Max Muir speaks to Lois McNay, Professor of Political Theory at Oxford University and Fellow of Somerville College, about her new book, ‘The Misguided Search for the Political’. She argues that radical democratic theorists, in their search for the abstract essence of politics itself, have ushered in a dangerous silence on the lived experience of inequality and oppression. Without addressing the ‘social weightlessness’ of their theories, these radical democrats find their emancipatory credentials seriously undermined. Max Muir: Hi Lois, thanks for chatting with us. Your new book is called ‘The Misguided Search for the Political’. Why exactly is that search misguided? Lois McNay: The book is a reaction to something we’ve seen over the last twenty or thirty years in …
Launch of current issue of the St. Antony’s International Review (STAIR): “Power, the State and the Social Media Network”
The St Antony’s International Review (STAIR) is proud to announce the publication of its 16th issue, “Power, the State, and the Social Media Network”. The issue is available on IngentaConnect. The launch event will take place on 6 March at 6.30 pm in the Oxford Department for Politics and International Relations. In the themed section of this edition of STAIR five authors seek to shed light upon the contemporary relationship between power, the state and social media, perhaps the most pronounced and widely disseminated digital social technology the world has encountered. Supporting and affecting political movements from New York’s Zuccotti Park and Egypt’s Tahrir Square, “Facebook revolutions” and “Twitter revolutions” are conceived of as borne out of social media networks; they oscillate between the Charybdis of an anarchic freedom and the Scylla of surveilled repression, utilized by both citizens and the state. With such power, social media now holds the potential to empower and propagandize, secure and surveil, to create, and to destroy.
Democracy is morally prior to the economy. The structure of the economy is something a sovereign people may and should design and redesign to secure its common good – that is, the shared interest of each and every citizen in life, liberty and economic opportunity. This is the basic premise of the ‘Democratic Wealth’ series that I have the pleasure of editing. This is, however, by no means an uncontroversial premise.
When an economic crisis combines high youth unemployment and an impoverished middle class, there is a real risk of a rise in right-wing extremism. But the left/right divide does not always help to understand European populism. The Italian case is a particularly interesting one. After Berlusconi resigned in disgrace, the main two parties (Berlusconi’s People of Freedom-PDL and the centre-left Democratic Party-PD) were left with no choice but to support a ‘truce government’ of non-politicians and technocrats, led by Mario Monti. This unlikely arrangement froze the parliamentary majority.
As modern workers, we have much to learn from the rich tradition of labour republicanism in America. The second piece in our Democratic Wealth series, hosted with OurKingdom. In 1828, William Heighton, a radical shoemaker, announced to a group of Philadelphia labourers that the wage-labour system “is…an iron chain of bondage. A system of unjust abstraction, oppression, and legal fraud, by which the most useful classes of society are drained of their wealth, and consigned over to eternal toil and never-ending slavery.” Heighton had just created the first formal political party of workers in modern history, the Working Men’s Party of Philadelphia.
We must remember that democracies are not self-executing systems; they stand on complex political institutions that reflect the political power of the citizenry. For many countries, then, the challenge is keeping the population constructively engaged in the democratic process following successful free and fair elections.
A report on deepening democracy released by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security recognised that the enfranchisement of displaced populations, including refugees, ‘is critical for ensuring the integrity of elections and the establishment of democracy’. But this statement belies a deeper interaction, and even conflict, between the international refugee regime and democracy. What would ‘deepening democracy’ mean for the refugee regime? I suggest that strengthening democratic institutions could deepen divides between refugees and host communities. To ensure that the international refugee regime and democracy can successfully co-exist, we must think not just of deepening democracy, but of also balancing it with the rights of refugees.
This week, Mark Thompson, former Director General of the BBC, gave a series of three lectures as part of his Humanitas Visiting Professorship in Rhetoric and the Art of Public Persuasion, in honour of Philip Gould. These lectures were all centred around the theme of how the language and tone of public debate has changed in recent years in ways that have been detrimental to the cause of public understanding and has created a ‘cloud of unknowing’ within the wider public regarding matters of civic policy.