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Degenerations of Democracy, with Craig Calhoun, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, and Charles Taylor

On January 25th, co-authors Craig Calhoun, Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, and Charles Taylor joined AUP for a dialogue on their recent book “Degenerations of Democracy" (Harvard University Press, 2022). Co-sponsored by the AUP Center for Communication, Media, and Global Change and the Center for Critical Democracy Studies, the event was moderated by Jayson Harsin (Director, Center for Media, Communication, and Global Change), and featured comments from Ilaria Cozzaglio (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt), Julian Culp (The American University of Paris), and Stephen Sawyer (The American University of Paris).

The evening’s discussion saw three respondents from different fields provide their readings of Calhoun, Gaonkar, and Taylor’s work. Ilaria Cozzaglio opened the discussion with her take on the normative role of conflict in democratic politics. Julian Culp then commented on how inequality affects democratic processes, while questioning whether the book’s approach could be equally applied to European and US contexts. Lastly, Stephen Sawyer grappled with the book’s positioning of the history of French and American democratic societies, and the relation between theories of sovereignty and of government in understanding that history.

The book’s authors responded in turn by discussing geographical relations between global populist responses (Calhoun), the role of transparency in democratic society (Taylor), and the inextricable ties between democratic and populist phenomena in contemporary politics (Gaonkar). The discussion ended with thanks and gratitude for a mutually enlightening exchange.

The recording of the event can be viewed below.


On Friday, December 11, 2020, the Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) hosted Étienne Balibar for the inaugural lecture in its year-long lecture series, Demos21. In Balibar’s talk he discussed the fundamental question: “What is engagement?”, stressing that the French word “engagement” is a concept that translates in English as both engagement and commitment. “To speak about engagement is inevitably to speak, reflect, meditate or ruminate about oneself,” he explained. “One’s history, one’s life, one’s actions, one’s achievements, one’s errors, one’s failures and one’s mistakes.” Balibar’s focus was on the partisan activity of intellectuals who had decided to defend, illustrate and support some kind of political, social or moral code and who, therefore, found it necessary to join some kind of movement. Aiming to provide a broad, introductory overview of his response to the evening’s principal question, Balibar drew on the works of thinkers such as Jean Paul Sartre, Theodor Adorno and Karl Marx to explore how engagement can be defined in the context of intellectualism.

Following the talk, an audience discussion was moderated by Professor Philip Golub (AUP) and AUP alumna Zona Zaric (IFDT). The lecture was organized in partnership with the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory (IFDT) at the University of Belgrade and the Center for Advanced Studies – Southeast Europe (CAS SEE) at the University of Rijeka.


The Center for Critical Democracy Studies hosted a symposium entitled “What Demos for the 21st Century?” to culminate the Contemporary European Democratic Theory lecture series in April of 2022. Many of the papers following are being collected into a forthcoming volume. 

Transnational Migration and the Shifting Demos 

Robin Celikates (FU Berlin): Remaking the Demos ‘From Below’? Critical Theory, Migrant Struggles, and Epistemic Resistance

Dr. Robin Celikates the symposium with his paper Remaking the Demos “from Below”? Critical Theory, Migrant Struggles, and Epistemic Resistance, recently published in Didier Fassin and Axel Honneth's Crisis Under Critique. 

Extract forthcoming


Ayelet Shachar (Frankfurt/Toronto): Gated Citizenship

Dr. Ayelet Schachar presented her paper Gated Citizenship forthcoming in the 25th Anniversary Special Issue of Citizenship Studies, from which the following abstract was drawn: 

In The Birthright Lottery, I explored the multiple ways in which birthright access to citizenship operates as a distributor (or denier) of opportunity on a global scale. And what a significant distributor it is. Today, 97 percent of the global population gains access to citizenship solely by virtue of where or to whom they were born. In this article, I wish to shift the gaze from the automatic transmission of citizenship, which I refer to as the initial allocation, to deciphering the code, or underlying logic, governing the secondary allocation: the process of naturalization. Counter to predictions of waning sovereignty, tremendous investment is placed on regulating mobility, migration, and access to the good of membership. Bringing insights from law, political theory and comparative analysis, this article identifies three core sorting mechanisms that produce overt and covert inequalities in the acquisition of citizenship. I will refer to these as the trinity of the territorial, the cultural, and the economic. These intersecting yet analytically distinct dimensions create a versatile toolbox of line-drawing instruments. Their range of variation and combination permits constricting (or conversely, loosening) the requirements of admission in reference to different target populations, placing a heavy burden on those seeking to get in. The discussion lays bare the mistaken assumption that we live in a world wherein mobility is purely chosen and easily available for anyone who wishes for or needs it—irrespective of race, gender, class, power, and legal regulation. It further explores avenues for expanding our political imagination to rewrite the rules governing access to membership.

The Demos and Legitimacy

Alexander Kirshner (Duke): Legitimate Opposition and the Specter of Electoral Autocracy

Dr. Alexander Kirshner presented a chapter from his forthcoming book, Legitimate Opposition, the content of which is summarized below: 

In political systems defined by legitimate opposition, those who hold power allow their rivals to peacefully challenge and displace them, and those who have lost power do not seek to sabotage the winners. Legitimate opposition came under assault at the American capitol on January 6, 2021, and is menaced by populists and autocrats across the globe. Alexander Kirshner gave a talk based on his new book, Legitimate Opposition, which provides the first sustained theory of legitimate opposition since the Cold War. On the orthodox view, democracy is lost when legitimate opposition is subverted. But efforts to reconcile opposition with democracy fail to identify the value of the frequently imperfect, unfair and inegalitarian real word practice. Marshalling a revisionist reconstruction of opposition’s history, Kirshner’s book provides a new account of opposition’s value fit for the 21st century and shows why, given the difficult conditions of political life, legitimate opposition is an achievement worth defending.


Eva Erman (Stockholm): Artificial Intelligence and the Political Legitimacy of Global Governance 

Dr. Eva Erman presented her paper Artificial Intelligence and the Political Legitimacy of Global Governance from which the following extract was drawn: 

Although the concept of ’AI governance’ is frequently used in the debate, it is still rather undertheorized. Often it seems to refer to the mechanisms and structures needed to avoid ‘bad’ outcomes and achieve ‘good’ outcomes with regard to the ethical problems AI is thought to actualize. In this paper we argue that, although this outcome-focused view captures one important aspect of ‘good governance’, its emphasis on effects runs the risk of overlooking important procedural aspects of good AI governance. One of the most important properties of good AI governance is political legitimacy. Starting out from the assumptions that AI governance should be seen as global in scope and that political legitimacy requires at least a democratic minimum, this paper has a twofold aim: to develop a theoretical framework for theorizing the political legitimacy of global AI governance, and to demonstrate how it can be used as a critical yardstick for assessing the legitimacy of actual instances of global AI governance. Elaborating on a distinction between ‘governance by AI’ and ‘governance of AI’ in relation to different kinds of authority and different kinds of decision-making leads us to the conclusions that much of the existing global AI governance lacks important properties necessary for political legitimacy, and that political legitimacy would be negatively impacted if we handed over certain forms of decision-making to AI systems.

A Transnational Demos?

Sandra Seubert (Frankfurt): The Constitution of European Citizenship

Dr. Sandra Seubert presented her paper The Constitution of European Citizenship from which the following extract was drawn: 

Although a European citizenship status was introduced in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, taking on a citizen-centred perspective on the EU is still a provocation: it challenges the state-centred vision of the Union and potentially disrupts the EU’s legitimatory basis. The paper will address the constitution of European citizenship in a double sense: on the one hand by critically reconstructing what is already constituted (EU citizenship as existing legal status) and on the other hand by reconstructing ongoing citizenship practices of (re)constituting, contesting and eventually transcending the current status. The analysis applies an enactment approach to citizenship to develop an appropriate theoretical background and analyse current empirical dynamics.


Miriam Ronzoni (Manchester): How Should Transnational Solidarity Be Conceived for Republicans? 

Dr. Miriam Ronzoni presented her paper How Should Transnational Solidarity Be Conceived for Republicans? from which the following extract is drawn: 

In this paper, I draw on some of these insights to zoom in the account of cross-border solidarity that can stem out of, and be most suitable for, this diagnosis. If the diagnosis is correct, what we must do is establish norms and institutions that will give power back to polities, as it were. I have argued in previous work that this model is very different from various forms of cosmopolitan blueprints (be they primarily focused on distributive justice or on democracy), because the institution-building they call for is both incremental and primarily aimed at protecting the agency and solving capacity of states. What is more, it might require both doing and undoing – for instance, some scaling back from deep economic and financial integration might be required. On the other hand, in spite of being motivated by a vision or recreating the conditions for free statehood, this approach is anything but conservative or light-touch: the reforms and reconfigurations it calls for are different from those transnationalists and global federalists would advocate, but a great deal still needs to change. The conditions for the guaranteed, joint free statehood of all polities may well involve very demanding and ambitions reforms – such as tackling harmful international tax competition; a framework for accountability and labour-force empowerment within transnational supply chains; measures to tackle financial volatility and possibly even slow down both financial and economic integration; solutions for countries whose very existence and stability is threatened by climate change; and sanctions for inter-state, supranational, and transnational domination. 


Barbara Buckinx (Princeton): Prospects for Globally-Vigilant Citizenship

Dr. Barbara Buckinx presented her paper Prospects for Globally-Vigilant Citizenship from which the following extract is drawn: 

How can we ensure that global public institutions such as those associated with the United Nations will address the pressing global problems of our time without committing abuses of power? In domestic republicanism, participation by citizens is the primary condition for the protection of liberty. In particular, citizens are expected to be vigilant – to maintain awareness of and protest domination when and where it occurs. The requisite vigilance is more likely to obtain when citizens feel a sense of pride in and allegiance to the state, and when they view themselves as part of an important, ‘freedom-enhancing’ collective endeavor. Global republican scholars such as James Bohman have been sensitive to this demanding ideal of citizenship. Articulating a supranational notion of citizenship that is located in multi-layered and overlapping set of publics and institutions, Bohman points to the European Union as an existing supranational institution that has led to a corresponding, fledgling demos.

However, the grounds and mechanisms for fostering allegiance to the state – such as a joint history or language, public education, and the practice of joint participation in political decision making – are still largely absent at the global level, and this has implications for the robustness of non-dominating global public institutions, now and in the medium term. It is too early to tell whether an ethos of global citizenship and an attitude of global vigilance will eventually follow the establishment of global public institutions without our having to encourage it in any special way. However, even if vigilance beyond domestic borders will develop naturally, this does not help with our current predicament, which is that, in this highly unjust world order, many global public institutions are already operational yet not adequately constrained by citizens ‘holding their feet to the fire.’ The question for the time being is thus whether globally-vigilant citizenship can be encouraged or developed in the short-to-medium term.

I discuss two ways forward. First, we must harness the vigilance of citizens with regard to their own domestic states. Nationally-rooted citizens with a concern for global issues possess the required disposition of vigilance and electoral power to force their state to advocate against global domination, including by global public institutions. Second, ‘cosmopolitan states’ (e.g. Shapcott, Glenn) should take on the cultivation of globally-minded and -vigilant citizens as one of their chief responsibilities. Civic education ought to focus on developing globally-vigilant citizens.


Jamila Mascat (Utrecht): Towards a Postcolonial Theory of Global Justice 

Dr. Jamila Mascat presented her paper Towards a Postcolonial Theory of Global Justice from which the follow extract is drawn: 

This paper aims to propose a definition of the concept of “postcolonial justice” in view of elaborating an empirically-informed theory of postcolonial justice qua reparative justice. It suggests doing this through combining scholarly literature on colonial and slavery reparations (Bessone 2019; Brennan and Packer 2012; De Greiff 2006; Lu 2017; Miller and Kumar 2007) with an analysis of the political demands to decolonize society that decolonial grassroots activism has recently brought to the fore (such as the decolonization of universities, museums and public spaces). Firstly, the paper will investigate to what extent the notion of “postcolonial justice” – a concept that seems to have been very poorly explored in postcolonial scholarship – can provide a fruitful theoretical framework for connecting distinct demands for racial justice, cultural justice, epistemic justice, memorial justice and spatial justice. Secondly, it will show that reparation claims can be considered to be a crucial pillar in a theory of postcolonial justice. Lastly, it will argue for the conception of a theory of postcolonial justice that is both critical and reparative.

Representing the Demos

Annabelle Lever (Sciences Po Paris): Democracy in Selection

Dr. Annabelle Lever was unable to attend the final session of the conference but her paper will be included in the forthcoming collection. An extract can be found below: 

Should we replace elections with lotteries? Bernard Manin’s famous book on representative government first taught many of us that the Greeks thought of elections as an aristocratic, not a democratic, way to select people for political power and authority, by comparison with lotteries, where everyone has an equal chance to be selected. (Manin 1997) Until recently, however, the idea that a commitment to democracy requires replacing elections with lotteries, in whole or in part, generated little interest amongst political philosophers. (Blondiaux 2008; Courant and Sintomer 2019). That has now changed. (Abizadeh 2020) ( A. Guerrero 2014) (A. Guerrero 2021b; 2021a) (Landemore 2020) (Owen and Smith 2018) (P.- . Vandamme et al. 2018). Hence, this paper asks whether lotteries are more democratic than elections and whether, for that reason, we should use them to supplement or replace elections?

The recent literature on democracy contains several criticisms of lotteries as political selection devices. Most recently Landa and Pevnick and Umbers object that they will not achieve the instrumental improvements in government for which they are sought, (Landa and Pevnick 2021) (Umbers 2021); Ottonelli and Ceva, along with Lafont deny that lottocratic critiques of elections reflect an adequate understanding of democratic representation, (Ceva and Ottonelli 2021; Lafont 2020), and Umbers argues that lottocracy is at odds with principles of distributive justice and social equality. (Umbers 2021, 316–19)

My paper, by contrast, focuses on the idea that democracy requires an equal chance to be selected for political office. That claim is intuitively plausible and, if successful, would provide compelling, though not decisive, evidence that lotteries are democratic in ways that elections are not. However, if the claim is not persuasive, then the burden of justificatory proof, which fans of lotteries now heap on elections, must fall more equally and might, in principle, fall more heavily on lotteries than elections. Concentrating on this central claim about lotteries, then, is necessary to understand the criteria that democratic selection procedures must meet, and if successful, should help to provide common ground for a variety of instrumental and non-instrumental perspectives on lottocratic assemblies. 


Peter Stone (Trinity College Dublin): Why Open Democracy?

Dr. Peter Stone presented his paper Why Open Democracy from which the following extract was drawn: 

This paper examines open democracy, the conception of democracy introduced by H l ne Landemore in her recent book of the same name. Open democracy offers both an institutional paradigm and a specification of democratic values underlying it. It differs from alternative conceptions of democracy through the institutions associated with it. Whereas contemporary democracies rely primarily upon elections and referenda, open democracy places randomly-selected minipublics and volunteer activists at its core. In doing so, however, it leaves the demos—the body of citizens as a whole—with little, if any, role to play in decision making. Is this compatible with democracy? It depends critically upon the set of democratic values associated with open democracy, a set that turns out to be highly revisionist in nature. Open democracy places political equality at its heart. This explains its central commitment to sortition as a selection method in place of election. But while democracy is indeed usually associated with political equality at an individual level, at a collective level it is associated with popular sovereignty or popular rule. It is Landemore’s revised understanding of these demands—one that effectively turns popular sovereignty into an individual and not a collective value, and that comes close to reducing it to political equality. The attractiveness of open democracy thus turns critically upon the question of whether democracy must advance collective values alongside individual values such as political equality.


Carlo Burelli (Genoa): Resilient Demos - A Realistic Justification of Democracy

Dr. Carlo Burelli presented his paper Resilient Demos - A Realistic Justification of Democracy from which the following extract was drawn: 

Is democracy a realistic political ideal? This paper argues that democratic institutions are realistically desirable because they score highly on resilience. It does so by reviving Machiavelli’s argument that resilience is a key political virtue. Machiavelli underplays moral virtues and instead emphasizes political virtues: those skills that are essential for political actors and institutions to survive. The essential political virtue for him is resilience: the ability to adapt attitudes and strategies depending on the contingent challenge. Machiavelli’s insightful observation is that all individuals lack this virtue. Consequently, personalistic regimes tend to exhibit limited resilience. Instead, democracies can replace leaders with those most suited to the contingent situation. Machiavelli’s intuition is captured by the contemporary distinction between stability and resilience. Stable systems only undergo a small number of small fluctuations. Resilient systems are instead continuously changing to adapt to new contingencies. We can think of authoritarian regimes as stable institutions, quite persistent under normal conditions, but also unable to adapt to unprecedented crises. Instead, democracies are resilient institutions, whose fluctuations make them seemingly fickle under normal conditions, yet they are also well-suited to adapt to extraordinary challenges, because of their ability to experiment with self-adaptation under normal conditions.


Simone Chambers (UC Irvine): How Can the People Rule? Majority Rule and the Rise of Populism

Dr. Simone Chambers closed the symposium with her paper How Can the People Rule? Majority Rule and the Rise of Populism from which the following extract was drawn: 

Populism poses a challenge for democratic theory. Is it possible to rescue the concept of ‘the people’ from its use and abuse at the hands of (especially but not exclusively) right wing populist politics? Has populism simply made plain what some have been saying all along: appeals to the people (the will of the people or the rule of the people) are always dangerous. Here we have the long-standing suspicion that all ideas of a collective agent of democratic rule are incompatible with pluralism and political equality. What I call the populist challenge, then, breaks down into two questions. Is it possible to construct a concept of the people that is non-exclusionary and does justice to the ideals of political equality? Is it possible to think of this non-exclusionary people as ruling in any meaningful way? I answer yes to both questions. Rescuing the people from populism involves rethinking the role and function of majority rule within democratic orders, however. This paper sets out to demote majority rule from its privileged place within democratic theory without giving up on the ideal that the people can rule through (among other things) voting.

After a brief discussion of the populist reliance on majoritarian procedures, the first part of the paper canvases several responses to populism including left populism, minimalist theories of democracy, and liberal proceduralist theories. I ultimately endorse a deliberative proceduralist view that articulates what Habermas calls “communicatively fluid sovereignty.”

The final section of the paper seeks to concretize and illustrate fluid popular sovereignty using referendums as an example.


AUP undergraduates Stephanie Bergon, Fatimata-Atty Germaine Djibrine, and Emma Richardson are competing in the 2022 Tocqueville Challenge with a project that was designed in the fall 2021 session of the CCDS Democracy Lab.  The Challenge offers students a chance to practice civic engagement via real-life problem solving, all the while building lasting relationships with mentors and organizations from the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Sponsored by the Tocqueville Foundation, the Challenge seeks to inspire a desire for engagement and passion in its competing teams by providing hands-on opportunities to explore and design viable solutions to specific societal challenges within the context of civic service.

The team from AUP is putting forth a project, Ressources Familiales sur la Radicalisation, designed to assist the families of those incarcerated as a result of radicalization. Using testimonials, educational tools, and reading materials, the purpose of the project is to create a network that connects families to different support systems. The project’s aim is to incorporate family support as an integral role of de-radicalization and evaluate how it could be effectively used as a tool. Results of the Challenge will be published in May 2022. We expect that AUP students will have the opportunity to participate in subsequent Challenges. 




Mallory Boyd

Upon arriving at the Château in the morning, we were welcomed with a lovely spread of breakfast, juice, and coffee so we could fuel up before entering the tent to listen to the line-up of speakers, roundtable discussions, and Q&A panels. We ate lunch outside on the castle grounds, and got to talk with other conference attendees. Dominic, Jennifer and I made friends with some of the students from the Collège d'Europe, and really enjoyed chatting with them between speakers. While it was exceptionally hot outside, I was able to take rests inside the châteauduring the day. At one point when I was joined by a group of attendees, we were offered an impromptu, private tour of the château. We were even allowed inside of Tocqueville's personal library and study, which was just so incredibly cool to see. 

This conference was also a great means of networking with politicians, economists, journalists, and activists in a uniquely beautiful setting. The conference line-up was quite impressive, too. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to pose questions to the speakers and panelists, as it opened up the conversation to the audience and allowed us to respond in real-time to the discussions being had on stage. It was also great seeing how many of the younger attendees were able to ask questions, especially since our little group of students usually carried on with our discussions over lunch! I would also commend the conference for having live translation of the speakers on stage, as it made the conference accessible to all those attending and watching from the livestream! I learned so much about the ongoing Russian conflict in Ukraine (I especially appreciated the roundtable discussions between Ukrainian activists and journalists highlighting their own experiences and testimonies), and thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Château de Tocqueville and downtown Cherbourg. 


Jennifer Shoemaker 

I really enjoyed attending the Tocqueville Conversations, it gave me the opportunity to hear about the ongoing Russia/Ukraine War from philosophical, historical, military, and economic perspectives. As someone with family background in both Russia and Ukraine, I think it is important to mix personal and academic perspectives when understanding world events and conflicts. The conference was well organized and gave me an opportunity to meet people that are professionals, researchers, and students. The panel conversations were always intriguing and showed a wide range of opinions and experiences. The Chateau had beautiful grounds, and Cherbourg was a nice town to stay in with great seafood and cute streets. I would really recommend attending the conference, and I would attend the conference again as I had a great time. 

The Paris Centennial Conference

June 28, 2019 will mark one hundred years since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, an event that reshaped the world following the end of the First World War. To commemorate the occasion, scholars, historians and diplomats convened on May 24–26 for the Paris Centennial Conference, the first of a planned pair of conferences to be hosted by the Center for Critical Democracy Studies at The American University of Paris (AUP) in partnership with the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School. AUP was a natural choice to host such an international conference; its student body hails from over a hundred countries, and it serves as a meeting place of informed and globally minded people who will shape the future of international relationsConference venues included the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée, a prestigious social club founded following US entry into the First World War; the Franco-American friendship association France-Amériques; and AUP’s Student Life and Learning Commons. Learn more

Justice Stephen Breyer

On May 3 2016 Justice Stephen Breyer came to AUP to receive an honorary degree. We chose this opportunity to speak with Justice Breyer about his new book on international law, The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities, and to ask him a series of questions on justice and free speech around the world which are captured in the video series below. 

Civic Jazz - The Launch of the Center

Improvisation, empathy, cooperation: signatures of jazz and qualities that critical democracies can take to heart. This evening brought to light a number of parallels between jazz and the potential of modern democracies.

The Marcus Roberts Trio played several pieces of their own composition and some classics during their discussion with Mr. Gregory Clark. The second act was entirely musical and clearly illustrated the lessons that Mr. Roberts and Mr. Clark had conveyed during the first act. Great music happens when the entire group plays, not just for itself, but for the betterment of the piece.

It was clear that this was an ongoing dialogue for both men. Their work together, be it in these public conversations, or in Mr. Clark’s book Civic Jazz, reinforces the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the Center that they were in Paris to launch. As the Center’s press release puts it, “[T]hey are exploring the influences for good that can emerge from jazz.”

While Mr. Roberts and Mr. Clark explore jazz, the Center for Critical Democracy Studies, through the work of Dr. Stephen Sawyer among others, will examine the influences for good that can emerge from interdisciplinary, interlingual, and intercultural dialogues and events that revolve around critical democracy. Dr. Sawyer, director of the new Center, said, “We cannot tackle these questions working alone,” and invites us all to join in the conversation about democracy. “There is no department or scholar at AUP and beyond that cannot actively contribute to this reflection.”

Take a look at the video and photo gallery below to get the highlights of the evening: