PreprintPDF Available

Democracy Crises and Social Imaginaries

Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.


National State seems to be a key concept to understand modern political life and many scholars have been devoting their attention to it. On the one hand, they intend to demonstrate that we are witnessing a failure of National States to provide the needed answers to modern claims that nowadays can only be solved at international levels. On the other hand, National States seem to be the only type of social organization through which, especially in democratic regimes, people become effective in shaping the kind of world they aim to live in. Taking into due account this problematic view, our aim is to show that both approaches are real and need to be understood in their interconnected realms. As a classic formulation puts it, there has never been a more appropriate time to affirm that we are citizens of the world, but citizenship is, at its core and in its most significant meaning, a political and national status given by some form of organized political society. How can these different spheres of participation in political life be conciliated? How can these different claims, but with the same sources, be satisfied? How may we understand the national drives towards populism and authoritarianism in several National States with the appeal of a democracy policy with a suitable moral background that may provide a "good life"? Those are some questions we intend to address in this paper.
Democracy Crises and Social Imaginaries Part I
Luís Lóia
Faculdade de Ciências Humanas
Universidade Católica Portuguesa
National State seems to be a key concept to understand modern political life and
many scholars have been devoting their attention to it. On the one hand, they intend to
demonstrate that we are witnessing a failure of National States to provide the needed
answers to modern claims that nowadays can only be solved at international levels. On
the other hand, National States seem to be the only type of social organization through
which, especially in democratic regimes, people become effective in shaping the kind of
world they aim to live in.
Taking into due account this problematic view, our aim is to show that both
approaches are real and need to be understood in their interconnected realms. As a classic
formulation puts it, there has never been a more appropriate time to affirm that we are
citizens of the world, but citizenship is, at its core and in its most significant meaning, a
political and national status given by some form of organized political society.
How can these different spheres of participation in political life be conciliated?
How can these different claims, but with the same sources, be satisfied? How may we
understand the national drives towards populism and authoritarianism in several National
States with the appeal of a democracy policy with a suitable moral background that may
provide a “good life”? Those are some questions we intend to address in this paper.
Keywords: Democracy, National State, Nation, Social Imaginaries
1. Is Democracy in Crisis?
Western neo-liberal democracies are often and shortly characterized by having
a representative procedure of participation in the public sphere of life, determining a self-
rule form of political regime, affirming the sovereignty of the people in a specific
territory; an economic welfare system; political institutions that administrate and organize
public life on the basis of their citizens confidence; public security and order, or, as
Ginsburg and Huq refer to «competitive elections, liberal rights of speech and association,
and the rule of law» (Ginsburg and Huq, 2018: p. 1).
Indirect Democracy or Representative Democracy is an effective and
recognizably just mechanism whereby political institutions regulate, administrate and
attempt to resolve the conflicts that naturally emerge in everyday life in social
communities. They do, through the electoral system, sustain that exceptional and in many
ways incomprehensible virtue of the prevalence of the will of the majority that, most of
the times ignores the profound legitimate, democratic and morally sustained claims of the
minorities that also take an important role in the wealth of a democratic regime.
Commonly we understand the justice of this mechanism, that is, the fair relations between
power and the citizens liberty, because they are under the rule of Law, i.e., they are
established in constitutional texts that not only institute power, but also characterize the
regime or model of society; ensure liberty for all in conditions of equality and aim to
accomplish fraternity among people.
On the other hand, the sense of fairness and equality in Representative
Democracy regimes is increased because the Principle of Liberty (put forward by, e.g.,
John Rawls) ensures equal political liberties to all citizens. However, as mentioned by
Adam Przeworski: «this mechanism functions well only if the stakes are not very large,
if losing an election is not a disaster, and if the defeated political forces have a reasonable
chance to win in the future. When deeply ideological parties come to office seeking to
remove institutional obstacles in order to solidify their political advantage and gain
discretion in making policies, democracy deteriorates, or “backslides» (Przeworski,
2019: p. 143).
So, what seems to be a well-designed and good political arrangement has its own
intrinsic risks. As Whiston Churchill so clearly mentioned in 1947: «Many forms of
Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one
pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is
the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from
time to time.…»
That could be a fact, and indeed most of the countries represented in the United
Nations are democratic ones, based on the Rule of Law established in Constitutions. But
the constitutional order, even in those modern democracies of the Western Word, is not
enough to ensure a fair and peaceful cohabitation among citizens and communities living
in the same political organized territory. In fact, Constitutionalism has presented itself in
several and concerning occasions in abusive forms, i.e., under the supposed democratic
rule of law, warranted for the sovereignty of the people, in expressions such as “We the
People”, “For the People and by the People”. In this 21st Century we have been witnessing
a significant spread of examples of abusive constitutionalism across the world in order to
control or perpetuate the power over the people, and that is becoming a practice common
to both Right and Left elites.
For example, the constitutional revisionism in Russia and Venezuela, that
allegedly legitimizes the perpetuation of the power of their leaders, may be considered as
nothing but an abusive strategy that undermines the spirit and the nature of the
understanding of what is and should be a Constitution in the so called free world.
Nonetheless, those countries remain, at least formally, despite the conditions on which
those changes where built, as National States characterized by the rule of law.
Apart from Russia and Venezuela, we could indicate other countries where this
«Constitutional retrogression» (Ginsburg and Huq, 2018: pp. 117-118) is present: in
Hungary, Poland, Singapore, Thailand, Ukraine, recent events have shown that those
regimes could still be considered as constitutional regimes, but they are hardly
democratic. In this context, the same authors have defined what they consider to be a
«simultaneous decay in three institutional predicates of democracy: the quality of
elections, speech and associational rights, and the rule of law» () [and] five specific
mechanisms by which constitutional retrogression unfolds. These are: (i) constitutional
amendment; (ii) the elimination of institutional checks; (iii) the centralization and
politicization of executive power; (iv) the contraction or distortion of a shared public
sphere; and (v) the elimination of political competition.» (Ibidem)
For this subject, see also: PHARR, Susan J., and Robert D. PUTNAM (eds.), Disaffected democracies.
What’s troubling the trilateral countries?, Princeton,. Princeton University Press, 2000 or PLATTNER,
Marc F. «Liberal democracy’s fading allure», in Journal of Democracy 28 (4) pp. 514, 2017.
Departing from this enumeration, we may identify other different problems and
issues that can be addressed when analysing the quality of our democracies and the rule
of law, but they are much subtler. In the United States of America (USA), for example,
we may identify a constitutional ideology as a form of affirmation of the oldest, freest,
most successful and distinctive modern democracy, but which also enables a worldwide
projection of economic and military power over other National States confining their
liberties and sovereignty. At the same time, the exceptionalism of their representative
arrangements in presidential elections reveals that the support of the economic lobbies is
far more important than the support of the citizens by attending to their claims. At the
same time, the well-known propaganda strategy of identifying a common enemy
internal Political Institutions or the Media is a means of undertaking restrictive actions
against the liberty of the people the unjustified and questionable legal federal
interference in the policies of particular states are a mere example of it. It goes to the point
of questioning the legitimacy of elections that are or were ongoing (Bush / Al Gore;
Trump / Biden).
Returning to a democratic neo liberal context, one of the most important aspects
that keeps people living together without major conflicts among themselves is economic
security, that is, the means to pursue their interests and to flourish by achieving their
personal or communal objectives and living a meaning and fruitful live. That implies
having the opportunities to climb up the social ladder; to access better jobs and functions
available in society and to benefit from a fair social welfare system. The latter, is
presented as one of the most important conquests in the outcome of World War II, as well
as higher degrees of industrialization and consequent economic development, that
specially contributed to the pacification not only between societies, but also among
Combined, equality in political liberty and economic security are the foremost
characteristics that endorse the importance of National States in the shaping of modern
societies in the second half of the 20th Century, yet that hasn’t prevented the rise of other
kinds of problems and challenges to the spread of democracy worldwide. Not only at a
political level but specially on moral grounds since a State is not only a political entity,
but also a National one.
Let us first address the political issues that have slowly undermined the cohesion
of National States. In this regard, in spite of the differences concerning other moments in
history, modern National States have evolved into a particular form of party system,
administrated and controlled by two major parties, more or less similar to each other,
typically referred to as being representatives of a left or a right wing, fighting for power
in favour of their own interests and not always in favour of who they represent. This party
system, composed normally by two or, in some but fewer cases, three parties, has been
engaged in a rotative but permanent exercise of power, that has been showed to be more
and more distant from those who elected them, making occasional arrangements and
“concessions” to respond to the claims of the voters.
That is, the party system has become an arrangement for some elites and by the
elites. The justification for it relies on the fact that, as societies become more complex
and people’s relations and interactions increase and become more intricated, so does the
bureaucratic level of administration, as well as the level of expertise to deal with such a
complex way of political organization. As a result, professional politicians are required
to do the job and those politicians, from top to bottom, do not recognize the ability of an
average citizen to address such complicated social matters. The same kind of political
bureaucratic complexity and the level of expertise that are inherent to the effective
efficacy of a modern State clearly justify the fact that governments in our days are
composed by professional politicians that are, in the large majority of the well-known
cases, lawyers, judges, economists, entrepreneurs, and other highly skilled advisors
because they seem to be the only type of people that can lead the modern life. At the same
time, from bottom to top, common citizens acknowledge their inability and lack of
expertise to engage in political parties or even comprehend and contribute to solve the
problems that they have to deal with in their ordinary lives.
Of course, there are and there will always be means to deal with this kind of
Constitutional retrogression. Unfortunately, the answers that have been put forward are,
from top to bottom, forms of authoritarianism and, from bottom to top, as Kriesi
identifies, populism: «While their “host” ideology connects these parties to the
fundamental structural conflicts in society, the “thin” populist “ideology” connects them
to the more narrow political sphere and to the political discontent of their constituencies.
More specifically, the populist “ideology” refers to the tension between “the elites” and
“the people.” This “ideology” puts the emphasis on the fundamental role of “the people”
in politics, claims that “the people” have been betrayed by “the elites” in charge who are
abusing their position of power, and demands that the sovereignty of the people be
restored.» (Kriesi, 2020: p. 248).
Much has been said about the crises of democracy, particularly about the
increasing forms of political authoritarianism and populism. But many scholars have also
dealt with those kinds of problems and pointed out other causes and some solutions.
Although the solutions are often questionable, the causes they endorse may be too
exhaustive to summarise in the scope of this article, but for our intents, the political
problems with Democratic Representation here presented are at the core of the weakness
of the modern party system and at the same time of the weakness of the State as the
sovereign entity that can provide its citizens with a meaning and fruitful life. The growing
abstention in election procedures is not just a sign of our days sustaining that people do
not care about who governs them anymore. In Western neo-liberal societies, it is, I
suppose, a much deeper sign, a sign that shows or anticipates the end of ideologies. People
no long care whether left or right wings control political institutions. They seem to care
only about their economic conditions: their wages; whether they will be able to have a
comfortable house; a good car; education for their children, the opportunity to live in a
safe neighbourhood, and so on, as if there was some kind of agreement or a trade between
the amount of taxes that are to be paid and the goods that are to be received. But that, I
think, is only the superficial outlook of a misguided or distorted interpretation. There is a
spread sense that the State is too big to solve small problems and too small to solve big
problems and the majority of problems that people face in their everyday lives are too
small to deserve attention and the intervention of a centralized government. As such, we
are starting to witness a growing sentiment of frustration, especially because participation
in political life, to be involved in determining the shape of our societies, is an important
aspect of affirming our own personal identity.
2. National States and Globalization
When properly interpreted, the concept of National States must be addressed at
an instrumental level and not in its essence or as an end in itself.
That seems to be the confusion that relies on the current cosmopolitanism
theories. Those theories seem to defend that we are facing the end of an era; the end of
the national states tout court, even those that are more recent and which have emerged
from those terrible conflicts, in the sense that I have mentioned above, after World War
II, after the decolonization process and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The
Nation States (even the old nations) are now facing the danger of a new form of
indeterminacy caused by modern globalization. The confusion that is important to
underline is that what is in question with globalization is not the end of National States,
nor their political institutions, what may be at stake is the identification of the feeling of
belonging to a nation and the responses that national states are giving to the claims posed
by that sentiment. I shall return later to this question because it poses another question
that should be addressed first.
Many consider that the supposed indeterminacy of modern national states is a
result of globalization movements and that is a symptom of the decay or backsliding of
Democracies, but it is far more important to recognize that what is becoming very
problematic in the 21st Century is not Democracy in itself. Globalization, national states
and democracy go along together.
As the study of Claassen (2020) shows, considering «3765 collected national
opinions about democracy, obtained from 1390 nationally representative public opinion
surveys in 150 countries, citizens’ support for democracy is robustly linked to the stability
of democracy, once it has been established» (Apud Przeworski, 2019: pp. 241-242). That
should give us an important insight about the importance given to self-determination
acquired by self-rule in a democratic political background of a national state. So, we have
to realize that the questions posed by globalization movements are not threats to the
existence of national states. We must find the answers to those questions on a different
level of analysis.
In fact, Democracies are grounded on a core of values and practices that allows
the manifestations of different identities. If those values, attitudes and practices have a
democratic structure that involves respect, recognition and liberty of expression of
differences, living in a globalized world doesn’t present a danger to democracy in itself,
nor even a crisis, on the contrary, it will be, I suppose, although it may be considered
paradoxical, the fundamental key to affirm its value. That is precisely what is attested in
the of The Global State of Democracy 2019 survey of the International Institute for
Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA): «More than half of the countries in the
world (62 per cent, or 97 countries) covered by the GSoD Indices are now democratic
(compared to only 26 per cent in 1975), and more than half (57 per cent) of the world’s
population now lives in some form of democracy, compared to 36 per cent in 1975. The
number of democracies continues to rise, from 90 in 2008 to 97 in 2018. This increase
has occurred despite a slowdown in global democratic expansion since the mid-1990s.
The large majority (81 per cent) of the world’s 97 democracies have proven
democratically resilient, having maintained their democratic status uninterruptedly since
1975 or when they transitioned to democracy» (IDEA, 2019).
Of course, there are problems which need to be addressed: the increase of the
interdependence and economic competition at an international level, the increasing
growth of migrants movements from very different cultural backgrounds to those of the
communities of destination and their claims for political integration in the societies that
“accept” them, as well as worldwide terrorism and corruption, which raise questions of
security at a global scale. The same with global problems posed by climate changes that
are endorsing new and huge challenges to national states but at the same time, those
problematic issues also demand that we inevitably address and adopt measures of fruitful
international political cooperation and integration, even among those national states with
similar historical and political traditions that constitute what we call the Occidental
The solutions for these problems have often been linked with the necessity of
allowing the flourishment and the development of the proper sense of a national state, of
a shared cultural heritage, a common language, essentially bringing together the best of
both worlds, hoping that the mechanisms of internationalization (globalism) will achieve
a peaceful coexistence of the differences between peoples. On the contrary, the quick
expansion of trade at a global level, the development of communication technologies and
the generalized access to them, as well as the creation of transnational institutions with
their own regulatory powers over the markets have reduced the capacity of national states
to regulate their own domestic economies and that, as the mentioned example of EU
shows, constraints the health of constitutional democracies.
International institutions endow themselves whit self-rule mechanisms to protect
their trade agreements and the way the markets should function at a global level, and
those powers are not directly controlled nor is their action subject to a direct political and
democratic accountability of national sates and, because of that, the self-determination of
these states becomes increasingly compromised. So, we can reaffirm, in a most prominent
mode, that in terms of globalism, the states are far too big to endorse the claims of their
citizens, and too small to face global challenges.
It is natural that the national states, from an instrumental point of view, become
even more weakened at national and international levels since they have lost the political
control of the decision-making process in major spheres of public life.
With globalism and globalization there is a skewing or fading of the traditional
sources of legitimacy of the existence of national states because globalism and in
particular globalization implies a loss of autonomy in implementing national policies and
a transference on the process of decision-making from national to international
The recent threats of populism, nationalism, protectionism, and regionalism are,
in fact, affecting the compromises and agreements between national states and global
political institutions. They are also putting pressure under the operative power and
political capability of international governmental institutions. The appeal for change is
being done by political actors such as national states, international Non-governmental
Organizations (NGOs) and even by individual citizens. In common, populist movements
carry a huge sentiment of uncertainty regarding what the future could bring at both
national and global levels. However, it is curious to attest that the populist movements
also denote that nationalism, identity politics and other different forms of protectionism,
not only economic, have presented themselves as means of preservation of historical
cultures, of nations and also of a state where they coincide. Populism, beyond its
generalized pejorative meaning, could be reoriented to an affirmation of national
democracies in a form of restriction of power engaged in particular interests, factions and
elites, and also protect individual rights, improve the quality of the democratic
deliberative process.
Democratic governments, endorsing social or liberal ideals, must recognize that
some of the populist claims are legitimate claims, for instance, not all the appeals to
preserve one’s identity are necessarily xenophobic.
The opposition that must be undertaken is not against the capitalist character of
globalization, since globalization coexists well with democratic regimes, in fact, it seems
to flourish better in democratic regimes, but the excesses that were committed regarding
its deregulation have led to the diminished importance of citizen participation in political
life and, as a consequence, to the diminished trust in their national states. Nevertheless,
we are witnessing the manifestation of a desire to ensure some kind of moral regeneration
at a national level, which is what opposes the citizens to their economic, political, and
even cultural elites.
3. The Social Imaginary of a Nation
As I have mentioned before, in the present context, States are not just States,
they are National States as well. And that poses another type of questions and problems
that are fundamentally as important as the present claims of citizens to their national
political institutions. Indeed, as Charles Taylor clearly sustains and concludes, in an
article titled Why do Nations have to become States?, «In the best of all worlds, nations
would not have to become states. It should be one of their options (self-determination)
but not the top option. A higher aspiration is supranational unity, following the best of
the modern political tradition.» (Taylor, 1993: p. 58). It is not surprising that the Canadian
philosopher, already in 1993, almost 30 years ago, anticipated what seems to be, in our
days, an outcome of the so-called crises of democracy. As mentioned before, the current
indeterminacy, in some cases, of Representative Democracy, the Constitutional
retrogression, the elitism in politics, the inept party system, the menaces of
authoritarianism and populism, in their mutual and possible interconnectedness, but,
above all, some kind of sentiment of depoliticization of ordinary life felt by ordinary
citizens regarding their National Sates. In fact, there is a spread sense that the decisions
that really matter, those decisions that have concrete economic and social impacts in our
lives are not made in response to our personal or community claims. Those decisions and
the adopted policies, although made and implanted on a national level, mostly depend or
result from international conjunctures. The European Union (EU) is a perfect example.
In order to become part of the EU, National States had to alienate their
sovereignty in various domains in the exercise of power. At economic level, which was
the first purpose of the alliance, through the adoption of the same currency, the
participation on the EU budget I want my money back”, said Margaret Thatcher in
1979, but now it seems that Boris Johnson doesn’t want to give it back the control of
the European Central Bank over the national finances of the member states. At a political
level there are democratic requirements that countries have to achieve to become part of
the EU and that is what explains the greater enlargement after the disintegration of the
Soviet Union and the stabilization of democracy in the “new” republics. But there are
also other political implications such as the obligation to adopt common political policies,
namely investments in agriculture, industrialization, infra-structures, and so on. In this
context, a European farmer, fisherman or factory worker, pays more attention to the
economic support of the EU than they do to their national governments.
Additionally, the EU Law imposes itself, in many aspects, to the national
juridical systems of the member states. Of course, all these matters have a juridical and
legal support and that is another example of loss of sovereignty, but all of it is done in the
name of the affirmation of a European Citizenship with free movement of goods and
services and abolished borders under the Schengen Agreement.
However, the most curious aspect is the fact that the project of creation of a
European Constitution was not approved by the majority of the member states and one of
its highly problematic issues was the attempt to affirm the Christian and Jewish heritage
of the European people. Besides everything that could bring Europeans together, they
affirm that their identities were not and could not be put in question. The EU is and will
still be an alliance of nations Walloons and Flemish identify themselves first as Belgians
and only indirectly as Europeans, the same with Catalans and Basques in Spain, in spite
of their attempts to achieve independency.
We must therefore ask: what is a Nation? What characteristics must we take into
consideration to identify a political organized society as a Nation? Is it sufficient to know
what a Nation is if we call a political organization of a group of people living in a
demarcated territory a National State? Are there other characteristics, particularly at a
moral level, that could better identify what a Nation is?
Let us start with a quote from Ernest Renan: «A nation is a soul, a spiritual
principle. Two things which, properly speaking, are really one and the same constitute
this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the past, the other is the present. One is the
possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the
desire to live together, the desire to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly
received. (…) A great aggregation of men, in sane mind and warm heart, created a moral
conscience that calls itself a nation» (Renan, 1882: pp.10-11).
From Ernest Renan’s quote and in several examples rooted on Hegel’s Zeitgeist,
we may identify a current of thought that has crossed the entire 20th Century. That current
of thought affirms, broadly speaking, that a Nation is or reflects a sense of common
belonging for a group of people grounded in a common history, traditions, systems of
beliefs, a cultural heritage, a common language, a sense of shared genetic uniqueness and,
likewise, a collective patrimony that is not only spiritual, but also materialized in
institutional political structures. In a nation people find their own concept of a meaningful
life that is worth pursuing; they find a common “world vision” and a moral horizon that
justifies their choices and their claims. In a word, in a Nation people find their Identity.
An Identity that is worth fighting for, dying for, and that is what has led to extreme forms
of nationalisms and the well-known terrible conflicts that our previous generation has
Those conflicts were brought about, first, in the name of the right to self-
determination of different nations, but, secondly, they were based on a project to spread
that identity across the world because it was thought that it was not only the best, but also
the only worth being lived. So, as self-determination becomes the right of a nation to
exist, the self-rule of the people becomes the necessary condition for them to affirm their
personal identities and that is only fruitful if it is combined with the affirmation of a
national identity. That is the means through which the spiritual principle is combined
with political institutional frameworks to form a nation.
Put this way, we may consider the concept of Nation without political attributes;
more currently it has been pointed out that if we consider the immaterial or spiritual
characteristics of what a nation is, then we may find different nations living together under
the same political structure, that is, in one same State and, last but not least, there aren’t
many nations in the world that manifest a cohesion and identification between their
political institutions and their common cultural or spiritual heritage. Nevertheless, people
seem to support their nation as equivalently as they advocate the right to manifest their
personal identities. Instead of what is commonly supposed, and taken the evidence from
history, they take the former as a means to accomplish the latter.
The concept of nation is frequently associated to a political organized society, to
a national state that endorses social cohesion between its citizens, but that it is not
necessarily the only way to understand it. In fact, social cohesion in a national state cloud
be achieved by the regulation of social life through law, by stablishing common rights
and duties, through the satisfaction of the needs of its members, but those aren´t the only
mechanisms or even the core mechanisms that create the bounds and the senses of
belonging that, crucially, characterize what a nation is.
A nation does not define itself only by its one political or normative dimension.
Conceived in its full amplitude, the concept of nation involves a particular moral
conception derived from a common tradition, a history and a system of beliefs that
projects in a future shared horizon. It is as ongoing process formed by subjective actions
and interactions among individuals that give birth to a collective identity recognizable
and understood by its members who act in conformity whit that sense of belonging.
Obviously, this is not a peaceful process nor even can be described objectively or factually
by sociological measurable or statistic methods. It is a process of identification and
formation of a collective identity that occurs, most of the times, but nor necessarily, in a
delimited territory, where the public actions and interactions are political organized,
involving the coexistence of different subjectivities that caries, inevitably, multiple
ambiguities, to the point of considering the possibility of existence different social
identities in a same nation. Putting aside the economic or demographic systems or
methods of classification, what may coexist in a nation is different personal identities or
group identities living together in the same social order. But that, seems to be a skewed
It is important to take in consideration that a personal identity reveals an active
and creative agent that, in its intentional actions, appropriates and assumes cultural and
social established values and norms, but also recreates values and disclose new meanings
to social existence. On the other hand, a collective identity, in the scope of what we may
define as nation, is composed by members of different communities of shared values,
different cultural backgrounds but, at the same time, members who recognize a similar
sense of belonging, the same sense of citizenship. That does not mean that there aren’t
conflictual claims and demands in the process of manifestation and affirmation of a
personal identity and the assumption of a collective identity. It is precisely the outcome
of the dialectic between the need of recognition of a personal identity and the
opportunities that political societies provides for the manifestation and affirmation of that
identity that will form the specific spirit of a nation, different from others. It is important
to underline that those conflicts or that dialectic it’s not structured only by the normative
dimension of the Sate; it is more than that, it is regulated by informal mechanisms of
acculturation inherent to any contextualized and multidimensional social life (See
Greenfeld, 1993).
The true meaning of a nation resides on the existence of a cultural community
whit shared founding myths, symbolic meanings and values but, at the same time, whit
the perspective of a common and meaningful future horizon of collective realization that
justifies social and political arrangements. Therefore, the identity of a nation is a
dialogical, relational one. An identity composed by different and subjective
interpretations of what unites its members, and, because of it, it is a shared mental realm,
more symbolic than normative, more imaginary than statutory. It provides the context
through which a specific political organization may exist and the comprehension and
justification of its institutions.
Democracy Crises and Social Imaginaries Part II
National Imaginary
Cornelius Castoriadis identifies the social imaginary has not being composed by
conceptions about what a society is but by what gives sense to the symbols, the goods,
the institutions, i.e., what configures the ethos of a group. In these terms, the best way to
define a society is a set of shared and unifying conceptions that provide a significant
content and are framed in symbolic structures. Castoriadis refers as examples of social
imaginaries the Old Testament to the Jews or the philosophical and democratic
conceptions of the Ancient Greece. That is to say that a particular society can only be
understood considering his binder and fundamental imaginaries, situated in a particular
space and time context. This imaginary provides a horizon of meaning that allows to
determine what a society is in ontological terms, as he refers: «The institution of society
is in each case the institution of a magma of social imaginary significations, which we
can and must call a world of significations» (Castoriadis 1987, p. 359). It is this set of
significant and meaning, supplied by the social imaginary, that provides a specific vision
of the world and that creates the proper “world of a society, i.e., that institutes a society
and allows it to be distinguished from others.
Another author, Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the
Origin and Spread of Nationalism, 1983) emphasizes the constructive aspect of the
imaginative creations but goes beyond the specificity of meaning and signification
underling several social imaginaries as a differentiator source between societies. To
Anderson, the same social imaginary does not only have a differentiator and identity
aspect of a particular society. To Anderson, the social imaginary is not the only identity
differentiator of a particular society; it is more than that it is transversal to different
groups or societies, and it is formed and developed in history in its civilizational terms.
An example of this conception is the social imaginary underlying to the concept of nation.
The modern concept of nation has been instituted in many societies, since the end of the
18th century, because people were called to participate and to take part in similar kinds of
social practices, forming, due to public participation, imagined communities that helped
to fixate new identities or new nations. If we understand nation as «an imagined political
community and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign» (Anderson, 1983:
15), we can understand that the social imaginary is not specific of a group or a society,
mas but it is shared by different societies.
In those terms, although it is a fact that the forms of his institutionalization
diverge from group to group, from society to society, it is always the same imaginary that
constitutes the idea of a nation. What it is determinant to understand what a nation or a
society may be are not the political ideologies, those can be easily identified, but what is
fundamentally are the cultural models which are shared in a similar way and the common
implicit schemes of the world interpretation.
On the other hand, Charles Taylor emphasizes that a modern social imaginary is
not the way society imagines, but the way we imagine society. This is a very significant
turn in the mainstream theory on social imaginaries. It is no longer a social or sociological
theory, an external observation that allows a characterization and an empirical definition
of what a society may be, as in Castoriadis; nor if the same social imaginary is extensible
or common to different groups or societies as the underlined imaginary of the notion that
Andersen uses as an example.
Departing from Andersen´s thesis, although whit an emphasis on
phenomenological analysis, Taylor reaffirms the importance of cultural models that
enlighten a vision of the world and that are sources of identity to those who share them,
but he stresses that the social imaginaries are now modern, i.e., fit not only in groups or
nations, but also, in its own way, in the individual.
Paradoxically, the atomism that characterizes modern societies does not
diminish the strength of the idea of what society or nation is. To Taylor, what we see in
modern times is a change in the comprehensible forms of societies as being composed by
sacred hierarchies and timeless laws. In modernity, what is underlying to the moral order
of societies is a relation between individuals that aim to, fundamentally, satisfy their
private goods and consider their functional differences at an instrumental and contingent
level, because their members are ultimately equal among themselves. Even in instances
where the personal identity of the members of a society are marginalized and ostracized,
they still considered themselves as equal and free individuals in legal, moral, and political
From here, the consideration about what may be a social imaginary assumes
phenomenological contours or begins to be understood, by Taylor, phenomenologically,
in the sense of what is, we may say, designate as background. Quoting Taylor: «I want to
speak of social imaginary here, rather than social theory, because there are important
and multiple differences between the two. I speak of imaginary because I’m talking
about the way ordinary people ‘imagine’ their social surroundings, and this is often not
expressed in theoretical terms; it is carried in images, stories, and legends. But it is also
the case that theory is usually the possession of a small minority, whereas what is
interesting in the social imaginary is that it is shared by large groups of people, if not the
whole society. Which leads to a third difference: the social imaginary is that common
understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of
legitimacy (…) Our social imaginary at any given time is complex. It incorporates a sense
of the normal expectations that we have of one another, the kind of common
understanding which enables us to carry out the collective practices that make up our
social life. This incorporates some sense of how we all fit together in carrying out the
common practice. This understanding is both factual and ‘normative’; that is, we have a
sense of how things usually go, but this is interwoven with an idea of how they ought to
go, of what missteps would invalidate the practice. (…) The relation between practices
and the background understanding behind them is therefore not one-sided. If the
understanding makes the practice possible, it is also true that the practice largely carries
the understanding. (…) What I’m calling the social imaginary extends beyond the
immediate background understanding that makes sense of our particular practices (…)
this understanding necessarily supposes a wider grasp of our whole predicament, how we
stand in relationship to one another, how we got where we are, how we relate to other
groups. . . It is in fact that largely unstructured and inarticulate understanding of our whole
situation, within which particular features of our world become evident». (Taylor, 2002:
pp. 106-107).
The context of the social imaginary provides the sense of conjoint belonging, the
sense to the way of being in the world in social terms, the sense that justifies the
expectations that we can have towards us and the others, i.e., gives the special-time
context in which we realize, judge and act in the world; provides the parameters in which
people can imagine their social existence.
This comprehensive context is, at the same time, descriptive and normative,
because it provides the ethical patterns that give the adequate way of being in the world.
For Taylor, social imaginaries are not theories nor ideologies, but implicit
contexts that map the social space and normalize a particular temporal sense where it
grounds. At the same time, is a shared sense about legitimizing certain social expressions
and practices. He argues that there are three main scope of social practices that gain their
sense and are legitimized from the established horizon shared by the social modern
imaginary: I) the popular sovereignty and the political autonomy that points to the
primacy of society over politics and the importance of a common action; II) the market
economy, that privileges the private sector, neglecting the meaning of a collective action;
III) the public sphere of action that is external to the politics but internal to society and
that demands the accountability of politics towards society. Significate in Taylor,
comparing with other mentioned authors, is that the modern social imaginary has not been
established from the 18th century in opposition or against other social imaginaries, being
the Greek, Jewish or Christian, with their philosophical, political and religious ideas,
being other social imaginaries that coexist with this Occidental social imaginary that
we´ve talking about. The Occidental modern social imaginary constitutes itself as the
relation and the encounter with other social imaginaries, i.e., constitutes an intercultural,
intercivilizational form, exploring how its meaning and its institutions of power that
reflect them are generated, and, at the same time, being a motor of transformation and
evolution through acculturation.
It is in this sense that the notion of national community, the one of a nation,
demands a comprehension of the specificity of a cultural particularity and not merely an
assertion of political ideologies that may characterize them. In fact, modern ideologies,
as liberalism, conservatism or socialism are no longer identity references of a nation; on
the other hand, a collective community compromised with certain values and ideals that
articulate the same social imaginary in factual political programs seems the most adequate
criterion to define, nowadays, what a nation is.
Global Imaginary
While we experience this changing in the political ideology to the social
imaginary as a proper way to express and understand what a nation is, the meaning of
interdependency and the need of a relation and the encounter between cultures and
civilizations, which is inherent to that change and to the evolution of the social imaginary,
is, at the same time, the reason of its weakening and fragmentation. The thesis is: in the
same way the globalized world has been affirming a global imaginary, the social
imaginary of a nation is degrading, what, necessarily, results in a diffuse understanding
an in a disfigured affirmation of the personal and collective identities. The national
feeling, of belonging to a nation, is progressively defied by a global feeling, the one of
belonging to the world.
Of course this global imaginary is only possible because it has the means to
constitute and to affirm itself, and that affirmation goes through out the action of the
individuals that, for the reasons already alluded in the first part distorted
representativity, abusive constitucionalism, partisanship, elitism, populism and negative
nationalisms but in particular by economic globalization and by the affirmation of a
public opinion through media networks that are spread worldwide, forge new identities
or identify other sources of identity that also give meaning to their being and being in the
world, giving rise to new cosmopolitan ideologies, be they right-wing or left-wing.
However, this global imaginary is incomplete and dysfunctional since it lacks its moral
foundations and the social and political institutions to constitute itself as a global social
imaginary. As already stated, globalization is not accompanied by globalism. Even the
United Nations, which could become an effective means of promoting this globalism, is
not only often disunited, but it is intended to be and cannot aim to another thing than be
a unity of nations.
Although incomplete and dysfunctional, this global or planetary imaginary is a
cosmopolitan imaginary that is created around a social and political sense shared by
individuals whit significant different backgrounds and affirmed in opposition to the social
and political meanings and comprehensions created nationally and collectively shared. It
emerges through a distorted notion of cultural unity promoted by globalization and
depoliticization of principles of social and political organization that are now considered
neutral, natural, and universal, without the need for institutional support. To this is allied
an ideal of authenticity based on an individualized and atomized and radicalized notion
of autonomy and self-realization, which has as consequence the affirmation of an equality
in the dignity of choices and in its inherent moral relativism.
The three spheres of social practice to which Taylor refers (see above), for the
reasons alluded, seem to divide ideologies no longer in their classical terms of liberalism,
conservatism and socialism, but from the postures that individuals adopt in the face of
market globalism and the globalism of justice. As Manfred B. Steger states ««The
outcome was a new political belief system centered on five central ideological claims that
translated the global imaginary in concrete political programs and agendas: 1)
globalisation is about the liberalization and global integration of markets; 2) globalisation
is inevitable and irreversible; 3) nobody is in charge of globalisation; 4) globalisation
benefits everyone; 5) globalisation furthers the spread of democracy in the world»,
(Steger: 2009, p. 20).
In terms of the imaginary globalism attempted by economic and political elites,
it points out its positive aspects such as the general increase in the standard of living, the
reduction of poverty on a global scale and technological progress. However, we can also
identify its dangers: accentuated social inequalities and marginalization of those who are
left behind; the proliferation of conflicting forms of self-interest satisfaction; the
accentuation of individualism and the destruction of the bonds of solidarity between
individuals and peoples; environmental destruction and, above all, the weakening of
democratic forms of participation in the construction of the world in which one lives and
wants to live. The implications of this imaginary, as of all its imaginings, are moral,
social, and political and have been accentuating what has been identified as democracy
decay or backsliding.
What seems to be the common and fundamental aspect that accentuates the bad
feeling of this modernity and the solution to the negative diagnosis presented in the first
part of this article is the weakening or even the absence of effective forms of political
participation that can respond to the needs that citizens present and those does not concern
only to the satisfaction of material needs that allow them to live a comfortable life, in
safety and health, but above all is concerns to forms of participation that allow them to
flourish and realize themselves as members of a communitarian identity, with a common
heritage, history, language, system of beliefs and common practices that give meaning to
their personal identities and provide the meaningful horizon that justifies their present
Although it is undeniable that, in the world in which we live, it is necessary to
reformulate personal and collective identities, since this is an inherent dynamism in the
very formation of any identity, it is also undeniable that if this reformulation is not
achieved by and through forms of participation in political life, it will remain
undetermined. Therefore, is that it is necessary to correct what we already call regression
in representativeness.
The concept of the Liberal Democratic Rule of Law that underlies the existence
and independence of nations, because it ensures self-government based on
constitutionalism, i.e., the Rule of Law, and self-determination, is based on the freedom
and political equality of all citizens, and that freedom and equality are assured by the right
of representation, i.e., the right to elect their representatives to positions and functions in
the exercise of sovereignty, as well as the right to be elected and to represent their voters
in the exercise of those positions and functions. This means that representativity is thus a
necessary and indispensable mechanism in the realization of the social imaginary of each
person, group, or nation, since it is in this way that political participation becomes
effective in the construction and affirmation of personal or collective identity.
In this context, the symptoms that have been identified as sources of democratic
decay, such as, in a national level, the growth of populist and nationalist claims, in their
most negative aspects, which often lead to a constitutional revisionism to abusive forms
in democratic terms, as well as isolationism, protectionism not only economic but also
social, with the opposition to migratory movements and the refusal to receive refugees,
the weakening of social cohesion and the affirmation of the superiority of the majority
over minority groups within the same nation, especially those minorities that differ in
ethnic and cultural terms, are motivated and exponentiated by a deficient and inadequate
mechanism of political representation. On the other hand, if we consider the issue at a
global level, through which this global imaginary is fed by different modes of
globalization, we see that the legitimate claims of individuals and peoples, especially
those excluded from this process or those who advocate global ideas that are beyond
economic factors, such as environmental ideals, simply have no way of being represented,
often limiting themselves to the manifestation of their claims in the global media, thus
seeking that their ambitions be virtually shared, becoming "viral" and thus able to exercise
some pressure on the elites, especially the economic ones. So, we return to the form of
participation that is legitimate, legitimized and that can be effective, the national
representativeness. It is only in this way, from the bottom up, that the needs and demands
of people and communities can be met and that their representatives can respond to them
both internally - nationally - and externally, diplomatically - globally.
As Kriesi puts it: «Arguably it is the consequence of a crisis of representation,
i.e., of an inadequate representation of the citizens’ demands in the political system. The
crisis of representation, in turn, may result from two sets of factors. On the one hand, it is
the result of a lack of responsiveness of the political system, most importantly of the party
system, to new demands of the citizens. The citizens’ demands are linked to broad societal
conflicts. In Western Europe, these conflicts were traditionally based on religion and
class, and to some extent also on regional differences. More recently, however, we have
seen the rise of new structural conflicts linked to processes of globalization, which can be
broadly understood as the opening up of national borders in varying ways. Thus, the
increasing international economic competition, the increasing influx of migrants from
ever more distant and culturally more different shores, and the increasing political
integration in the European Union have created conflicts between “winners” and “losers”
of globalization, i.e., between people whose life chances were traditionally protected by
national boundaries and who perceive the weakening of these boundaries as a threat to
their social status and their social security, and people whose life chances are enhanced
by the opening up of national borders». (Kriesi: 2020, p. 10)
As we have been saying, the representativity has been distorted and weakened.
The feeling that who is elected represents who elect has been exponentially weakened. It
is a diagnosis that has been made by several academics, in particular Charles Taylor and
Will Kymlicka who have been drawing attention to the need to conceive new models of
citizenship, new models of participation in political life, new mechanisms of
Preserving social imaginaries: Rethinking representativeness
The rationalism of the Enlightenment that presided the elaboration of the theory
of the separation of powers and government by the Rule of Law, were at the basis of the
institution of parliamentarianism and representativity that motivated the spread of the
scope of civil rights. Especially since World War II, those ideas spread throughout the
world and originated the liberal democracies that we know today, where sovereignty
resides in the people and the legitimacy of the exercise of power derives from its
representativeness materialized by electoral mechanisms. In the name of the equality of
all citizens, the same rationalism produced a quantitative criterion for determining the
legitimacy of the exercise of power. Thus, all votes count the same, and even in indirect
electoral systems, it is the quantitative criterion that determines representativeness and,
consequently, the legitimacy in the exercise of power by expressing the will of the
The lack of political representation of local communities, or at least their sense
of ineffectiveness of the representative system to respond to their needs, promotes their
alienation from national political systems and weakens it. It is a vicious circle, i.e., the
political system does not adequately represent the political communities, and these, if not
represented, weaken the political system and its ability to respond to the needs of local
communities. In this way, what is fundamental in any democratic regime has become
increasingly faded, i.e., a strong bond between political institutions and the needs and
aspirations of citizens.
Break this vicious circle means strengthening democracy and that is possible
with new forms of representation, especially in the name of local communities.
We believe that it is this mechanism that must now be questioned and rethought
in order to reverse what has been called democratic decay, whether these are motivated
or accentuated by the internal dynamisms inevitably inherent in nations that are
increasingly composed of multiple minorities, scattered by divergent values and interests,
are motivated and accentuated by the global dynamism of interaction and
interdependence, especially at economic level, of the different nations in the concert of
the world. One way or another, we believe that the health and well-being of modern
democracies will come from the capacity to implement new mechanisms of
representativeness that are based, not on an egalitarian quantitative criterion, but on an
equitable qualitative criterion. This is what the aforementioned new modes of political
participation, the new models of citizenship that have been proposed, affirm, i.e., the need
for a reconstruction of the mechanisms of representativeness, in the various layers of
representation, from local, to national and global, which will have to be concretized from
the bottom to top as a proper way to strengthen the feeling that an election really has
political consequences.
This bottom-up movement is not, of course, carried out by atomized individuals,
since they do not have the capacity to articulate what is collectively established, that is,
the moral sources that make up the collective identity and that present themselves as a
significant horizon for the construction of a personal identity. It will have to be the local
communities, in the first place, to forge a political project that meets their collective needs
and aspirations that are discovered and made explicit through dialogue. From here,
according to Charles Taylor, we can identify the conditions that could make it possible:
«We distinguish four different building blocks of this change:
(I) It involves an existential shift in stance: From a sense that we as a
community are the victims of powerful forces beyond our control, such as the
“globalizing elites” or “distant technocrats,” or the disloyal competition of foreigners, we
come to see ourselves as capable of taking initiative, of doing something to alter our own
predicament. Therefore, the emergence of a deliberative community, of the “political” in
Arendt’s sense, generates an empowering consciousness of collective agency and
possibility among the local community.
(II) At the same time, the fact that we have to join forces and work with others,
from different organizations, confessions, outlooks, and even political convictions, makes
us listen to each other: deliberative communities build new inclusive solidarities and trust
among the participants.
(III) We also open up new alleys to creativity. a realignment of both knowledge
and motivation, both a clearer vision and shared power around this vision.
(IV) our standing as a group has significant changed. Our interpretation and
understanding of the situation, our interests and goals, and even our motivations, values,
and vision have become aligned. Once a responsive connection to the political system has
been successfully established, we feel empowered because we are empowered. Because
of its potential for the alignment of goals, knowledge, and motivation, the rebuilding of
local deliberative communities is both a mode of organization and a means of political
mobilization». (Taylor, 2020: pp. 22-25 - adapted)
A democratic renewal implies: «(1) to define new and potentially fruitful policies
or programs to meet important needs of citizens, and (2) to create commitment, cohesion,
or solidarity around these policies». (Taylor, 2020: p. 85) and, we add, forms of effective
political representation.
Empirical data show that this is not the affirmation of an inconsequent idealism.
It is a proposal based on a new way of designing democracy in a context in which political
institutions and their party system and representative mechanisms has proved to be
ineffective in meeting citizens needs. What is at stake is the bond of justice that unites
people around a common good that is greater than the sum of private interests, but at both
the national and global levels. It is necessary to continue to respect the need to satisfy
private goods in a way that is harmonized with the common good. This implies a
concerted action among political parties, nonpartisan social movements, and a solid local
community, with a strong civic sense, and organized around needs and aspirations
consistent with the preservation of collective identity, with its social imaginary.
If the representativeness mechanism must be reformulated to respond a claim
from bottom to top by the qualified participation of the members of local communities,
by the formal or informal movements, more or less organized and institutionalized in
what is classical named as civil society, that claim only becomes effective and successful
by the alteration of the mechanisms of representativeness inscribes in constitutional texts.
As a mean to combat the announced democratic decline that we are experience and, at the
same time, as a mean to strength the link that bides representants and the represented, it
is also necessary that the same claim find acknowledgement among the political
institutions, from top to the bottom, has a necessary condition for change de mechanism
of representativeness in constitutional texts.
As mention before, representativeness must be grounded in a qualitative
criterion that allows a more effective political expression of local communities whit
shared interests that, regardless of the number of its members, present distinct specificities
and particularities between each others. Those particularities could be justified by the
possibilities that a specific territory and environment provides for its flourishment, or
also, for example, due to the industrialization and mechanization of labour that dissolves
professional communities e their identities (see, for instance, the local communities of
fisherman, lumberjacks, small farmers, that ae eroded not only professionally but as an
inevitable consequence in its identitary component), and even also, most preeminent of
all, linguistic, cultural and religious minoritarian communities.
Maybe we may conceive a quote system in the election of representants of those
communities; a qualified vote that could have a significant greater numerical expression,
although in equitable terms, that represents one community and not only the some of the
votes of the individuals that composed them. Maybe it could be reasonably the creation
of an indirect representation based on “qualified electors” of different local communities
that could nominate the legislative and the executive powers. It seems that it could be a
more adequate and effective way to address the different claims of different communities
that, being in majority or in minority, remains legitim claims.
If something like this does not happened the feeling of belonging to a nation and
a political community becomes even more flattened.
New mechanisms of representation should require also new forms of
accountability for the representants. Responsibility and transparency are the effective
means to endow the system whit trust. Trust is, was and it always will be the key factor
that provides cohesion to the relation among electors and elected and when that sentiment
of trust is questioned or is undermine by the bureaucratic structures of the political system,
the immediate consequence is the depoliticization or lack of political participation of de
citizens. It needed to endow the system of representativeness whit a juridical framework
that reinforces the accountability of politicians in office, punishing them when by their
action they deliberate misrepresent the manifested will and the claims of their electors.
What we are suggesting is not only an implicit contract, but an explicit contract
where it became possible not only swear to obey the Constitution but also to obey to the
mandate that is attribute to them by the electors. This kind of accountability demands a
response, a demonstration of what is done, how it was done e why it was done what is
done in the name of that mandate. That requires transparency; requires regular
communication between representants and the represented to allow the scrutiny of the
action of the formers by the latter and, eventually, the possibility of substitution, in legal
terms, of those representants. This mere possibility would, by itself, endorses
transparency in the exercise of power, and transparency is needed to strength that
sentiment of trust between the contract parts.
Responsibility, transparency (communication and proximity) and trust are core
values inherent to democratic regimes. In face of de so-called decay of democracy, it is
not necessary to change the political regime, on the other hand, what is necessary is to
strengthen it. And that is justified if we consider the alternatives that have been presented,
more or less populist, that have degenerate, as history has showed, to forms of
authoritarianism. What seems to be necessary is to find forma to endow those core values
to a greater effectiveness and a more preponderant role in the exercise of power and for
thar we must rethink, reinvent, rediscover new models of representativeness that may
endorse the concrete claims of local communities e of those people that compose them,
allowing them to affirm their one identity in the public sphere and in the political context
of their lives.
Whether at a national or global level, what we are witnessing today is the
fragmentation of social imaginaries. The modern uneasiness of being democratic can only
be overcome by the empowerment of different and local social imaginaries.
Globalization has undoubtedly promoted the increase of inequities as it has
impeded the affirmation of personal, national or regional identities, promoted the
opposition to migrants movements and to the acceptance of refugees, it has weakened the
democratic party system and contributed to the impairment of the social bond between
the citizens and the national states. It is obvious that we are facing some major societal
problems, but a wiser reaction to this is not to declare the end of national states nor even
to affirm an era of crises in democracy. To that effect it is necessary that ordinary citizens
also directly benefit from globalization and globalism or, at least, that they gain some
protection against its dangers, particularly as far the increase of inequities is concerned.
Taking Richard Higgott’s affirmation into account, «The political system needs
compromises that reconcile capitalism with mass democracy, not cosmopolitan
democratic elitism. Goverments of a non-populist persuasion need to re-boot the social
contract between state and society and provide enough citizen incentive to make citizen
preservation of capitalism a major societal commitment» (Higgott, 2018: p.13).
In the western world, the idea that sovereignty lays on the people, the equality among
citizens and the existence of democratic political institutions constitute the imaginary of
what it is a National State, whit is legitimized and legitim political autonomy and the
power of self-determination.
In that sense, national states also become part of a particular cultural order that
aims for modernization and progress and that justifies its power and territorial authority
over their populations in the name of national sovereignty. In addition, the
implementation of public policies justifies itself as a form of preservation and
reproduction of the uniqueness of a national identity and, at the same time, in a global
world, calls for the recognition of its specificity.
Apart from what is commonly taken to be true, for what has been said, we may
conclude that National Sates distinguished form one another mostly by the
comprehension of its cultural uniqueness rather than its normative constitution. It is the
sense of nationhood, derived from the imaginary of a nation that shapes the structure, the
constitution, and the regime that national states adopt. In a powerful statement that could
help to understand our thesis about national states and nations, «nationalism is rarely the
nationalism of the nation» (Anderson, 1991: p. 8)
This is how the vitality of a nation in a democratic regime and its capacity to act
in the global sphere can be conceived without undermining its own identity and the needs
and aspirations of its citizens. It will be the same logic of interdependence that allowed
the vicious circle to be broken that also occurs on a global scale, where the political
weakening of nations allows the economic deregulation of markets on a global scale,
above all, and this power of economic structures weakens or even makes political
globalism impossible.
It is necessary to attach a moral normativity to globalization where social values
prevail over economic ones; it is necessary to affirm a stronger civic ethics, altruism in
relations and recognition of the importance of good governance. That should always be a
political process, not an economic one, and it will only be possible under a democratic
political regime.
It is necessary to reaffirm the structural importance of moral values in politics
and not apathetically stand by witnessing the consolidation of instrumental economic
values. It is necessary to go back to our democratic tradition based on values such as
honour, trust, loyalty, human rights, respect for differences, equal opportunities. It is
necessary to identify the new social imaginaries.
AA. VV., «The Global State of Democracy 2019», Stockholm, International Institute for
Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2019.
ANDERSON, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread
of Nationalism, London, Verso, 1991.
CASTORIADIS, Cornelius, The imaginary institution of society, translated by Kathleen
Blamey, Cambridge, MIT Press, 1987.
CHURCHILL, Whiston, [quoted from] Discourse in the House of Commons, November
11th, 1947.
CLAASSEN, Christopher, «Does public support help democracy survive?» in American
Journal of Political Science, 64 (1), 2020, pp. 118134.
ERCAN, Selen A. & GAGNON, Jean-Paul, «The Crisis of Democracy: Which Crisis?
Which Democracy?», in Democratic Theory, Vol. 1: (2), 2014, pp. 110.
FERRAJOLI, Luigi, «The Crisis of Democracy in the Era of Globalization», in Anales
de la Cátedra Francisco Suárez, 39, 2005, pp. 53-67.
GINSBURG, Tom, and Aziz Z. HUQ, «How to Lose a Constitutional Democracy», in
UCLA Law Review, 65 (1), 2018, pp. 78169.
GREENFELD, Liah, Nationalism Five Roads to Modernity, Cambridge, MA, Harvard
University Press, 1993.
HIGGOTT, Richard, «Globalism, Populism and the Limits of Global Economic
Governance», in Journal of inter-regional studies: regional and global perspectives, 1,
2-23, (ORIS), Waseda University, 2018.
KRIESI, Hanspeter, «Is There a Crisis of Democracy in Europe?», in Polit
Vierteljahresschr, 61, 2020, pp. 237260.
LOUGHLIN, Martin, «The Contemporary Crisis of Constitutional Democracy», in
Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 39, n.º 2, 2019, pp. 435454.
PHARR, Susan J., and Robert D. PUTNAM (eds.), Disaffected democracies. What’s
troubling the trilateral countries?, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000.
PLATTNER, Marc F. «Liberal democracy’s fading allure», in Journal of Democracy 28
(4) 2017, pp. 5-14.
PATOMÄKI, Heikki., «Is a global identity possible? The relevance of Big History to
self-other relations», Refugee Watch (13), 2010.
PRZEWORSKI, Adam, Crises of Democracy, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,
RENAN, Ernest, «What is a Nation?», text of a conference delivered at the Sorbonne on
March 11th, 1882, translated by Ethan Rundell: Ernest Renan, Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?,
Paris, Presses-Pocket, 1992, in (access 01/11/2020).
SMITH, Anthony D., National Identity, London, Penguin Group, 1991.
SMITH, Anthony, Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of
Nations and Nationalism, London and New York, Routledge, 1998.
STEGER, Manfred B., «Globalisation and Social Imaginaries: The Changing Ideological
Landscape of the Twenty-First Century», in Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies,
Issue 1, 2009, pp. 9-30.
STEGER, Mnfred B., The Rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the
French Revolution to the Global War on Terror, Oxford and New York, Oxford
University Press, 2008.
TAYLOR, Charles, «Why do Nations have to become States?», in Reconciling the
Solitudes: Essays on Canadian Federalism and Nationalism, ed. Guy Laforest, Montreal
& Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993.
TAYLOR, Charles, Modern Social Imaginaries, Durham and London, Duke University
Press, 2004.
TAYLOR, Charles, NANZ, Patrizia, and TAYLOR, Madeleine Beaubien,
Reconstructing Democracy: How Citizens Are Building from the Ground Up, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2020.
TING, Helen, «Social Construction of Nation A Theoretical Exploration», in
Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 14:3, 2008, pp. 453-482,
WALKER, Neil, The Crisis of Democracy in a Time of Crisis, University of Edinburgh,
Edinburgh School of Law Research Paper Series, 2020.
In (access, 25/10/2020)
WILDE, Pieter de, Ruud KOOPMANS, Wolfgang MERKEL, Oliver STRIJBIS, and
Michael ZÜRN (eds.), The struggle over borders: cosmopolitanism and
communitarianism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2019.
ZÜRN, Michael, and Pieter DE WILDE, «Debating globalization: cosmopolitanism and
communitarianism as political ideologies», in Journal of Political Ideologies 21 (3),
2016, pp. 280301.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
This paper discusses the current prospects of democracy in Europe from four perspectives: the birdʼs-eye view of long-term trends; the perspective of citizens’ support of democratic principles and their dissatisfaction with the way democracy works in their own countries; the voters’ perspective, which points to the rise of populist challengers in reaction to rising democratic dissatisfaction; and the elites’ perspective of populists in power. Overall, there is reason for concern, but no reason to dramatize. The long-term trends point to the expansion of democracy; the citizens’ support for democracy is still massive in Europe. At the same time, democratic dissatisfaction is widespread, giving rise to the surge of populist challengers from the left and the right. However, even if they gain power, populists meet with a large number of constraints that stabilize democracy.
Full-text available
“An urgent manifesto for the reconstruction of democratic belonging in our troubled times.”—Davide Panagia Across the world, democracies are suffering from a disconnect between the people and political elites. In communities where jobs and industry are scarce, many feel the government is incapable of understanding their needs or addressing their problems. The resulting frustration has fueled the success of destabilizing demagogues. To reverse this pattern and restore responsible government, we need to reinvigorate democracy at the local level. But what does that mean? Drawing on examples of successful community building in cities large and small, from a shrinking village in rural Austria to a neglected section of San Diego, Reconstructing Democracy makes a powerful case for re-engaging citizens. It highlights innovative grassroots projects and shows how local activists can form alliances and discover their own power to solve problems.
Full-text available
Economic, cultural and political systems formerly bounded by the borders of nation states are increasingly globalized. Politicians, civil society and other societal actors engage in publically debating issues related to globalization. Whether conflicts consolidate to form a stable cleavage depends among other factors on the extent to which they become ideologically underpinned. As the basis for such an underpinning, we identify philosophical debates about justice between globalists and statists and between universalists and contextualists as raw material that political entrepreneurs active in the public sphere can draw upon. On this basis, we identify four major bones of contention that could provide the core of such ideological underpinning: the permeability of borders; the allocation of authority between levels; the normative dignity of communities; and the patterns of justification. One ideal typical combination of those four components can be labelled cosmopolitanism- combining arguments from globalists and universalists; another communitarianism, combining statist and contextualist arguments. The more these two ideal types feature as political ideologies in public debate, the more do debates about globalization solidify into a new cleavage. We develop a conceptual framework which can subsequently be used in support of empirical research analysing the ideological foundations of globalization conflicts.
Full-text available
Neoliberalism. Neoconservatism. Postmarxism. Postmodernism. Is there really something genuinely new about today's isms? Have we moved past our traditional ideological landscape? This book traces ideology's remarkable journey from Count Destutt de Tracy's Enlightenment 'science of ideas' to President George W. Bush's 'imperial globalism'. Rejecting futile attempts to 'update' modern political belief systems by adorning them with prefixes, the book offers instead an explanation for their novelty: their increasing ability to articulate deep-seated understandings of community in global rather than national terms. This growing awareness of globality fuels the visions of social elites who reside in the privileged spaces of our global cities. It erupts in the hopes and demands of migrants who traverse national boundaries in search of their piece of the global promise. Stoked by cross-cultural encounters, technological change, and scientific innovation, the rising global imaginary has destabilised the grand political ideologies codified during the national age. The national is slowly losing its grip on people's minds, but the global has not yet ascended to the commanding heights once occupied by its predecessor. Still, the first rays of the rising global imaginary have provided enough light to capture the contours of a profoundly altered ideological landscape. Pointing in this direction, the book ends with an interpretation of the apparent convergence of ideology and religion in the dawning global age - a broad phenomenon that extends beyond the obvious cases of Christian fundamentalism and Islamic jihadism.
The growth of constitutional democracy has been a remarkable feature of the last 30 years, but during the last decade it has suffered a dramatic decline. That decline is marked less by constitutional democracies being overthrown than by an increase in regimes that retain the formal institutional trappings while flouting the norms and values on which constitutional democracies are based. This process of constitutional degradation is the subject of two recent books that together present the most comprehensive evaluation available on the current state of constitutional democracy. In this review article, the findings and analysis presented in Graber, Levinson and Tushnet’s Constitutional Democracy in Crisis? and Ginsburg and Huq’s How to Save a Constitutional Democracy are examined and appraised. The article argues that solutions to the contemporary crisis cannot be found only by strengthening liberal institutions; to survive, constitutional democracy must also seek to reinvigorate its democratic aspirations.
It is widely believed that democracy requires public support to survive. The empirical evidence for this hypothesis is weak, however, with existing tests resting on small cross‐sectional samples and producing contradictory results. The underlying problem is that survey measures of support for democracy are fragmented across time, space, and different survey questions. In response, this article uses a Bayesian latent variable model to estimate a smooth country‐year panel of democratic support for 135 countries and up to 29 years. The article then demonstrates a positive effect of support on subsequent democratic change, while adjusting for the possible confounding effects of prior levels of democracy and unobservable time‐invariant factors. Support is, moreover, more robustly linked with the endurance of democracy than its emergence in the first place. As Lipset (1959) and Easton (1965) hypothesized over 50 years ago, public support does indeed help democracy survive.
'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
What accounts for the troubled condition of liberal democracy today? Standard explanations cite factors such as slowing economic growth and rising economic inequality, political polarization and gridlock, globalization, and moral and cultural decadence. Yet such explanations cannot account for the speed with which democracy's decline has surged to the forefront of political discourse around the world. And it can hardly be a coincidence that disaffection with liberal democracy and support for populist parties are growing in both new and longstanding democracies alike. Simultaneously, authoritarian regimes of various stripes are showing a new boldness as the confidence and vigor of the democracies wane. Liberal democracy will regain its former health only if voters become convinced not only of democracy's intrinsic merits but also of its superiority to all possible alternatives. © 2017 National Endowment for Democracy and Johns Hopkins University Press.
Is the United States at risk of democratic backsliding? And would the Constitution prevent such decay? To many, the 2016 election campaign may be the immediate catalyst for these questions. But it is structural changes to the socio-economic environment and geopolitical shifts that make the question a truly pressing one. This Article develops a taxonomy of different threats of democratic backsliding, the mechanisms whereby they unfold, and the comparative risk of each threat in the contemporary moment. By drawing on comparative law and politics experience, we demonstrate that there are two modal paths of democratic decay, which we call authoritarian reversion and constitutional retrogression. A reversion is a rapid and near-complete collapse of democratic institutions. Retrogression is a more subtle, incremental erosion that happens simultaneously to three institutional predicates of democracy: competitive elections; rights of political speech and association; and the administrative and adjudicative rule of law. Over the past quartercentury, we show that the risk of reversion has declined, while the risk of retrogression has spiked. The United States is not exceptional. We evaluate the danger of retrogression as clear and present, whereas we think reversion is much less likely. We further demonstrate that the constitutional safeguards against retrogression are weak. The near-term prospects of constitutional liberal democracy hence depend less on our institutions than on the qualities of political leadership and popular resistance.