MANCEPT Workshop - The Hollow Republic: What Can Republicanism Say About It?

September 7, 2021 - September 10, 2021
Manchester Center for Political Theory, University of Manchester

Manchester
United Kingdom

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London School of Economics
University College London

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The Hollow Republic: What Can Republicanism Say About It?



Conveners: Vincent Harting (London School of Economics) and Dušan Rebolj (University College London).

Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Camila Vergara (Columbia), Lawrence Hamilton (Cambridge), John P. McCormick (Chicago).


What can republicanism tell us, and perhaps advise us, about the hollowing-out of democracy? We borrow the phrase from Peter Mair’s 2013 book, where it describes the coincidence between popular indifference to democratic politics and the preference of academics and political practitioners for government by experts and depoliticization in lieu of civic engagement and traditional parliamentary decision-making. While these developments on their own give ample reason for concern to republicans, we think it interesting to ask: if republicanism is a vision of democracy with a concern for freedom as non-domination at its heart, what are other ways in which contemporary democracies may appear hollow to republicans and what do republicans have to say about them? How could we correct these tendencies by thinking outside the traditional liberal constitutionalist box in a way that is compatible with core republican values? Because answers to these questions will be as numerous as the different strands of republicanism being developed, we welcome contributions informed by all these perspectives.

Some of the accounts most recently concerned with these questions belong to the ‘radical’, ‘socialist’, or ‘plebeian’ varieties of republicanism. Their authors acknowledge the systemic tendencies of liberal democratic institutions to produce oligarchic rule, and propose to justify alternative methods of popular control over political issues and over other aspects of social life – e.g. class-specific institutions excluding the wealthy from decision-making, strong recall mechanisms over representatives, systems of councils or popular assemblies endowed with strong constitutional powers, and ways of materializing economic democracy to achieve freedom as non-domination. Another group of republican accounts, which partly overlaps with the former one, re-conceptualizes popular sovereignty and democratic rule beyond traditional liberal frameworks, for example employing the writings of canonical authors like Machiavelli, Rousseau, Marx, and even Foucault. These perspectives tend to further mirror the concerns of popular movements that struggle against various forms of social domination (colonial, patriarchal, racial, etc.) and frame their activity along republican lines. Such accounts can facilitate a straightforward discussion of how republicans should deal with decolonization and other emancipatory struggles. We believe that discussing these alternative approaches to republicanism can contribute to a richer picture of what is hollowing out democracy today, and how it may be counteracted. We therefore invite contributions addressing questions similar to the following:

• Are electoral democracies under capitalist relations bound to degenerate into oligarchies? If so, why?

• What republican democratic innovations could help counteract or overcome oligarchic capture of representative government?

• Some republicans might also have reason to argue for certain democratic innovations, such as class-specific institutions excluding the rich from decision-making power, or for forms of political practice that involve coercive means; but those institutions and practices transgress traditional liberal values (e.g. formal political equality or property rights) held by some other republicans; how to resolve such conflicts of value?

• While acknowledging the need for established institutional safeguards, what is the proper role, in republicanism, for spontaneous civic involvement and civic virtue?

• In the time of the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, what does non-domination require of constitutional democracy?

• How might the history of political thought, and of emancipatory social movements, help us reconceptualize central tenets of republican theory?

Paper Submissions: This workshop is organised and convened by Vincent Harting (London School of Economics) and Dušan Rebolj (University College London). Papers will be given a 55-minute slot, consisting of a 35-minute presentation and a 20-minute Q&A. To submit a paper please send an abstract of 400 words to [email protected] and [email protected] by the deadline of 10th May 2021.


Conference/Practical information: This is now an all online panel. Registration will open in May, and participants must register in order to attend. The year’s registration fees are:

Academics: £45

Graduate students, retirees, and unaffiliated attendees: £20

Non-speaker/non-presenting attendees: £15

A small number of bursaries (for graduate students only) are available. Please state in your application to our panel whether you intend to apply for a bursary. For any further queries, please also send your questions to [email protected] and [email protected]

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May 1, 2021, 5:00am BST

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