Date: Jun 5 | Time: 03:45pm to 05:15pm | Location: SWING 122
Chair/Président/Présidente : Afsoun Afsahi (University of Amsterdam)
Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Afsoun Afsahi (University of Amsterdam)
Hobbes and the Tragedy of Democracy: Christopher Holman (Nanyang Technological University) Abstract: This paper reconsiders Thomas Hobbes’s critique of the democratic sovereign form from the standpoint of what it identifies as the latter’s most important ontological conditions: the lack of a transcendent source of fundamental law, and a natural human equality that renders all individuals competent to participate in legislative modes. For Hobbes these two conditions combine to render democracy a tragic regime. Democracy is tragic to the extent that it must be a regime of self-limitation, there existing no ethical standard external to society that may intervene so as to guide our political self-activity, and yet the structure of deliberation in democratic assemblies tends to render such self-limitation impossible. Hence what Hobbes sees as the inherent tendency of democratic activity to descend into excess and madness. This risk is an intrinsic potentiality embedded within democracy’s very conditions, a fact covered up by much post-Hobbesian liberal democratic theory that attempts to normatively ground the democratic form in various universal principles of natural law or right. I argue that Hobbes's perception of the democratic risks associated with the lack of self-limitation provides a fruitful foundation for theorizing the emergence of certain contemporary forms of reactionary populism.
Democratic Theory and the Circumstances of International Politics: Zhichao Tong (University of Toronto) Abstract: The purpose of this article is to explore how the circumstances of international politics, understood as a competitive ecology of states and regimes, should inform our approach to democratic theory. A principal motivation for my inquiry is the fact that the current dialogue between democratic theory and international relations has largely been one-sided. In so far as democratic theorists attempt to integrate the latter into their theoretical schemas, it is mostly about the application of democratic principles beyond state borders, as a cosmopolitan political ideal. Little has then been said about how the competitive international system affects our conception of nation-based democracy. In response to such an unanswered question, the article makes three separate but interrelated claims. First, I argue that the circumstances of international politics have strong domestic implications and thus need to be incorporated into the very foundation of nation-based democracy. Second, such an incorporation is possible through what Jeremy Waldron called “the circumstances of politics”. Third, an epistemic theory of democracy could be developed into a paradigm that integrates democratic theory more thoroughly with the circumstances of international politics.
The Utopian Contours of Insurgent Democracy: Simulacrum and the Community of Readers in Abensour: Paul Mazzocchi (York University) Abstract: Radical democracy generally, and Miguel Abensour’s work more specifically, have been accused of ignoring political institutions and the specific contours democracy might take, instead favouring insurgent moments of action that are incapable of enduring in time. Drawing specifically on Abensour’s work, this paper attempts to go beyond this ephemeral conception of democracy by exploring the utopian contours of democracy. In addition to contributing to democratic theory, the paper aims to contribute to the burgeoning scholarship on Abensour’s work via an attempt to sublate an apparent binary between democracy and utopia. In this direction, rather than reducing democracy to its insurgent moments (its institution against the state), the paper explores the nature of the types of political bodies that resist, and provide an alternative to, the state relation. This depends upon the idea of a utopian simulacrum, which, far from being a mere metaphysical concept, denotes the creation of a particular type of community characterized by radical plurality. To begin with, this includes an internal plurality structured on the model of a “community of readers” drawing on dialogical models of utopia. At the same time, this includes an external plurality that allows for the existence of multiple, possibly antagonistic, democratic bodies, with the relation between them being characterized by “example and political reproducibility” rather than conceptions of sovereign command.