Bringing the People back into Republican Democracy

Keynote speaker: Dr. Karma Nabulsi – University of Oxford

Convenors:

Guy Aitchison (UCL)

Bruno Leipold (Oxford)

Website: http://republicandemocracy.wordpress.com/

The republican tradition in political theory is distinguished by its strong emphasis on popular sovereignty and active citizenship. In recent years, however, an important divide has emerged among republicans between those who advocate the checks and balances of court-based constitutionalism and those who see an important role for popular participation in politics, both within and outside official institutions. The former “constitutional” approach arguably represents the mainstream of republican thinking on democracy thanks to its systematic and influential articulation by Philip Pettit. It has however been criticised by “popular” republicans for its anti-democratic elitism in constraining the law-making powers of majorities with veto powers handed to judges and other expert bodies, and for limiting the direct participation of citizens in government.

Another strand of critique questions the narrow focus of mainstream republican theory on the potential tyranny of public institutions to the neglect of how arbitrary concentrations of private power in wider society and the economy. This strand of “critical” republicanism has sought to extend the republican idea of freedom as non-domination to critique institutional and structural patterns of arbitrary power, raising the possibility of a link between republican thought and contemporary struggles against over-bearing corporate and financial institutions. Historians of political thought have meanwhile noted the role republicanism has played within the labour movement as part of a critique of exploitation and the undemocratic power of capital.

This workshop will discuss the popular tradition of republican thinking about democracy and how it might contribute to a more ambitious and encompassing democratic vision. There are plentiful resources within the historical tradition of republican thought for such an approach, with key representatives, such as Machiavelli, seeing an important role for popular involvement in politics to check the greed and ambition of elites, and thinkers from Aristotle to Rousseau warning against the danger to democracy posed by large inequalities of wealth. There are also potentially fruitful commonalities to be explored between popular republicanism and recent work on “agonistic” democracy, with both traditions sharing an understanding of the “political” that extends beyond the institutions of the state and an emphasis on the need for vigorous civic activism and constructive forms of social conflict in counteracting domination. This workshop invites papers that reflect on any of the following themes:

 

  • The strengths and limits of the popular republican tradition of democracy
  • The institutional forms and civic practices of popular republican democracy
  • The links between republican and agonistic and participatory theories of democracy
  • The place of popular republican ideas in revolutions and rebellions (both historical and contemporary)
  • How radical democratic practices, such as civil disobedience and direct action, can be theorized under a republican view
  • The relationship between popular republican thought and contemporary political movements
  • Theories of economic democracy that draw on republican thought
  • The historical tradition of popular republicanism in the work of Machiavelli, the Levellers, Rousseau and others

To participate in this workshop, please submit a 500 word abstract prepared for blind-review and a cover letter with your full details to republicandemocracy@gmail.com by Friday 30th May. Accepted papers should then follow by Friday 29th August for circulation to the workshop participants