Open Philosophy Seminar: Democracy after Covid

09/18/2020 - 16:15 - 18:15

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We invite you once again to participate in the open philosophy seminar of Tallinn University on this Friday (18.09) at 16:15 in the room S-240. The first presenter will be György Schöpflin, PhD. The seminar will touch upon almost all things current and will likely generate conflicting opinions and hopefully also fruitful discussion. The notes send by Schöpflin include as keywords COVID, the separation of democracy and liberalism, statehood, nationhood, populism and legitimacy, but also the green challenge and digitalization. You can find his notes below. 

The next event is planned on the 2nd October and the presented will be Henry Mead

PS. If you have any symptoms similar to COVID, please stay home. In the event, if possible, wear a mask and keep the distance from other participants.

Democracy after Covid: return of the state?

Rosanvallon: democracy is in trouble primarily because of the non-legibility of power, hence non-accountability; Rosanvallon’s focus is on state structures, but there has been a qualitative redistribution of power since 1989 to non-elected bodies. Democracy has been reconfigured (“end of history”) to the detriment of a large slice of society, corresponding increase in the power, authority, status of new elites (Goodhart’s Anywheres v. Somewheres, Guilluy’s internal centre-periphery). 
Manow has written of “de-democratisation”, Entdemokratisierung, but places the emphasis on the personalisation of political discourse and activity, and that this has given rise to polarisation. This is partly the consequence of a growing elite consensus, with insufficient input from below (a German perspective).
The reconfiguration of democracy into liberal democracy emphasises values over consent of the governed. The response is delegitimated as populism, very close to being an empty signifier. The values are close to Laclau’s single logic, similar to Isaiah Berlin’s monism. Populism can also be seen as the checks and balances in the structures of power – an attempt to address asymmetries of power.
Note that liberalism is not a necessary condition of democracy, equally non-democratic liberalism is possible (legality, some representation, but supreme power is not accountable).
Covid has seriously shaken the faith in the globalised market. The third global shock after 9/11 and the 2008 crisis. The 2015 migration crisis also played a role in Europe. The green challenge, digitalisation and demography also relevant in this connection.
The state is resuming roles that had been transferred to non-legible, non-consensual actors, especially in security provision (political, economic, cultural) and risk assumption, as primary allocator and redistributor.
This further means that nationhood, both ethnic and civic, is acquiring greater traction. (Time to return to the Great Nationalism Debate of the 1980s?)
But that leaves open the issue of legibility of the stronger state and the danger of bureaucratic despotism and oligarchy (Michels, Mosca). 
New mechanisms? (Referenda, consultations, citizens’ initiatives, citizens’ assemblies, strengthening local government, regional sovereignties.) Difficult when society is already polarised, trust is low. Note that these polarised systems are dialogical (adapting Bakhtin, two interactive monologies) and stable, even static.
Solutions could diverge within a polity, as in Germany, with a uniform system of law, but extensive devolution, avoiding a Jacobin centralisation. Where the polarisation is deep, accept a consociational option.
Retheorise democracy, more emphasis on consent, otherwise danger of oligarchy, but not to the exclusion of values. A new, and difficult equilibrium and these will diverge from one polity to another. But respecting the pivotal problem of evening out the asymmetries of power and accepting a degree of incoherence, together with conflict resolution mechanisms.