Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Focus: Democracy under Polarization

2023 (45) Issue 1


According to a conflict-conscious conception of democracy, polarization is part of its essence. According to this ‘agonistic’ conception of democracy, polarization means that the political positions of values and interests can never merge consensually into one another but remain in opposition in order to struggle persistently and continuously for political power within a democratic framework. The ‘polarization’ currently in dispute as a new threat to democracy, on the other hand, is mean...

More →

Table of Contents

Focus: Democracy under Polarization

Title: Democracy, Civility, and Semantic Descent
Author: Robert Talisse
Page: 5-22

In a well-functioning democracy, must citizens regard one another as political equals, despite ongoing disagreements about normatively significant questions of public policy. A conception of civility is needed to supply citizens with a common sense of the rules of political engagement. By adhering to the norms of civility, deeply divided citizens can still assure one another of their investment in democratic politics. Noting well-established difficulties with the very idea of civility, this essay raises a more fundamental problem. Any conception of civility faces the problem of semantic descent, the phenomenon by which second-order norms devolve into tools for conducting first-order disputes. The problem of incivility in politics thus is not simply that of designing a suitably inclusive view of what civility demands. It might be that political civility can be cultivated only by way of interactions that are themselves not at all political.

Title: Informal Networked Deliberation: How Mass Deliberative Democracy Really Works
Author: Ana Tanasoca
Page: 23-54

Deliberative democracy started out as an ideal for mass democracy. Lately, however, its large-scale ambitions have mostly been shelved. This article revivifies the ideal of mass deliberative democracy by offering a clear mechanism by which everyone in the community can be included in the same conversation. The trick is to make use of people’s overlapping social communicative networks through which informal deliberative exchanges already occur on an everyday basis. Far from being derailed by threats of polarization, echo chambers, and motivated reasoning, informal networked deliberation can indeed put everyone in touch, directly or indirectly, with everyone else.

Title: From Prejudice to Polarization and Rejection of Democracy
Author: Gert Pickel and Susanne Pickel
Page: 55-84

With the growing success of right-wing populism, there has been an explosion of debates on polarization and social cohesion. In part, social cohesion is seen as being disrupted by right-wing populists and those who blame migration for this alleged disruption of cohesion. The developing polarization is not only social, but also political, so that in some cases there is already talk of a new cleavage. On the one hand, there are right-wing populists, people who do not want any major changes or who have problems with globalization; on the other hand, there are those who want to push through a transformation towards a ‘truly’ pluralistic society. Two issues in particular serve as bridges for this polarization: Muslim migration and the expansion of sexual and gender diversity. Positions on these two issues mark the content that facilitates the consolidation of opposing group identities. As a result, debates about values and identity dominate, leading to a polarization that reaches far into society.

Title: Ethics and Affect in Resistance to Democratic Regressions
Author: Fabio Wolkenstein
Page: 85-109

In recent times, it has become increasingly common that elected parties and leaders systematically undermine democracy and the rule of law. This phenomenon is often framed with the term democratic backsliding or democratic regression. This article deals with the relatively little-studied topic of resistance to democratic regressions. Chief amongst the things it discusses is the rather central ethical issue of whether resisters may themselves, in their attempts to prevent a further erosion of democracy, transgress democratic norms. But the argument advanced in the article is not merely about the ethics of resistance. It begins, perhaps unconventionally, by addressing the affective dimension of resistance to democratic regressions, looking in particular at the powerful feelings of anger and despair that pro-democratic citizens living under a regressive government are likely to experience. As the article argues, these feelings have not only motivational but also epistemic potential, which must be adequately theorized in order to understand how resisters can respond to the ethical challenges facing them.

Title: A Polarization-Containing Ethics of Campaign Advertising
Author: Attila Mráz
Page: 111-135

This paper establishes moral duties for intermediaries of political advertising in election campaigns. First, I argue for a collective duty to maintain the democratic quality of elections which entails a duty to contain some forms of political polarization. Second, I show that the focus of campaign ethics on candidates, parties and voters—ignoring the mediators of campaigns—yields mistaken conclusions about how the burdens of the latter collective duty should be distributed. Third, I show why it is fair to require intermediaries to contribute to fulfilling this duty: they have an ultimate filtering position in the campaign communication process and typically benefit from political advertising and polarization. Finally, I argue that a transparency-based ethics of campaign advertising cannot properly accommodate a concern with objectionable polarization. By contrast, I outline the polarization-containing implications of my account, including a prohibition on online targeted advertising, and intermediaries’ duties to block hateful political advertising.

General Part

Title: The Stopping Power of Sources
Author: Jonas J. Driedger
Page: 137-155

The article analyzes arguments, made by John J. Mearsheimer and others, that the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 was largely caused by Western policy. It finds that these arguments rely on a partially false and incomplete reading of history. To do so, the article identifies a range of premises that are both foundational to Mearsheimer’s claims and based on implied or explicit historical interpretations. This includes the varying policies of Ukraine toward NATO and the EU as well as the changing Russian perceptions thereof; the political upheavals in Ukraine in early 2014 that were immediately succeeded by the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass; and the supposed absence of Russian ‘imperialism’ toward Ukraine prior to 2014. Finding that these interpretations do not hold up in light of relevant and available data, the article qualifies and contextualizes the validity of Mearsheimer’s arguments, points to superior ones, and highlights the need for case-specific expertise when using explanatory theory to make sense of politically salient ongoing events.


Title: Practice Theory as a Tool for Critical Social Theory
Author: Sally Haslanger
Page: 157-176

What is the best method for undertaking critical social theory, and what are its ontological and normative commitments? Andreas Reckwitz has developed compelling answers to these questions drawing on practice theory. As a practice theorist myself, I am very sympathetic to his approach. This paper sketches a social theory that extends the reach of practice theory to include non-human animals and allows us to discriminate between importantly different kinds of social formations. In doing so, I argue that a strongly normative basis for differentiating social phenomena is compatible with the methods of social theory and critical social theorists need not shy away from first-order moral commitments.

Title: The Society of Singularities: Reply to Four Critics
Author: Andreas Reckwitz
Page: 177-187

In this article, Andreas Reckwitz replies to the four critical commentaries of Patrick Baert, Andreas Pettenkofer, Austin Harrington and Sally Haslanger on his book The Society of Singularities. In this context, he discusses the general position of this book within the landscape of contemporary social theory and the question of what a ‘social logic of the unique’ means. He enters the question in how far his analysis of the new middle class differs from Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of the new petty bourgeoisie, emphasizing the combination of an orientation towards inner experience and social prestige in his account of the new middle class. He discusses the question of whether neoliberalism is responsible for the proneness to disappointment which the late-modern culture of self-actualization implies. Finally, he works out the differences between the type of critical analytics which his book implies and normative critical theory.