Democracy is not only a concept which today is widely abused, particularly by neoliberals and "civil societarians". Democracy is, also, a vision and a liberatory project. The present issue of Society and Nature aims at exploring the meaning and significance of democracy and considering the ways in which a democratic society could be brought about today.
Murray Bookchin's article stresses the fact that democracy constitutes the political dimension of anarchism and, as such, it is incompatible with individualistic and life-srtyle approaches, which do not explicitly pose the question of changing the institutions of existing society. After strongly criticising some libertarian currents which see democracy as a form of "rule", Bookchin summarises communalist politics as an authentic alternative to statecraft, in fact, as the only realistic approach that could lead to the remaking of society.
Cornelius Castoriadis discusses the real meaning and significance of democracy in connection with the project of autonomy. In the process, he clearly differentiates between, on the one hand, today's "liberal oligarchies" that pass as "democracies" and, on the other, the classical meaning of democracy. Implicit in this discussion is the fundamental Castoriadian tenet that democracy is only possible as a regime of self-determination and not just as a set of democratic procedures within a heteronomous society, as Habermas and civil societarians claim. In other words, no democracy can survive, unless it involves institutions which are compatible with the functioning of "truly" democratic procedures. Therefore, the condition for the maintenance of democratic procedures is the existence of social institutions which form democratic citizens
The aim of my (Takis Fotopoulos) contribution to the discussion is twofold. First, to show the incompatibility of democracy with both the market economy and state socialism. Second, to attempt to develop a new conception of democracy, appropriate to today's conditions. This leads to an examination of the necessary conditions for democracy which are defined in terms of direct democracy, economic democracy, community and confederalism. In the process, some important questions are discussed which refer to the nature of democracy as a kind of "rule" that involves a "tyranny of the majority", democracy's promise for a better relationship to Nature than that implied by the market economy and state socialism and, finally, the vexed question of how we move from "here" to "there".
Thomas Martin's article is a powerful critique of sovereignty as the sine qua non of the modern nation-sate --including the "democratc" state, where power has been simply relocated in a representative assembly. However, one can raise serious reservations about the "happy ending" that emerges from the article's reading of present trends. The fact that the nation-state's sovereignty, especially economic sovereignty, is indeed ending within the context of a market economy which-- for the first time in its two centuries history-- has become truly internationalised, does not necessarily mean the end of sovereignty itself. In other words, an alternative reading of the present trends suggests that the nation-state's sovereignty is today being replaced by two new types of sovereignty. First, market sovereignty, in the sense that it is the market which today effectively defines human rights and who can really exercise them. Second, supra-national sovereignty, in the sense that today political and economic power is concentrated at the supra-national level of new inter-state organisations (like the European Commission) on the one hand and of the emerging city-regional network, on the other. The implication of such a reading of present trends is that true democracy can not just come about as a result of some kind of evolution resulting from these trends, but as the outcome of a determined long struggle to set up new political and economic structures ruling out any kind of sovereignty.
Finally, William McKersher, offering a powerful critique of liberal representative democracy and its philosophical basis in the work of JS Mill, correctly stresses that democracy without equality is just the substitution of one form of illegitimate authority for another. Still, one may argue that the concepts of Politics and democracy in terms of "rule" that the author uses, in effect, constraint the entire debate to one of a choice between individual freedom versus community freedom. However, the thesis could be put forward that an alternative definition of freedom in terms of individual and collective autonomy, and of democracy as the collective expression of autonomy (which rules out both ruling and being ruled) could have helped in transcending some of the traditional constraints in libertarian thinking. This is particularly so, when such constraints lead to impractical, and I would say non-desirable, conceptions of democracy which presuppose "some form of societal consensus, or conformity to a unity of ends".
International Managing Editor