Democratic Possibilities: Historical, Normative and Global Perspectives
Tuesday 23 November 2021
Conference co-sponsored by the France Chicago Center and the University of Chicago Center in Paris
“Democratic erosion” is a topic much discussed today with authoritarian governments usurping liberal democratic ones in Hungary, Poland, Brazil and India, and right wing populist movements gaining increasing prominence in France, Germany, the UK and the United States. Countless books and opinion pieces have been published with the hope of preventing further authoritarian lurching in existing democracies and of reversing autocratic gains in previously democratic countries. The purpose of this one-day conference is to broaden the perspective on democratic erosion by drawing on the fields of intellectual history, normative philosophy and comparative political thought to think constructively, rather than merely defensively, about enhancing democratic principles and practices in the contemporary world. We have assembled a methodologically diverse trio of European scholars to discuss the aspirational quality of democracy—democratic possibilities—in different historical and regional contexts and through an ethical lens.
Gabriele Pedullà (University of Rome) will reexamine the reception of ancient democracy in the paradigmatic “republican” context of medieval and Renaissance Italy. Pedullà shows quite surprisingly that many Italian humanists exhibited a remarkable appreciation for democratic Athens, and sought to incorporate aspects of ancient democracy into their republics’ political institutions.
Annabelle Lever (SciencesPo, Paris) will explore the ethical merits of two procedures of political appointment that have separated republicans from democrats since the eighteenth century: respectively, election and lottery. Lever evaluates the moral value of each appointment device along according to the following criteria: (1) the principle that democratic citizens need no special virtues, knowledge, resources or powers in order to participate in government and to hold positions of special responsibility and public trust; and (2) the principle that democratic politics is a cooperative as well as a competitive business.
Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi (Goldsmiths, University of London) will investigate democratic possibilities emerging from the Middle East by revisiting Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqani’s role in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Drawing upon public speeches and primary source material, Sadeghi-Boroujerdi analyzes Taleqani’s anti-capitalist brand of Islamic socialism, and explores his contribution to debates around neighborhood and workers councils, thus bringing to light novel ideas concerning economic democracy and local self-government in and beyond the Global South.
The following University of Chicago faculty will serve as commentators on the papers: John P. McCormick, Chiara Cordelli, Jennifer Pitts and Jon Levy.