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Is Democracy for Humans Only?
John Keane, James Miller, Rafi Youatt, and others discuss our “most anthropocentric ideal”
April 13, 2023
In this week’s issue of Public Seminar, John Keane’s essay “How Democracies Die, Fast and Slow” prompts a conversation about people power, the “greening” of politics, and why “liberal democracy” should be consigned to the Dictionary of Antiquarian Terms. Thanks to our friends at Eurozine for co-convening this debate.
“Sudden death stories of democracy do us a disservice. The truth is that democracy can be destroyed in multiple ways, at different tempos. The slowest of these—environmental degradation—is a consequence of the anthropocentric ideal underlying democracy itself.” John Keane kicks off our essay series on how and why democracies degrade. (April 10, 2023)
James Miller examines people power as the crux of democracy. “To place all political power in the hands of ordinary people is to make an extraordinary wager on the goodwill and magnanimity of the human species, and on what one might call ‘the wisdom of crowds’—a wager that Condorcet made in 1793, in the aftermath of the storming of the Tuileries palace and the execution of the French king, by drafting what he intended to be the world’s first truly democratic constitution.” (April 11, 2023)
“We need to develop a wider conception and practice of politics as a process engaged with the nonhuman world, which in turn intersects human aspirations to create more just political institutions.” Rafi Youatt argues that democracy’s survival hinges on whether we can put aside our anthropocentrism and pursue a planetary politics. (April 12, 2023)
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When education is treated as a commodity, Benjamin P. Davis wonders, how can universities resist the neoliberal model of scarcity and competition? “To fail to train our students how to situate themselves within the land we are on, the community we are a part of, and the history we reflect and create each day is, in effect, to fail to teach them how to be careful citizens in a democracy.” (April 12, 2023)
It’s a testament to the unrivaled popularity of democracy as a political system in Europe that even authoritarians like Viktor Orbán are “at pains to preserve the veneer of procedural legality,” writes Filip Kostelka. “Fascism, violent coups, and outright authoritarianism are historically compromised as concepts.” (April 10, 2023)
“Democracy supposes that a more equal world of well-being, openness, and diversity is possible. It champions these ideals not because all women and men are ‘naturally’ equal, nor because some claim that they are anointed by God or the Party or a Demagogue to govern others. Democracy instead shows us that no man nor woman nor institution is perfect enough to rule unaccountably over people or the fragile lands and seas in which they dwell.” In his response James Miller’s commentary, John Keane elaborates on the radical ideal of “monitory democracy.” (April 12, 2023)
Finally, those intrigued by “the wisdom of crowds” shouldn’t miss Episode 19 of the podcast Why Now?, in which host Claire Potter joins the Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels impersonators gathered in Lower Manhattan on the day of the former president’s arraignment. (April 5, 2023)