Hidalgo - Conceptual History and Politics

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Hidalgo - Conceptual History and Politics


<p> Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008DOI: 10.1163/187465608X363463Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008) 176-201 www.brill.nl/chcocontributionsto the historyof conceptsConceptual History and Politics: Is the Concept of Democracy Essentially Contested?Oliver HidalgoInstitut fr Politikwissenschaft der Universitt RegensburgAbstractTis article surveys the history of the concept of democracy from Ancient times to the present. According to the author, the conceptual history of democracy shows that the overwhelming success of the concept is most of all due to its ability to subsume verydierenthistoricalideasandrealitiesunderitssemanticeld.Moreover,the historical evolution of the concept reveals that no unequivocal denition is possible because of the signicant paradoxes, aporias, and contradictions it contains. Tese are popular sovereignty vs. representation, quality vs. quantity, liberty vs. equality, individual vs. collective, and, nally, the synchronicity between similarities and dis-similarities.Teubiquitoususageofdemocracyinpresent-daypoliticallanguage makes it impossible to speak of it from an external perspective. Tus, both demo-cratic theory and practice are suused with empirical and normative elements.Keywordsdemocracy, conceptual history, conceptual politics, normative theoryTe concept of democracy has been associated at dierent points in history with some very opposing ideas: while the ancients used the term toidentifytheeectiveruleofthemanyorevenofthewholepeople (despite the fact only a minority were considered citizens and the popula-tion was constricted to a small area), modern thinkers employ it in order torefertoasocietyinwhichpeopleareabletoelectandcontroltheir rulers as a means to guarantee freedom, equality, and the pursuit of self-interest for all individuals.1 Tere are also countless other forms of govern-1)ForacomprehensiveanalysisofancientandmoderndemocraciesseeMosesI.Finley (1980), Fritz Gschnitzer (1995), and Josiah Ober and Charles Hedrick (1996). O. Hidalgo / Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008) 176-201177ment which adopt patterns, (sub-)types, and varieties of decision-making processes that have also been labelled democratic, making it hard to keep orientation. Tis myriad usage of the concept leads to a spate of distinc-tions and qualications. Most traditionally, one can speak of democracies that are liberal or republican, direct or representative, consensual or majori-tarian, market or socially oriented. More recently, other variants acquired prominence such as participatory, deliberative and grassroots democracies, orevenalternativeslikedemarchy,skeweddemocracyandnon-partisan democracy. Finally, considering how democracies have evolved worldwide, even the possibility of a specic Islamic transformation of democracy or of a socialist and anarchist brand of democratization might expand the scope of the concept in the future.If a typology is plausible (a di cult task as it is, since nowadays the basic traits of a direct democracy -initiatives, referenda and recalls take place within the representative system and the people sometimes not only han-dle legislative but certain executive and judicial powers as well), we cannot avoid the suspicion that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people (Abraham Lincoln) might just as well mean everyone and everything.2Rather than succumbing to a mood of dismay, we must take into con-sideration W. B. Gallies classical statement that democracy like justice or artsisyetanotheroneamongthoseessentiallycontestedconcepts which lack unique standards of denition.3 Furthermore (and fortunately) the contest seems to concern rst and foremost the interpretation of the concept, not the concept of democracy itself.4 Obviously then the question that must be made is whether it is possible to nd arguments and criteria toassesswhatisthebestinterpretationoftheconceptofdemocracyor whether all there is to be done is to accept a juxtaposition of competing versions.Tisapproachimpliesasecond,deeperproblem,namely,the extenttowhichconceptualhistorymighthelpinacquiringanormative perception of democracy. At rst glance, there can only be an answer in the negative: conceptual history (here understood as the description and anal-ysis of concrete historical semantics, origins, derivations and alterations of 2)Giovanni Sartori (1992), 11.3)See Walter B. Gallie (1956).4)SeesomeconsiderationsconcerningnormativeconceptspresentedbyStephenLukes (1974) and Rainer Forst (2003), 50-52. 178O. Hidalgo / Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008) 176-201concepts) apparently belongs to the empirical paradigm in social sciences,5 therefore a normative notion of democracy (and not only a reection of the social and moral impact of democratic ideas and values) can only be informed by political philosophy. However, simply considering what the entire range of the history of political ideas is able to oer would be much too simple. Instead, we must acknowledge the importance and thus pro-ceedtoanalyzethehistoricalandconceptualcontextsthatprovidethe framework for the development of a normative theory of democracy after the linguistic turn.6 It is therefore possible to separate conceptual history from an abstract history of ideas even if it remains closely bound to norma-tivetheories.Tispresentsthepoliticalphilosopherswithanadditional task. Tey must also make an eort to clarify the extent to which the con-ceptualhistoryofdemocracymightfunctionasabasisforanykindof conceptual politics7 depending on whether they are able to extrapolate the best interpretation of the concept of democracy. However, rst I would like to discuss, briey, democracy as a historical concept, before showing that conceptual history also leads to the necessity of a normative concep-tion that reects the aporias and contradictions of democracy.1.Te Concept of DemocracyAs it is well-known, ancient Greece is the birthplace of democracy.8 Te word (which means the rule by the people) was invented bytheAtheniansinordertodenetheirpoliticalsystemafter462/461 B.C., particularly after Ephialtes put in place the proposals of Cleisthenes in 508/507 B.C, disempowering the aristocratic Areopag and turning most 5)Trough his writings on Quentin Skinner and Reinhart Koselleck, Kari Palonen (2002) intendstoturnthehistoryofconceptsintoasubversivecritiqueofnormativepolitical theory.6)Arno Waschkuhn (1998), part 3. 7)Conceptual politics is my translation of Reinhard Mehrings concept of Begrispolitik by which he wants to characterize both the method of Carl Schmitt and Reinhart Koselleck in contrast to their own conceptions of sociologist or historian of concepts. See Reinhard Mehring (2006), 31, as well as the analogy to Hermann Lbbes concept of Ideenpolitik. For the conceptual politics of Max Weber, see also Kari Palonen (2005). 8)Some authors argue that the historical origins of democracy can be found already in the Sumerian City and the rst republics of ancient India but these examples are at best democ-racies avant la lettre which makes them irrelevant for this article. O. Hidalgo / Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008) 176-201179of the important political decisions to the assembly constituted exclusively by male citizens.9 At the time, the rst principles of democracy were free-dom and equality all citizens being free by birth each one would accept the other as an equal,10 and henceforth by ruling they accepted to be ruled in return. After the second half of the fth century, democracy also meant that o cials were to be controlled by xed laws and by the peoples vote and as stated in Pericles funeral oration which survived thanks to Tucy-dides that citizens would be ensured the right to live on their own behalf without being educated and guarded by the state and its public norms.11Te rst historian to mention the concept of was obviously Herodotus.Nevertheless,wemustretraceitsoriginsatleastbacktothe tyrannyofthePeisistratides12andtheAthenianSeaUnion13whenthe nobles position was weakened while that of the citizens the was strengthened.Moreover,theetymologicalderivationoftheword alsoshowsthereplacementoflaw(nomos)asconstitutional concept(,)byanemphasisonpower,thatisarche (, ) and kratia (), respectively.14Tese shifts show evidence that the concept of democracy was above all an attempt to identify political reality in ancient Athens. Today one can hardly call democratic the political system in Attica, which included slav-eryandexcludedallwomenandforeignersfromcitizenship.Tiscon-versely makes it much easier to adopt the concept of in order todescribepresent-daypoliticalconditions.However,theverysingular and complex circumstances that led to the development of the rule by the peopleinAthenshardlycomparewithotherpoliticalcontextsanderas. Rather than applying contemporary standards of democracy, one should be able to contextualize the claims of the ancient Greeks. In this light, it is nosurprisethatmanythinkersinancientGreeceamongthemPlato (whoassociateddemocracywithchaosandanarchy),butalsoSocrates, Xenophonandothershopedforanaristocraticwindofchangeinthe city of Athens, leading them to lament the loss of moral order and authority 9)Kurt A. Raaaub (1995), Jochen Martin (1995), and Jochen Bleicken (1995). 10)See Aristotle (1280a), 5-7 and 24; (1291b), 32-38; and (1301a), 28-32. 11)Werner Conze et al. (1972), 828. 12)Michael Stahl (1987) and Konrad Kinzl (1995). 13)Kurt A. Raaaub (1995), 36. 14)Christian Meier (1983). 180O. Hidalgo / Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008) 176-201and to call for the rule of the best (), or of the ones distinguished by their bravery () instead of the rule of the many, the mob ().15 Nevertheless, they were also capable of developing a readiness to accept an arrangementcompatiblewithdemocraticrealityinAthens.Socrates famously preferred to die rather than to break the democratic laws of the city; Xenophon returned to Athens after the reconciliation between Ath-ensandSparta;Platomadeaninterestingdistinctionbetweenagood andabadformofdemocracy,whichissupposedtohaveinuenced Aristotlesconceptionofasanamalgambetweenoligarchyand democracy and therefore as a compromise between the quality of govern-ment and the peoples participation.16 Te mixed constitution subsequently became the only conceivable form of Greek democracy outside Athens and its Sea Union.17 Later the Romans put a new emphasis on law as a system, including democracy only as a supplement. Teir concept of res publica connectingmonarchic,aristocraticanddemocraticelements18wasa model of constitution deemed to be the best insurance against instability, from Polybius to Machiavelli.After the fall of the republic and the rise of the Roman Empire the con-cept of democracy was submitted to new assessment as a result of political circumstances.WhileAeliusAristidescalledtheImperiumromanuma commondemocracyoftheworld,underoneman,thebestrulerand director,19 Cassius Dio stressed that real democracy could only exist under a monarchy, whereby the Platonic formula of justice (Doing ones own) wassupposedtobenolongeraristocraticbutdemocratic.20Ultimately, 15)Early supporters of democracy like Herodotus and Pericles, who linked justice and iso-nomia to the rule of the , still did not envisage a conict between citizens and nobles but merely did emphasize the unity of the city against the menace of oligarchy and tyranny. At rst nobles like Pindar and Plato innovated the political and moral concept of aristocracy in order to pit the rule of the best against democracy or as Tucidides and Aristotle did later to distinguish good from bad oligarchies. For the conceptual history of aristocracy see Werner Conze and Christian Meier (1972). 16)In Aristotle a pure democracy is described as degenerated rule of the poor (1279b 5-10). His concept of politeia understood as the good form of democracy or also as free constitu-tion was shared by Isocrates (IV, 125; ep. VI, 11) and Demosthenes (I, 5; VI, 21; XV, 20).17)Wolfgang Schuller (1995), 316-23 and Alexander Demandt (1995), viii and ix. 18)For the strong elements of popular participation in Rome, see John North (1994). 19)Aelius Aristides (1981), XXVI, 60. See also Richard Klein (1981), 131f.20)CassiusDio(1961),LVI,43.4.andVI,23.5.SeealsoAlexanderDemandt(1995), 213. O. Hidalgo / Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008) 176-201181neitherAristidesnorDiowantedtorenouncethelegitimizingvaluethe concept of democracy still carried in the rst centuries of the Christian era. Te situation only changed during the European Middle Ages, when the predominanceofreligionoverallaspectsoflifemadethereferenceto democracy evidently useless. It was not until the thirteenth century that a few thinkers revived the concept notably, St. Tomas of Aquinas, Engel-bertofAdmont,MarsiliusofPaduaandNicoleOresmewhoencoun-tered it through their reception of Aristotle21 and started using it to describe the contemporary politics of the Italian cities.22 But even the rise of Prot-estantism and the diminishing authority of the Catholic Church (accom-panied by the rise of contract theory, which epitomized the new forms of rationalisminpolitics)couldnotimmediatelychangetheassociationof the concept of democracy with antiquity. Te concept of representation, especially, was for a long time considered to be incompatible with the idea of the ruling people. Hence Tomas Hobbes argues in favour of represen-tation and against democracy even though his argument that every man is born free and equal can be said to be democratic. Meanwhile, Rousseau insisted, vice-versa, on the sovereignty of the people against representation. Obviously they shared the unchanged idea that democracy means nothing else than the reign of the people over themselves for Hobbes a terrible imageandforRousseausomethingtoonicetobeactualized.23Further-more, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment the concept of democ-racy was sporadically used to identify some specic elements of the mixed constitutioninEngland(Blackstone,DeLolme,JohnAdams),ofthe republican constitutions of Switzerland and its cantons, of the Netherlands, 21)Te philosophical work of Aristotle was unknown in the West from the fth century all the way to the late twelfth century. 22)See Claire R. Sherman (1995), 240-52; Karl Ubl (2000), 134., R.W. Dyson (2003), 203-05 and 246-50. 23) prendre le terme dans la rigueur de lacception, il na jamais exist de vritable dmo-cratie, et il nen existera jamais [. . .] Sil y avait un peuple de dieux, il se gouvernerait dmo-cratiquement. Un gouvernement si parfait ne convient pas des hommes. Translation: In its most rigorous sense, there has never been a true democracy, such a thing will never exist [. . .] If a people of god existed, it would govern itself democratically. Such a perfect govern-mentisnotappropriateformankind.Jean-JacquesRousseau,Ducontratsocial,(1959-1969), III, 4.182O. Hidalgo / Contributions to the History of Concepts 4 (2008)...</p>