of power by ordinary citizens. This new paradigm privileges non-electoral forms of representation. In it, power is meant to remain constantly inclusive of and accessible–in other words, open–to ordinary citizens.