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Lectures Year : 2015

Keio/Grenoble Joint Sessions on Democracy from a Comparative Perspective

Yves Schemeil


Are we witnessing the decline of liberal democracy and the emergence of alternative forms of democracy? Today, democracy is first and foremost a language of political legitimacy. And more often than not, it serves as a language of self-justification, even self-praise. Almost all existing states—regardless of where they may be located in or beyond the matrix of polyarchy—purport to be democratic in nature. Faced with this situation of democratic inflation, it becomes important to explain and explore (by way of comparison) some of the defining features that distinguish one form from another. In recent years, it has become increasingly commonplace to criticize democracy of the liberal kind that historically emerged in modern Western Europe but eventually spread to the rest of the world by the end of the 20th century. Moreover, emerging countries like China, Russia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and even the Arab Emirates, while considerably less democratic by liberal standards, have become more and more vocal in stressing their own versions of democracy, thus posing some challenges to the liberal view. (Notable exceptions are Brazil, India and South Africa, though the equality component of democracy seems weak in these countries). In response to these challenges as well as to doubts about the meaning, the outreach and even the universality of democracy, there are attempts to explore various ways to improve representation, redistribution, policy-making, and legitimacy, both at state and inter-state levels. Some opt for the deepening of democracy within existing liberal regimes – this is at the roots of lively debates about the “quality of democracy” (vs. “malfunctioning democracy”), “democratic responsiveness”, “accountability” and “transparency”, as well as “participatory” or “deliberative” democracy. There is even a new quest for “cosmopolitan” democracy. Others seek to combine the demand for enhancing democracy with post-colonialist outlook, thereby claiming that the forms of regimes should match the diversity of political cultures – a way of reasoning that is conducive to the promotion of allegedly “specific” conceptions of democracy that rely on “Asian”, “Muslim”, “African”, “Hindu” or even Latin America’s “indigenous” values, to such an extent that they may be labeled by their critics as “imperfect” or “illiberal” democracies. Therefore, to put it somewhat schematically, there are two opposing strands of democratic thought—one more liberal, egalitarian and procedural, grounded on constitutionalism; another more hierarchical, substantial and group-oriented, with a greater stress on social rights and cultural identity. The debate between John Rawls and Amartya Sen, or the respective promoters of Athenian and Mesopotamian conceptions of justice, for instance, are paradigmatic examples of such an intellectual conflict. Of course, supporters of each form claim that they embody “true” democracy, a democracy that existed “before” the others found their own journey towards a balanced and legitimate political system. Memory of a reconstructed if not imagined past is accordingly mobilized to probe such claims. Great efforts are made to show that ideas and institutions that may each, separately, be considered as being at the core of democracy were invented here and not elsewhere. As a consequence, what was once thought of as Democracy with a capital “D” in the singular is progressively becoming a jumble of various “democratic” political institutions, practices and ideas assumed to be mutually compatible, even though this is still to be shown. They all share a common goal—the quest for a “civilization” of social and international relations, albeit with their own trajectory towards achieving this aim. The course explores these various paths towards a more democratic world, with cases chosen from diverse regions of the world, at different periods in time. This ambition makes it fully comparative, and all the more so since each topic is addressed jointly by two professors, one from Keio’s faculty of Law and Political science, and the other from Sciences po Grenoble.
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cel-02021015 , version 1 (15-02-2019)


  • HAL Id : cel-02021015 , version 1


Yves Schemeil. Keio/Grenoble Joint Sessions on Democracy from a Comparative Perspective. Doctoral. France. 2015. ⟨cel-02021015⟩
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