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Comparative Democratic Theory: A Global Intellectual History-Based Approach to Rewrite Democratic Theory

Democracy
Political Theory
Global
Comparative Perspective
Normative Theory
Alexander Weiss
Universität Hamburg
Alexander Weiss
Universität Hamburg

Abstract

For the Panel: Political Philosophy and the history of ideas Abstract: Apart from the general question of how to systematically refer to the history of democratic thought for the construction of normative democratic theory, the still quite new research brand of Comparative Political Theory has changed our view on the history of political thought and by doing this it has also impact on the question of the relation between history of thought and normative theory. Coming from research on ‘Democracy’ as a concept beyond the West and combining various findings from area-related historical research, the proposed paper sketches a hitherto widely neglected global history of democratic thought from late 18th Century from Indian, Arab, Latin American up to Japanese and Chinese scholarly and intellectual discussion of democracy as concept. While this finding has a value per se for scholars interested in history of ideas, the second part of the paper will be dedicated to the integration into democratic theory. The main argument will be experience related: context-related democratic thought is seen as reflecting people’s experiences with democracy in one region. Applying a three-dimensional concept of ‘constellations of democratic thought’ I identify context-overarching elements from the investigated regions and discuss their value and relevance for democratic theory. One obvious result is a plea for the enlargement of the problem agenda of democratic theory: While sticking within Western experience and tradition, democracy is, e.g., often conceived as being strongly related to a powerful middle class, the view informed by the global variety of democratic experiences shows that democracy also had and has to react to, e.g., colonialism, extreme poverty, emigration, and other issues which are not yet covered during the concept forming stage of the construction of democratic theory. The integration of non-Western democratic thought into theory of democracy will end up in an outlook on a ‘comparative democratic theory’ and a concept of democracy formulated before the horizon of a global history of democratic thought.