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Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Social Covenants… by Seth Kaplan

In Africa, Asia, culture, ethics, Europe, human rights, political science, religion on January 12, 2014 at 00:57

From: Social Covenants Must Precede Social Contracts By Seth Kaplan, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

The differences between the two ideas are stark. Social contracts are written agreements entered into on the basis of self-interest for specific purposes. Social covenants, in contrast, are sustained not by the letter of any law or by self-interest. Instead, they depend on fidelity, trust, and loyalty. As moral philosopher and religious leader Jonathan Sacks writes,

Social contract creates a state; social covenant creates a society. Social contract is about power and how it is to be handled within a political framework. Social covenant is about how people live together despite their differences. Social contract is about government. Social covenant is about coexistence. Social contract is about laws and their enforcement. Social covenant is about the values we share. Social contract is about the use of potentially coercive force. Social covenant is about moral commitments, the values we share and the ideals that inspire us to work together for the sake of the common good.

In societies riven by divisions and lacking any organization that can be relied upon to adjudicate disagreements between competing groups effectively, such as the state, some form of agreement between important groups is crucial to ending conflict and dividing up power in a way that ensures a degree of common understanding on how the state ought to work. Such agreements—between different actors within society, not between the state and society—must occur before determining the nature of government, just as the U.S. Declaration of Independence preceded the U.S. Constitution.

The power of a social covenant flows less from its conception and implementation than, as Elazar points out, from:

The way it informs culture, especially political culture, endowing particular peoples with a particular set of political perceptions, expectations, and norms and shaping the way in which those perceptions, expectations and norms are given institutional embodiment and behavioral expression.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

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The Dangers of Totalitarianism by Agnes Heller

In classics, education, Europe, politics, society, world on December 4, 2013 at 21:00

From: The Dangers of Totalitarianism by Agnes Heller, Literal Magazine, http://www.literalmagazine.com

How did our education become so market-oriented?

It happened in the last half-century. Education became market-oriented in two senses. Educational institutions behaved as institutions of the market. They became a market. They were producing young people for certain kinds of professions and young people took a kind of profession in order to get a better salary and a better position. And that’s all wrong, and it’s wrong even from the standpoint of technology, even from the standpoint of physics, chemistry. Because if you teach young people Physics, or Chemistry, which is actually the leading branch in science, the moment they finish school, it won’t be important anymore for these branches of science. But if you learn something general, universal; if you learn higher Mathematics, higher Physics, Greek or Latin language or Logic and Philosophy; all these capacities or abilities to argue and think in abstract notions, to think logically, to concentrate and to contemplate and to memorize; you’ve learned everything that you can actually use later on. It is not specialized subject matter, but you can use it all.

How do you see the 21st century? Is it going to get better or worse?

I don’t see the 21st century, we are at the beginning of it. Think, at the beginning of the 20th century, think about 1912, whether you could have forseen what was going to happen in 1914 or 1933, or 1942. It was impossible. So I think that at the present moment, right now, 2012, one hundred years after 1912, we cannot possibly know what is going to happen in our century. We can only hope it will be better, that it will be far better than the 20th century. If you have in mind this conflict between democracy and totalitarism, especially in Europe, between republicanism and bonapartism, which is a European conflict from the beginning of modernity, in this situation, in this conflict, you have to take the position of republicanism, of democracy, against bonapartism or totalitarian government. And the danger of totalitarianism is not gone; the danger is always present in the modern world, because it is a modern political institution. It was totally wrong when people believed that totalitarianism was something from the Middle Ages, or something reactionary. It is absolutely not the case. It is as modern as democracy. And that is why, in a modern world, you have to face the danger that there can be a war. And so basically, we have to change the world in order to prevent the world from embracing again different kinds of forms of bonapartism or totalitarian movements in States.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei

In art, Asia, culture, government, human rights, internet, technology on October 21, 2013 at 05:01

From: Every Day We Put the State on Trial by Ai Weiwei, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

For ages, artists have asked difficult questions about the human condition. It is their privilege to pursue such questions without needing to yield practical results. As individuals, and as a society, we can never really say we know everything. Society allows artists to explore what we don’t know in ways that are distinct from the approaches of science, religion, and philosophy. As a result, art bears a unique responsibility in the search for truth.
Art is a social practice that helps people to locate their truth. The truth itself, or the so-called truth presented by the media, has limitations. Manipulation of the truth does not lead to a lack of truth—it’s worse than no truth. Manipulated truths help the powerful, or advance the positions of the people who publicize them. So the arts and journalistic media play completely different roles.
I think it is important for artists to see themselves as privileged, and to bear some responsibility, because their job is about communication and expression. These are the core values of life, of being individuals. Most people don’t realize that they have to fight for this, but for us artists it’s necessary.

With 140 Chinese characters on Twitter, you can write a short story or novel. It’s not like in English, where you only have room for one question or piece of information. So we’re very privileged. But at the same time, I have been censored countless times for blogging on Sina Weibo, sharing my opinions, and publishing the names and stories of children killed during the Sichuan earthquake. The authorities delete my sentences. When they find that I’m writing too much, they shut off my IP. So I have to use another one and write under another user name. Sometimes in one month I have to use a hundred different IP addresses. Still, whatever I do, they’ll try to recognize me from the way I talk and the name I take—variations on my name like “Ai Weiwei,” “Ai Wei,” “Ai” and so on.

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Of Lawyers and Salesmen by Jörg Friedrich

In politics, society, theory on July 3, 2013 at 17:36

From: Of Lawyers and Salesmen: What’s the difference between a vacuum cleaner salesman and a politician? by Jörg Friedrich, The European, http://www.theeuropean-magazine.com

Within every democracy, a constant fight is being waged between those whose positions are legitimized through democratic elections and the constitutionally established structures of the state, and those who independently introduce moral ideals, local interests or economic aims into the political discourse and into the public sphere. We might even say that the political dynamism of a predominantly democratic society stems from the tensions between those whose power is rooted in procedures and those who seize power by acting publicly. In Egypt, oppositional groups took to the streets to protest against a constitutional referendum that was supported by the country’s democratically elected president. In Germany, citizens’ initiatives protested against large-scale construction projects. In each of these conflicts we can see the tension between legitimated power and the power of so-called civil society.

Among the citizens of democratic states, a deep sense of mistrust of political representatives has taken hold. Several years ago I saw the following caricature: two travelers faced each other on a train. “I am a vacuum cleaner salesman,” said the first. “I sell vacuum cleaners.” To which the second replied: “I am a politician. I sell out the people.” This little imagined conversation illustrates the uneasy relationship of many voters with the political machine.

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Reposted with permission from: The European

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

Boston Marathon Bombings by Philippe Theophanidis

In government, human rights, law, media, news, North America, politics, war on April 27, 2013 at 19:52

From: Boston Marathon Bombings: the Emergency Declaration as a State of Exception by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net

NGUYEN_2013_Boston_manhunt-620x826Up until recently (First World War), warfare had traditionally made a clear distinction between civilian and military targets. The bombings in Boston is yet another striking reminder that things have since drastically changed. The front lines that need to be protected have moved within the most intimate spaces of the civilian sphere. The war zone extend all the way into private living rooms and backyards.

Such an inversion (further) blurs the traditional distinction between what is public and what is private. Indeed, when the front lawn of private homes becomes a theatre for military-like operations in a democratic country, two issues arise. First, the extent of a government’s authority into the intimacy of private lives become spectacularly visible. The fact that such an intervention is conducted for the population’s “own good”, as it was repeatedly argued in the past few days, does not invalidate the relevance of this observation. Second, it raises some questions regarding the democratic principle of the separation of powers.

Which brings the question of the Emergency Declaration that was signed by President Barack Obama for the state of Massachusetts on April 17, 2013. At the time of writing, there doesn’t seem to be much information available online about this presidential declaration. Mainstream media have been very generous in providing the public with various informations regarding the events, including extensive coverage about the lifting of the Miranda rule for the captured suspect in the name of a “public safety exception”. However, informed analysis about the legal aspects surrounding an Emergency Declaration are scarce. A couple of informative points relative to the exceptional character of the authorities’s response are worth highlighting.

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Moral Enhancement by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson

In anthropology, ecology, ethics, nature, philosophy, psychology, society, technology on March 16, 2013 at 15:44

From: Moral Enhancement by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson, Philosophy Now, http://philosophynow.org

For the vast majority of our 150,000 years or so on the planet, we lived in small, close-knit groups, working hard with primitive tools to scratch sufficient food and shelter from the land. Sometimes we competed with other small groups for limited resources. Thanks to evolution, we are supremely well adapted to that world, not only physically, but psychologically, socially and through our moral dispositions.

But this is no longer the world in which we live. The rapid advances of science and technology have radically altered our circumstances over just a few centuries. The population has increased a thousand times since the agricultural revolution eight thousand years ago. Human societies consist of millions of people. Where our ancestors’ tools shaped the few acres on which they lived, the technologies we use today have effects across the world, and across time, with the hangovers of climate change and nuclear disaster stretching far into the future. The pace of scientific change is exponential. But has our moral psychology kept up?

With great power comes great responsibility. However, evolutionary pressures have not developed for us a psychology that enables us to cope with the moral problems our new power creates. Our political and economic systems only exacerbate this. Industrialisation and mechanisation have enabled us to exploit natural resources so efficiently that we have over-stressed two-thirds of the most important eco-systems.

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Reposted with permission from: Philosophy Now

Defending the People from the Professors by John P. McCormick

In government, history, law, philosophy, political science, politics, theory on January 8, 2013 at 00:23

From: Defending the People from the Professors by John P. McCormick, the art of theory, http://www.artoftheory.com

For some years now, while presenting parts of a book on Machiavelli and democratic theory across North America, I’ve been consistently surprised by the level of hostility it provokes among academics—even, or especially, among self-avowedly progressive or “radical” scholars. Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge UP, 2011), traces previously neglected democratic strains in Machiavelli’s political writings: I elaborate his argument that the few, not the many, pose the principal threat to liberty in republics, and articulate his institutional prescriptions for empowering common citizens to constrain the behavior of elites and rule directly over public policy.

Averse to neither heated exchange nor polemical confrontation, I’m nevertheless seldom prepared for the anxiety and indignation that the idea of direct popular judgment provokes in friends and colleagues. The mobophobic reaction to Machiavelli’s ideas on popular government compelled me to reconsider more critically disparate contemporary literatures on democracy. Here, I want to reexamine some of the criticisms implicitly and explicitly leveled against the people as a political agent and democracy generally by writers before and after Machiavelli, as well as the Florentine’s own diagnosis of this scholarly antipathy to popular rule. I’ll also offer a concise recapitulation of Machiavelli’s case for the kind of popular government he thought most conducive to “the free way of life.”

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Reposted with permission from; art of theory

Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? by Harvey C. Mansfield

In books, government, law, philosophy, political science, politics on November 17, 2012 at 18:22

From: Are You Smarter Than a Freshman? What political philosophy has to say about elections. by Harvey C. Mansfield, Defining Ideas, http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/

Aristotle’s Politics calls into question the assumption that elections are democratic. Democracy stands for living as you please, he says, which means as you choose. But choosing means taking better over worse, or a respectable life over doing menial tasks, the noble over the necessary. In choosing to have an election—the word for choice also means “election”—you give your support to someone or a party you admire or at any rate think better of. What is this preference but the choice of an aristocracy, literally, the rule of the best, or of the best in this situation?

Machiavelli believes that human beings are divided into the few who want to rule and the many who do not care to rule themselves but do not want to be ruled by others either. Then those who want to rule must conceal their rule from the many they rule if they wish to succeed. How can they do this? Machiavelli went about conceiving a “new mode of ruling,” a hidden government that puts the people “under a dominion they do not see.” Government is hidden when it appears not to be imposed on you from above but when it comes from you, when it is self-imposed.

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Reposted with permission from: Defining Ideas

Breaking the Silence by Pratap Bhanu Mehta

In Asia, ethics, government, philosophy, politics, sociology on October 24, 2012 at 22:32

From: Breaking the Silence. Why we don’t talk about inequality—and how to start again By Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Caravan, http://www.caravanmagazine.in

The Principle of equality is having a revolutionary effect on life in contemporary India.” This was the considered assessment of the eminent American political scientist Myron Weiner, writing for Foreign Affairs in 1962. In a society still marked by egregiously obscene forms of inequality, the term “revolutionary” seems extravagant, even five decades after Weiner pronounced his judgment. But determining what constitutes “revolutionary” social change depends on how that change is measured—and in the second decade after Independence, the distance that India had travelled from its starting point would have indeed seemed immense. Political equality had been enshrined in the Constitution, untouchability had been delegitimised, political representation was widely shared, zamindari had been abolished, a new development paradigm was instituted, and the state defined its goals in terms of common welfare.

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Reposted with permission from: The Caravan

What Democratic Europe? by Etienne Balibar

In economics, Europe, government, sociology on October 20, 2012 at 23:58

From: What Democratic Europe? A Response to Jürgen Habermas by Etienne Balibar, Social Europe Journal, http://www.social-europe.eu

Jürgen Habermas expressed a clear position on Europe’s current situation and the decisions that need to be taken: following the Constitution of Europe translated in May, Le Monde published the German philosophers’ latest point of view under the heading ‘More than ever, Europe’. Essentially, Habermas’ argument is that the Euro crisis has nothing to do with the ‘errors’ of the big spender states that would struggle to catch up the more ‘thrifty’ states (in German, Schuld means both error and debt …), but everything to do with the inability of states pitted against one another by speculators to level the market playing field, and to weigh in favour of global financial regulation. That is why there will be no way out of the crisis if Europe does not decide to ‘take the step’ towards political integration that will enable it to simultaneously defend its currency and pursue its social policies and policies aimed at reducing inequality that justify its existence.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Social Europe Journal website

 

What Is Normal? by Simon Critchley

In economics, philosophy, politics, society on July 2, 2012 at 18:32

 

From: What Is Normal? The surprising power of the political imagination by Simon Critchley, Adbusters Magazine, http://www.adbusters.org

We are living through a dramatic and ever-widening separation between normal state politics and power. Many citizens still believe that state politics has power. They believe that governments, elected through a parliamentary system, represent the interests of those who elect them and that governments have the power to create effective, progressive change. But they don’t and they can’t.

We do not live in democracies. We inhabit plutocracies: government by the rich. The corporate elites have overwhelming economic power with no political accountability. In the past decades, with the complicity and connivance of the political class, the Western world has become a kind of college of corporations linked together by money and serving only the interests of their business leaders and shareholders.

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