SOGOLAS Research seminar in Zoom: György Schöpflin “Democracy, Power and Complexity”

11/04/2020 - 16:00 - 17:30

04.11 SOGOLAS Research seminar in Zoom: György Schöpflin “Democracy, Power and Complexity”

04.11 SOGOLAS Research seminar in Zoom: György Schöpflin “Democracy, Power and Complexity”


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Seminar will take place in Zoom. 

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The unstated goal of democracy is to even out (serious) asymmetries of power. This means that both elites and non-elites accept conflict resolution.

This proposition is underpinned by Isaiah Berlin’s thesis on incommensurability of values; if that is ignored, a drift towards moral monism arises. The problems deriving from asymmetry have been greatly exacerbated by the growing inability of political institutions to deal with complexity and non-linearity: butterfly effect, emergent properties, positive feedback loops, irreversibility, events cascades, wicked problems, agnotology, political rituals, centre-periphery tensions, cultural traumas. Note that rational choice theory has nothing to add. Central here is that European thought-worlds are deeply imbued with linear thinking (monotheism, Enlightenment universalism), and this makes it difficult to adjust to the impact of linear and non-linear processes structuring how we understand causation.

One of the central political aspects of this development is that neither the state nor the market (as allocator) has been able to sustain stable political relations (equilibrium state), which was feasible before globalisation (1945-1989). Another aspect of this tension is the conflict over the content of democracy: is it rule by values or rule by the consent of the governed? Rule by values transfers decision-making to semi-political or non-political institutions; rule by consent foregrounds popular participation (elections, referenda, citizens’ initiatives, localisation). (Note that the term “liberal democracy” is not self-evident, neither is a necessary condition of the other. In reality, both are needed.) The outcome is the polarisation of the political field. Coming new global order – the hegemony of the West (Europe) is declining, no single globalisation, but the rise of civilisation states, with their own conflict-generating globalisations (China, India, Russia, US, but where is Europe?). Civilisation-state and culture, nationalism debate. New conflict resolution mechanisms are necessary.  

Dr. György Schöpflin is the former Jean Monet Professor of Politics at the University College London; he has also served as a Member of the European Parliament for 15 years