European Journal of Political Theory

Sage Publications, Inc.
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  • Agonistic democracy and constitutionalism in the age of populism

    The article examines the compatibility of agonistic democracy and populism as well as their relationship to the idea of constitutionalism. The first part shows that Chantal Mouffe’s recent attempts to reconcile her normative approach of an agonistic pluralism with a populist style of politics are not fully convincing. Although there are undeniable commonalities between an agonistic and a populist understanding of politics – the appreciation of conflict, the rejection of moralistic and juridical modes of conflict resolution etc. – the populist mode of the construction of the people (and the denunciation of political opponents as enemies of the people) risks impeding the transformation of antagonistic into agonistic modes of political contest. The tensions between agonism and populism are especially evident in matters of constitutionalism. This topic is examined in the second part of the article, which provides some ideas for reducing the normative and institutional blind spots of contemporary theories of agonistic democracy. It focuses on elementary principles for an agonistic concept of democratic constitutionalism that differs from the populist view of the relationship between politics and law, especially in respect of its interpretation of the concept of ‘resistibility’ of legal norms.

  • Sieyès and republican liberty

    In On the People’s Terms, Philip Pettit incorporates the Sieyèsian notion of constituent power into his constitutional theory of non-domination. In this article, I argue that Emmanuel Sieyès’s understanding of liberty precludes such an appropriation. While a republican, his conceptualisation of liberty in the face of commercial society stood apart from theories of civic vigilance, preferring instead to disentangle individuals from politics and maximise what he understood to be their non-political freedoms. Sieyès saw that liberty was heightened through relations of representation and commercial dependency. This conception of liberty was pivotal to the identity of the nation, and so allowed Sieyès to assess forms of collective injustice committed by the French nobility. It also provided the normative foundation of his theory of constituent power. For Sieyès, constituent power guarded against legislative excess in a decidedly minimal sense, intending instead to separate citizens from the political sphere so they were not burdened with ongoing participation or public vigilance.

  • A socialist republican theory of freedom and government

    In response to the republican revival of the ideal of freedom as non-domination, a number of ‘radical’, ‘labour’ and ‘workplace’ republicans have criticised the limitations of Philip Pettit’s account of freedom and government. This article proposes that the missing link in these debates is the relationship between republicanism and socialism. Seeking to bring this connection back into view in historical and theoretical terms, the article draws from contemporary radical republicans and the writings of Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg to propose a socialist republican theory of freedom and government. This consists of a conception of freedom as collective autonomy and a participatory democratic vision of a decentralised state with parliamentary institutions, the rule of law, worker-controlled workplaces, community-directed investment and a political culture of solidarity and public-spiritedness. This theory of socialist republicanism seeks to overcome the weaknesses and limitations of each respective independent theory and should appeal to republicans and socialists alike.

  • Radical republicanism and solidarity

    This article explains how 19th-century radical republicans answered the following question: how is it possible to be free in a social order that fosters economic dependence on others? I focus on the writings of a group of French thinkers called the solidarists who advocated “liberty organized for everyone.” Mutualism and social right were two components of the solidarist strategy for limiting domination in commercial/industrial society. While the doctrine of mutualism was rooted in pre-industrial artisan culture, social right was a novel idea that built on Durkheim’s analysis of the division of labour. In this article, I describe the main features of the solidarist account: solidarity, social property, quasi-contractual debt, and restorative justice. Classical republicanism was deeply concerned with citizen participation and the balance between popular and elite power, but 19th-century radical republicans thought that these goals must be approached differently in market societies in which enormous power is exercised outside the state. The solidarists cautiously embraced the state as a mechanism for regulating the market in order to ensure equal liberty. Social right and mutualism were also conceived as ways of limiting the centralization of state power.

  • La Boétie and republican liberty: Voluntary servitude and non-domination

    The 16th-century French humanist writer Etienne de La Boétie has not often been considered in literature on republican political thought, despite his famous essay, Discours de la Servitude Volontaire, displaying a number of clear republican tropes and themes, being largely concerned with the problem of arbitrary power embodied in the figure of the tyrant. Yet, I argue that the real significance of La Boétie’s text is in his radical concept of voluntary servitude and the way it adds a new dimension to the neo-republican theory of liberty as non-domination. The problem of self-domination or wilful obedience to authority is a form of ideological domination that Pettit’s understanding of arbitrary power relationships between agents does not adequately account for. Furthermore, La Boétie shows that freedom is an ontological condition and is realised not – or not entirely – through the rule of law as the guarantee against arbitrariness, as neo-republicans advocate, but rather through acts of self-emancipation and civil disobedience. Here I understand La Boétie’s thinking in terms of a certain anarcho-republicanism in which the promotion of freedom depends not so much on institutions, as Pettit suggests, but rather on autonomous relations of friendship, love and solidarity between individuals.

  • Structural domination in the labor market

    In recent years, there has been a wide-ranging debate about the neo-republican principle of non-domination. Neo-republicans argue that domination is a capacity for one to intentionally use arbitrary power to interfere in someone’s life. Critics of neo-republicanism argue that this definition of freedom as non-domination precludes a structural analysis of domination, which would explain and critique the ways in which societies produce structural domination unintentionally. The article focuses on capitalism’s labor process and its labor markets. It argues that critics are correct to think that the neo-republican principle of non-domination has an insufficient scope, but that an alternative account of structural domination should still support the neo-republican idea that agency must be involved. Otherwise, we might simply fail to explain the social processes that reproduce structural domination. What is needed is to explain how the labor process creates incentives for agents to intentionally produce structures that have unintended, yet dominating effects, and in turn, how the intentions of agents are conditioned by their social positions. Domination is thus agential and structural.

  • Is freedom as non-domination a right-wing idea?

    Sean Irving’s book Hayek’s Market Republicanism: The Limits of Liberty shows that the commonly accepted reading of Hayek as a liberal thinker is mistaken, and that his political writings are best understood as belonging to the broader tradition of republicanism. The distinction is important for understanding many aspects of Hayek’s thought, and especially his rejection of social justice and majoritarian democracy. In that sense, one of the book’s more general merits is its implicit contribution to ongoing debates between republican ‘freedom as non-domination’ and liberal ‘freedom as non-interference’. Irving focuses on what he sees as a contradiction between Hayek’s chief concerns about the state as the main source of domination and his disregard for private forms of power, and especially within the capitalist firm. I argue, however, that the example of Hayek should lead us to consider a more prosaic conclusion: freedom as non-domination is a concept less useful for criticising the free market than Irving and left-leaning Republicans seem to assume.

  • Editorial Announcement
  • Revisiting ancient and modern liberty: On de Dijn’s Freedom: An Unruly History

    Annelien de Dijn’s Freedom: An Unruly History is a rich and thought-provoking work in intellectual history, tracing thinking and debating about political freedom in the West from ancient Greece to our own times. The ancient notion of freedom as self-government (what Quentin Skinner calls neo-roman liberty) is referred to as the ‘democratic conception’. The argument is that this conception survived through the renaissance, the early-modern period and the 18th-century Atlantic revolutions only to be deliberately scrapped in the 19th century in favour of liberal freedom – absence of state interference – thus severing the ancient links between freedom and democracy and turning democracy into a threat to freedom. The book is an impressive achievement and the use of sources staggeringly wide. However, though the liberal turn is certainly a fact of history, I am not convinced that it was such a decisive break, nor that the relations between conceptions of freedom and attitudes to democracy are as clear-cut as de Dijn needs them to be. De Dijn claims, with regret, that the liberal view remains our view and is now an essential part of Western civilization, but I find that to be empirically under-substantiated. By using the liberal turn to define an age, de Dijn lets history play out through the lens of the elite.

  • Republicanism, EU democracy and differentiated (dis-)integration

    Few debates in political theory are challenged as much by the constant change of their empirical subject as those about democracy in the European Union (EU). With A Republican Europe of States, Richard Bellamy responds to the EU’s post-Lisbon era, which has been characterized by the euro crisis, conflicts over migration, the rise of Euroscepticism and Brexit. Keeping an eye on these contextual conditions and the related legal and political transformations, he has developed a general theory of international democracy aimed at securing non-domination between peoples and between citizens and their representatives at the international level, and elaborated its implications for the EU. The result is a distinctive version of demoi-cracy, whose firm centring on the nation-state as the natural locus of democracy is likely to be controversially discussed. In this article, I raise some critical considerations regarding the design of demoi-cratic institutions, the adequate understanding of EU citizenship and the normative credentials of differentiated (dis-)integration.

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