28 February 2010

Report: Blood & Honour: Britain's Far-Right Militants

The Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a right-leaning UK think tank, and Nothing British, an organization that "seeks to promote [liberal democratic] British values and combat political extremism and racism", this week released a report (dated January 2010) under the title "Blood & Honour: Britain's Far-Right Militants", authored by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Edmund Standing, with a foreword by Denis MacShane, a Labour Party member of parliament and former Minister of State for Europe.

The full text is available free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Blood & Honour (B&H) is an international neo-Nazi network that has evolved from its original incarnation as a neo-Nazi music scene into a far-right franchise. Through music CDs and ideological texts, the B&H network reinforces and disseminates a violent 'white power' supremacist ideology. This ideology derives from Third Reich Nazism and, unlike some other far-right organisations, B&H seeks the creation of a 'Fourth Reich'. While it is not an organisation with official membership, B&H acts as a very effective international network through which to spread violent neo-Nazism [...], a number of recently convicted far-right terrorists were found to be followers of B&H music and literature [...].

"However, unlike Islamist terror, the neo-Nazi equivalent is still in an immature and ineffectual stage in the UK. [...] B&H is ostensibly a 'political' movement; but arguably it has far more in common with other violent ideological forms of extremism than it does with what is generally understood as 'politics', even of a nationalist variety. Certainly, as an explicitly anti-democratic, anti-liberal, fascist organisation, B&H constitutes an atavistic manifestation [...] outside the bounds of normal social and political interaction. The group, therefore, acts as a magnet to those who feel disenfranchised".

Endorsement: "This well-researched and forcefully written exposure of the threat to democracy posed by Blood & Honour is a wake-up call to all those liberals who complacently assume the militant far-right died with the National Front." (Roger Griffin, Oxford Brookes University)

Another CSC publication of possible interest in this context is "The BNP and the Online Fascist Network: an investigation into the online activities of British National Party members and online activists" by Edmund Standing, with an introduction by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens (July 2009).

The full text is available free of charge here:


27 February 2010

Book: The Failure of Democracy in the Republic of Congo

John F. Clark, "The Failure of Democracy in the Republic of Congo" (Lynne Rienner, 2008):


Publisher's description: "Why did the democratic experiment launched in the Republic of Congo in 1991 fail so dramatically in 1997? Why has it not been seriously resumed since then? In tackling these complex questions, John Clark provides a thorough analysis of more than fifteen years of Congolese politics. Clark explores a series of logical hypotheses regarding why democracy failed to take root in Congo, moving from political culture to economic performance, ethnoregional identities, French foreign policy, the role of militias, and institutional design. He also discusses the country's present 'electoral authoritarian' regime. His conclusions shed light not only on the nature of Congolese politics, but also on the utility of the scientific approach to understanding the social world."

Reviews: "Clark has provided us with a sure-footed account of Congolese politics, a carefully considered discussion of the most important factors determining the failure of Congolese democratization efforts, a perceptive critique of the ways that the complexities of such processes elude current scholarship on democratization, and a useful guidepost to promising directions of future research." (Nelson Kasfir, "Perspectives on Politics")

"Clark provides one of the most detailed and theoretically informed accounts of recent Congolese politics of any that can be found. He also brings a welcome new realism to the study of democracy." (William S. Reno, Northwestern University)

"This valuable study not only chronicles one of the most interesting examples of 'democratic failure' in Africa, but also provides insight into the politics of one of the less well known, but strategically important, African states." (Victor T. Le Vine, Washington University in St. Louis)

John F. Clark is Professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University.

Books on how civic associations promote anti-democracy

Amaney A. Jamal, "Barriers to Democracy: The Other Side of Social Capital in Palestine and the Arab World" (Princeton University Press, 2007):


Publisher's description: "Democracy-building efforts from the early 1990s on have funneled billions of dollars into nongovernmental organizations across the developing world, with the U.S. administration of George W. Bush leading the charge since 2001. But are many such 'civil society' initiatives fatally flawed? Focusing on the Palestinian West Bank and the Arab world, Barriers to Democracy mounts a powerful challenge to the core tenet of civil society initiatives: namely, that public participation in private associations necessarily yields the sort of civic engagement that, in turn, sustains effective democratic institutions. Such assertions tend to rely on evidence from states that are democratic to begin with. Here, Amaney Jamal investigates the role of civic associations in promoting democratic attitudes and behavioral patterns in contexts that are less than democratic. Jamal argues that, in state-centralized environments, associations can just as easily promote civic qualities vital to authoritarian citizenship – such as support for the regime in power. Thus, any assessment of the influence of associational life on civic life must take into account political contexts, including the relationships among associations, their leaders, and political institutions."

The book won the 2008 Best Book Award of the Comparative Democratization Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

From the award committee's remarks: "Amaney Jamal [...] teaches us that civic organizations have very different effects in non-democratic states. Far from being schools for democrats as some of our literature would suggest, civic organizations produce actors who mirror the attitudes and behaviors of their political patrons. In keeping with the larger literature on social capital, she finds that members of associations do display higher levels of trust than non-members. But, breaking with the older literature, she shows that their attitudes toward democracy are ambivalent at best. The association between trust and democratic values posited in work from established democracies does not hold.

"Jamal's Barriers to Democracy is a fascinating test of the theory of social capital built with evidence from survey data, open-ended interviews with elites, observation of over one-hundred individual organizations, and comparative reference to Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan. The committee was impressed with the force and import of Jamal's arguments and the truly impressive empirical data and research she brought to bear on her analysis. The study represents comparative politics at its best."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Amaney A. Jamal is Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton.

A number of earlier books seem to come to similar findings, among them, edited by Sigrid Rossteutscher, "Democracy and the Role of Associations: Political, Organizational and Social Contexts" (Routledge, 2005):


Publisher's description: "Voluntary associations have been presented as a solution to political apathy and cynicism towards representative democracy. The authors collected in this volume, however, argue that these claims require more robust substantiation and seek to critically examine the crucial link between the associative sector and the health of democracy. Focusing on the role of context and using diverse approaches and empirical material, they explore whether these associations in differing socio-political contexts actually undermine rather than reinvigorate democracy."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Sigrid Rossteutscher is now Professor of Sociology at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany.

A book at least Jamal is aware of and refers to is "Civil Society Before Democracy: Lessons from Nineteenth-Century Europe", edited by Nancy Bermeo and Philip Nord (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000):


From the publisher's description: "Bringing together historians and political scientists, this unique collaboration compares nineteenth-century civil societies that failed to develop lasting democracies with civil societies that succeeded. Much of the current literature on the connection between civil society and consolidating democracy focuses exclusively on single, contemporary polities that are ever-changing and uncertain. By studying historical cases, the authors are able to demonstrate which civil societies developed in tandem with lasting democracies and which did not. Contrasting these two sets of cases, the book both enlightens readers about individual countries and extracts lessons about the connections between civil society and democracy in contemporary times."

Review: "This book bringing together the writings of historians and political commentators from Europe and the United States [...] shows us that civil society is not necessarily synonymous with democracy ..." ("European Library")

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Nancy Bermeo is now Nuffield Professor of Comparative Politics at Oxford.

Philip Nord is Rosengarten Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Princeton.

26 February 2010

CONF: Lawfare: The Use of the Law as a Weapon of War

Conference on "Lawfare: The Use of the Law as a Weapon of War", co-sponsored by The Lawfare Project, the Committee on Foreign and International Law of the New York County Lawyers Association (NYCLA), and the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), taking place at the NYCLA, 14 Vesey Street, New York City, 11 March 2010, 9.00 am-4.00 pm


Lawfare denotes the abuse of the law and legal systems for strategic ends, the negative manipulation of the law to achieve a purpose other than, or contrary to that for which it was originally enacted. Distinguished speakers will examine lawfare tactics as they are used to: silence and punish free speech about issues of national security and public concern; delegitimize democratic nations such as the United States and Israel; and frustrate the West's War on Terrorism.

Speakers include the current Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev, former US and Israeli ambassadors to the UN, John Bolton (American Enterprise Institute) and Dore Gold (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs), former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Pierre Prosper, and Jeremy Rabkin (George Mason University School of Law), among others. Chairs include David Schizer (Columbia University Law School) and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Irwin Cotler.

Photo ID required at registration. Light food and refreshments will be served.

RSVP required: rsvp@thelawfareproject.org

From The Lawfare Project's website: "When full-scale military attacks on the West failed, its enemies resorted to an extensive campaign of terrorism and asymmetric warfare. At the same time, a complementary legal campaign was launched aimed at politically, morally and legally delegitimizing the war on terror as well as frustrating the actions of nation states dedicated to the eradication of terrorist methods. Just as terrorism has targeted democracies around the world, lawfare is similarly being utilized by national and transnational organizations, fighting with a new variety and combination of offensive legal actions employed in both domestic and international courts of law. Terrorists and their sympathizers understand where they can't win with brute force, they can undermine our willingness and ability to fight them using legal grounds. [...]

"Lawfare can be utilized to challenge the sovereign ability of a state and its actors to defend itself as well as exert power over its citizens and territory as it sees fit. Such challenges are more often directed at democracies even though their actions are accountable to their citizenry and most in compliance with customary international law. Nevertheless, the concept of universal jurisdiction has been methodically extended to provide for lawsuits and human rights complaints against western governments and officials in both international and national courts of law. Western democracies are being compelled to report on and alter their internal and external actions in accordance with human rights norms, resolutions and treaties, as interpreted by third parties.

"On the other hand, non-democratic countries often escape the same universal jurisdiction and liability standards. Courts and tribunals have remained largely silent or ineffective when totalitarian dictatorships exert their sovereignty by openly flaunting international law. [...] Democracies are being held to a much higher and often biased standard then [sic] their counter-parts, resulting in a system that often criticizes and punishes those who strive to be good while the rest are left to act with impunity. [...] Moreover, human rights terminology (most specifically the words 'apartheid' and 'genocide') has been systematically misapplied with the goal of diluting their real meaning and impeding the public's ability to distinguish between real instances of abuse and false strategic claims of human rights violations."

This sounds like an interesting conference even (or especially) if one does not agree with the organizers' world view.

25 February 2010

Book: The Islamic Shield: Arab Resistance to Democratic and Religious Reforms

Elie Elhadj, "The Islamic Shield: Arab Resistance to Democratic and Religious Reforms" (Brown Walker Press, 2006; revised edition 2007):


From the publisher's description: "Washington's 'War on Terrorism' has used democratization of the Arab World as a justification and a weapon. The Islamic Shield contends that genuine religious and political reforms in the Arab World are sheer fantasy: they are not expected for a very long time, if ever. The Islamic Shield argues that democratic ideology cannot defeat Islamic theology. A culture of blind obedience to autocratic authority at home, school, mosque, and work place has been turned into a form of piety by the ulama clerics. [...]

"The Islamic Shield examines why democratic institutions are a mirage in two profoundly different countries, Saudi Arabia, an Islamist monarchy, and Syria, a quasi-secular republic. Although the two countries differ in types of governance, ideologies, agendas, and resources, they share in common non-representative, non-participatory dictatorial regimes. The two countries approximate socio-political models found in other Arab monarchies and republics. The Islamic Shield examines such questions as: [...] Why do non-Arab Islamic countries elect women as prime ministers and presidents while Arab ulama and most Arab rulers treat women as lesser beings and condemn democracy as un-Islamic? Is benevolent dictatorship a viable alternative to Arab democracy?"

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Syrian-born Elie Elhadj, a retired international banker, holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London.

24 February 2010

Book: A Mass Movement Against Democracy: The Threat of the Sangh Parivar

A short announcement for a book about which I can find almost no information: Shankar Gopalakrishnan, "A Mass Movement Against Democracy: The Threat of the Sangh Parivar" (New Delhi, India: Aakar Books, 2009):


According to the publisher's website, "Shankar Gopalakrishnan is an activist of the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a national platform of tribal and forest dweller mass organizations struggling for the rights of forest communities. He has written on forest policy, tribal rights, law development, communalism, Special Economic Zones and neoliberal economic policies. His academic training is in development studies and mathematics".

The book was published in association with the Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative (SRUTI) in New Delhi, on whose website I found only one reference to it: "Shankar Gopal has finalised the booklet [77 pages] on understanding the functioning of the Sangha parivar and its fascist programs". On the website of a university library in the US which acquired the book, it is described thus: "On the ideology of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, sociopolitical organization".

According to a quick online search, Rashtriya Swayam Sevak [or: Swayamsevak] Sangh (RSS) is a Hindu nationalist volunteer organization. Sangh Parivar denotes the family of more than thirty organizations, with millions of members, associated with the RSS, among them national unions of labourers, farmers, fishermen, teachers, students, artists, lawyers, and financial consultants, and the World Hindu Council, but also the BJP, the political party that led the National Democratic Alliance coalition government which ruled India between 1998 and 2004.

23 February 2010

Trend: Why China, and others, stubbornly defend "rogue" nations

On 17 February 2010, the German newspaper "Die Welt" published an article by a member of its staff, Clemens Wergin, titled "Deshalb unterstützt China die Schurkenstaaten". The article has since been translated into English by Stephanie Martin – rather freely, if the title she chose, "Why China, and Others, Stubbornly Defend Rogue Nations", is anything to go by – and can be read here:


Excerpts: "Since Russia has now swung around to the view of the Western states on the Iran nuclear dispute, Peking (Beijing) alone is preventing new sanctions. [...] China is acting out of solidarity with a fellow authoritarian regime. This last point is often overlooked in the foreign policy debate, because the West sees China as a country whose political evolution has been delayed, but nonetheless, one that will eventually arrive at the port of democracy. In fact, the conflict between liberal democracy and authoritarian government has been going on since the French and American Revolutions. It entered a new phase in the 1990s and no longer has the ideological focus it had during the Cold War, since neither Russia nor China offer the world a real political alternative. However, they and many others see themselves in a defensive struggle against democracy.

"And in that struggle, every state that remains in the authoritarian camp becomes an important ally. [...] When Woodrow Wilson entered World War I against Germany, he hoped to 'make the world safe for democracy.' Today, authoritarian regimes hope to make the world safe for undemocratic states. After a wave of democratization swept the globe during the 1990s, they have organized a tenacious resistance. They learn from one another. And they stand united. In the end, it's irrelevant whether Iran is a theocracy and that North Korea preaches stone-age era communism. Of importance to Beijing is that both are part of an anti-democratic bulwark, with which the wave of democratization can be stopped."

Article: Should Africa be held to Western standards?: No

Just over a year ago, the British Broadcasting Corporation's "Focus on Africa" magazine, a quarterly publication of the BBC World Service, carried a debate titled "Should Africa be held to Western standards?" (19 [4], October 2008: pp. 36-7).

The debate was republished on 16 October 2008 under the headline "Head to head: African democracy" on the BBC News website, where it can still be read free of charge:


Lead (on the website): "Almost two decades on from the difficult birth of multi-party democracy in much of Africa, the BBC's Focus on Africa magazine asks whether the continent should be held to western standards of democracy?"

The "Yes" position (p. 36 in the magazine) was taken by an African American, the "No" position (p. 37), which interests us here, by a black African, Reason Wafawarova.

Excerpts: "There are a few factors that make Western-style parliamentary democracy a facade at best in Africa. Many African states are still struggling to become nations after the damaging imposition of colonial boundaries. Without national unity it is futile to preach Western-style democracy in these countries. It is best to first establish clearly what the various tribal groupings want collectively. [...] Evidently the Western social order is not necessarily the same as that found elsewhere in the world. As such, many people are simply not prepared to pretend to be Europeans in the name of so-called democracy.

"The West cannot democratise the world on matters such as morality, culture and freedom. These are value-based aspects of social life that vary from country to country if not village to village. [...] Africa has an opinion of its own and Africans have their own homogeneous aspirations towards happiness and prosperity. They do not need Western aid in defining what happiness is. It is the sometimes subversive interference in the internal affairs of African countries that undermines the democratic process on the continent. The argument that the West cannot leave Africans killing each other is puerile. One only has to look at how often Europeans have killed each other in the past, but also how they continue to kill people of various nationalities across the world today. [...]

"Lastly, democracy is now viewed in line with human rights and the West seems to preach the primacy of individual rights over collective rights. African culture is a collective system that views the well-being of society as being fundamental to the well-being of the individual. This is why there is a tendency to check individual freedom in the interest of peace and stability. This is often interpreted as repression, yet in Africa it is about the maintenance of order. [...] Considering all these factors it is difficult to believe that Western standards of democracy – to which the world is subjected today – will ever in essence facilitate any form of meaningful democracy in Africa."

Zimbabwean-born Reason Wafawarova is a Marxist/Pan-Africanist political analyst and freelance journalist now living in Sydney, Australia.

Book: Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes

The contributed volume "Debating Arab Authoritarianism: Dynamics and Durability in Nondemocratic Regimes" was edited by Oliver Schlumberger (Stanford University Press, 2007):


Publisher's description: "This volume inquires into the working mechanisms, the inner logic, and the durability of authoritarian rule in Arab countries. Written by leading American, European, and Arab experts, the collected essays explore the ongoing political dynamics of the region and show how Arab regimes retain power despite ongoing transformations on regional, national, and international levels and in societal, political, and economic spheres. The findings of this book strongly suggest that democratization remains off the agenda in any Arab country for the foreseeable future. Domestic political protests, international pressure toward more liberal governance, and 'reform-oriented' regimes notwithstanding, Debating Arab Authoritarianism indicates that while the impetus for political change is strong, it is in the direction of an adaptation to changed circumstances and may even be a revitalization or consolidation of authoritarian rule rather than a systemic transition to democracy."

Reviews: "In contrast to the democratic deficit literature that purports to explain the absence of democracy in the Middle East, this superb collection of essays provides a theoretically sophisticated account of the origins and nature of authoritarian persistence and durability. The contributors bring a variety of theoretical and empirical perspectives, and their endeavours are animated by a common research agenda that gives analytical coherence to this illuminating volume." (Daniel Brumberg, Georgetown University)

"The analysis of Arab authoritarianism offered in this volume is truly excellent, with all contributors shedding light on the workings of Arab regimes and treating them as 'stable' political systems rather than transitional ones. The book is a must-read for all those interested in political authoritarianism, the Middle East, and international relations." ("Politics and Religion")

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Oliver Schlumberger is now Professor of Middle Eastern Politics at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

22 February 2010

Article: Bioethics and Deliberative Democracy: Five Warnings from Hobbes

Griffin Trotter, "Bioethics and Deliberative Democracy: Five Warnings from Hobbes" ("Journal of Medicine and Philosophy", 31 [3], June 2006: pp. 235-50).

Abstract: "Thomas Hobbes is one of the most ardent and thoroughgoing opponents of participatory democracy among Western political philosophers. Though Hobbes's alternative to participatory democracy – assent by subjects to rule by an absolute sovereign – no longer constitutes a viable political alternative for Westerners, his critique of participatory democracy is a potentially valuable source of insight about its liabilities. This essay elaborates five theses from Hobbes that stand as cogent warnings to those who embrace participatory democracy, especially those (such as most bioethicists) advocating for deliberative democracy based on a rational consensus model. In light of these warnings, the author suggests an alternative, modus vivendi approach to deliberative democracy that would radically alter the current practice of bioethics."

The full text of the article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Unlike Hobbes, I have no particular disdain for democracy. My intention here is to improve our conception of it. To that end, I will employ Hobbesian notions as leading ideas. [...] Hobbes is uniquely prominent among Enlightenment philosophers for his critical stance toward democracy [...]. He believes, first of all, that participatory democracy is difficult to carry off on a grand scale, and always devolves into rule by an aristocracy of vain-glorious public personalities [...], the most adroit manipulators of public sentiment will hold power and use this power in the way power is typically used – to serve their individual ends (whether these ends be egoistic, as Hobbes frequently presumes, or of the nature of imposing a comprehensive moral vision upon dissenting subjects). [...]

"Hobbes [...] worries about the politicization of ordinary human activities. The purpose of the state, on his view, is to carve out a secure area where such activities can be conducted without hostile interference. [...] [P]ublic advocacy [...] is profitless, not merely because it cannot succeed in producing a robust moral consensus, but more importantly because liberty and individual felicity would be enhanced by allowing opposing individuals and groups to establish their own practices, free from government interference and from each other [....] Democratic processes strongly tend to enhance both government's power (ability to enforce obedience) and its dominion (scope of things enforced). Because the citizens of a democracy participate in its rule, they tend to confuse dominion with liberty [...].

"In participatory democracy, many are involved, each with their own particular interests, desires, and objectives to which political power is an available means. [...] Each of these mini-demagogues is potentially capable of converting his/her personal concerns into political issues. Cooperation with disinterested demagogues is negotiated via a quid pro quo (well illustrated in the United States by our congressional earmarks) – begetting layer upon layer of political accretions. As we have witnessed in recent years, the metastasis of public projects eventually produces an unwieldy workload that overwhelms elected officials. Rather than viewing this predicament as a signal to scale down government, these officials create committees, commissions, and agencies – filled with political allies and authorized to create or enact more rules and prohibitions. [...]

"Insofar as citizens conflate their political dominion with their liberty or their felicity, they will tend to conjure grand visions of what they can achieve with like-minded political allies (against the will of dissenters). The typical result, on Hobbes's account, is a suffocating profusion of collective thinking. [...] Hobbes spends quite a bit of time delineating the ways in which public discourse amplifies realistic personal fears into irrational public hysteria. [...] The credo seems to be that it is better to do something coercively in large aggregates than to do it by consent in small groups. [...]

"[P]olitical processes aimed at moral consensus exacerbate each of the aforementioned dangers of participatory democracy. Founded, as it is, on the false claim that extensive moral consensus is possible, the quest for consensus requires multiple layers of deception. Citizens must be deceived into believing that the opinions of statesmen or moral experts are morally authoritative for the whole group (Hobbes's sovereign would never pose such a ludicrous claim). They must be deceived into believing that their well-being is enhanced by acquiescing to the purported moral consensus. And they must be deceived into believing that this acquiescence is in important respects autonomous and voluntary (despite the obvious fact that it is coerced). [...]

"Hobbes's critique of democracy-by-rational-consensus, and its bioethical counterpart, opens the door to a much longer and more difficult discussion. [...] Real political discourse is fractious; it involves the whole gamut of moral, immoral, and amoral human motives; and it succeeds primarily by producing cooperative activity, not moral consensus. Hobbes prefers monarchy over participatory democracy primarily because he thinks it is less apt to produce tyrannical accretions of government power and dominion, leaving citizens and diverse moral communities at relative liberty to chart their own moral destinies."

I read this as a libertarian take on democracy.

Griffin Trotter, who received both an MD and a PhD in Philosophy, is Associate Professor in the Department of Health Care at Saint Louis University.

Book chapter: The Criticism of Democracy and the Illustration of Its Reality

"The Criticism of Democracy and the Illustration of Its Reality" is an Islamist booklet circulating on the Internet. It appears to be the English translation of a section of a book written in Arabic by Abdul Qadir bin Abdul Aziz ("Al-Jame'a Fi Talab El-Ilm-Esh-Sharif", 1994; volume 1, pp. 146-55).

Abdul Qadir bin Abdul Aziz (also spelled Abd-el-Qadir Ibn-'Abdel-'Aziz or Abd Al-Qader Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz) is the pen name of one "Dr Fadl", born as Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif/Sayyid Imam 'Abdel-Aziz el-Sherif, an Egyptian currently serving a life prison sentence in his native country. He is the author of three books, among them the above (alternatively spelled al-Jami' fi Talab al-'Ilm al-Sharif' and translated as "A Compendium for the Search of Noble Knowledge"/"The Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge") and a one-time close confidant of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, like him a surgeon by training and his successor as Emir (commander) of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement (now merged with al-Qaeda). Dr Fadl, who is reported to have been one of the earliest members of al-Qaeda's top Shura Council and whose works are used as training manuals in terrorist camps, is thought to be "perhaps the most important modern thinker responsible for shaping the violent Islamic Jihadi movement" (although his latest book, written in prison, possibly under government pressure calls for an end to jihadist violence both in the West and at home).

The booklet thus can be taken to present an authoritative statement on democracy from a radical Islamist perspective. Currently, it is available at this link:


As is in the nature of Islamist websites, that blog (started only in December 2009) – and thus the booklet – may get taken down at some point. Should the link above not work anymore, please let me know. I can also send you a PDF copy of the booklet.

Excerpts: "We conclude from this that democracy ascribes the attribute of Uluhia (Godhead) to man, by granting him the absolute right to legislate. Owing to this, it has made him an Ilah (God) beside Allah and a partner to him concerning the right of legislating for the creation. This is no doubt a Kufr Akbar (i.e. a Kufr [disbelief] that takes a person outside the fold of Islam). To put it more precisely, the new God in democracy is the desire of man, who legislates what he fancies and desires, without being restricted by anything. [...] This makes democracy a self-established religion in which the mastership is for the people. In contrast, in the religion of Islam the mastership belongs to Allah [....]

"[P]arliaments are based on the disbelief in the verses of Allah, because their prime task is to legislate beside Him, Praise and Glory be to Him. Therefore, whoever sits with them is like them in Kufr. [...] [A]ll the kufr which the government practises – such as ruling by manmade laws and following the secularist method – the non-religious one – in both external and internal politics, in education, media, economy, or else – is decided upon by the MPs [members of parliament], who grant license to the governments to implement them. [...] As for those amongst the people who vote for them (MPs), they are committing kufr as well, because according to the parliamentary democracy, the voters are in reality delegating them so as to practice the mastership of shirk [idolatry/polytheism] – legislating beside Allah – on their behalf. Thus the voters give the MPs the right to implement shirk, and set them up – through their voting – as legislating lords beside Allah. [...]

"The result of the parliamentary elections are nothing but falsities and delusions, [...] democracy, with its parliaments and elections, is nothing but a deception [....] Therefore, it is not permissible to enter into the Houses (of Parliaments) [as MP] or participate in electing their members." (Originally bold text here italicized)

21 February 2010

Journal special issue on political ignorance in democracy

In autumn 1998, "Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society" carried a symposium on "Public Ignorance and Democracy" (12 [4]). In winter 2006, it carried another one on "Democratic Competence", also with some articles of possible interest (18 [1-3]). On occasion of the last but one annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Boston, then, the Critical Review Foundation convened a "Conference on Political Ignorance and Dogmatism" titled "Homo Politicus: Ignorant, Dogmatic, Irrational?" on 31 August 2008. The conference comprised five hour-long roundtables, the transcripts of which were published again in a special issue of "Critical Review" (20 [4], December 2008):



Jeffrey Friedman (University of Texas, Austin/Editor, "Critical Review"), "Preface" (p. 415), "Introductory Remarks" (pp. 417-21), and "Closing Remarks" (pp. 527-33).

Scott Althaus (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; moderator), Bryan Caplan (George Mason University), Jeffrey Friedman, Ilya Somin (University of Pennsylvania), and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (New York University; discussant), "Roundtable 1: Public Ignorance: Rational, Irrational, or Inevitable?" (pp. 423-44).

Excerpts: "[Friedman:] [A]mazingly little – as far as I know – survey research has been done asking people why they do or don't vote. Do people not vote because they realize that their vote doesn't really count, given the large size of the electorate? [...] [I]t's hard to [...] explain the political ignorance of voters, who by virtue of voting seem to think that their vote does count. [...] The fact that they vote [...] suggests that many hundreds of millions of voters around the world don't know the odds against their vote making any difference, and probably have never even thought about that. [...] [Somin:] [A] recent survey shows that over 70 percent of the public can name all three of the Three Stooges. [...] On the other hand, only about 40 percent can name the three branches of the federal government. [...] Similarly, most people cannot name more than one of the rights that are in the Bill of Rights, but most people can name multiple characters on 'The Simpsons.' [...] [Y]ou probably spend much more time deciding what car you're going to buy or what television you're going to buy than deciding who you're going to vote for for president. It's not because the presidency is less important than these other things, it's because you know that your choice is individually decisive on the car or the house but is not going to be decisive on the presidency."

Scott Althaus (discussant), John Bullock (Yale), Jeffrey Friedman (moderator), Arthur Lupia (University of Michigan), and Paul Quirk (University of British Columbia), "Roundtable 2: Ignorance and Error" (pp. 445-61).

Excerpts: "[Lupia:] How should we measure voter competence? To measure competence, it has to be competence with respect to something, such as a task. [...] For now, we can think of the task to be voting. [...] What I want to point out to you first, is that if you take a chimpanzee and you give it a fair coin and you make its vote based on the outcome of that coin toss, the chimp gets the answer right half the time. [...] So the question you might want to ask yourself is, 'Is the voter in a binary-choice situation dumber than a chimp with a coin?' [...] [Quirk:] Why should we say, or why do I say in the things that I write, that the public is prone to error or maybe that it lacks competence in public-policy judgments? [...] There is no SAT on public policy where people need to score a 600 in order to get into the voting booth. [...] One could imagine, and attribute to a scholar like me, such views as that we ought to find ways to limit voting participation, or that we should delegate absolutely as much policy making as we can to expert commissions, or that possibly we should limit the frequency of elections, or endorse vast increases in the amount of secrecy that the government uses: these are some of the recommendations you could make on the grounds that the public was not competent about judging policies. [...] I think it's reasonable to oppose the expansion of direct democracy – that is, to oppose more use of referendums or teledemocracy and so forth. [...] [Althaus:] [L]ook at what those so-called 'classical democratic theorists' had to say, none of them presumed that democracy required an informed citizenry. Quite the contrary, they were writing before universal education. Most people were ignorant, according to conventional standards; they could not read. The problem of democracy was how to design a system that worked despite the fact that most people who would have had the power under universal suffrage to choose the government might lack the competence to carry out this task."

Samuel DeCanio (Georgetown University), Jeffrey Friedman (moderator), David R. Mayhew (Yale; discussant), Michael H. Murakami (Yale), and Nick Weller (University of Southern California), "Roundtable 3: Political Ignorance, Empirical Realities" (pp. 463-80).

Excerpts: "[DeCanio:] [M]ost voters [...] cannot name their elected officials, much less describe what these individuals are doing once they're in power. [...] [Murakami:] [R]ecent papers highlight the public's inability to distinguish between the outcomes of policy and the outcomes of random chance. [...] I'm actually arguing against a popular political environment, including journalism, where it's assumed that citizens should be making these kind of very sophisticated, knowledgeable decisions, which is unrealistic. [...] I think that there is a bridge that needs to be built [...] to overcome the misinterpretation of people who are highly critical of the competence of citizens as attacking democracy."

Scott Althaus (moderator), David Barash (University of Washington), Jeffrey Friedman (discussant), George E. Marcus (Williams College), and Charles S. Taber (State University of New York, Stony Brook), "Roundtable 4: Political Dogmatism" (pp. 481-98).

Jeffrey Friedman (moderator/discussant), Tom Hoffman (Spring Hill College), Russell Muirhead (University of Texas, Austin), Mark Pennington (Queen Mary, University of London), and Ilya Somin, "Roundtable 5: Normative Implications" (pp. 499-525).

Excerpts: "[Muirhead:] 'How should democracy take stock of the fact of voter ignorance?' [...] We inhabit, as you know, a commercial republic, not the Greek polis, and the commercial republic asks for much less of citizens than did the participatory democracy of ancient Athens. It asks that citizens work regularly and vote only very occasionally. [...] So the problem of citizen ignorance is less acute for commercial republics than it would be for a participatory republic or a participatory democracy. It's less acute for us than it would be if we filled our Supreme Court by lottery or if we filled the Senate by lottery. It's less acute for a representative democracy, where citizens are basically engaged in commerce, than it would be for others. [...] [Pennington:] I think the major normative implication to arise from this work on public ignorance is the notion that we should actually limit the scope of democratic collective-choice mechanisms."

While probably none of the speakers in this conference would call themselves anti-democratic, it has been suggested by others (such as Bruce Gilley) that in fact they are.

20 February 2010

Trend: In Italy, Mussolini makes comeback

United Press International yesterday published a special report by Stefan Nicola (UPI Europe Correspondent) headlined "In Italy, Mussolini makes comeback":


Excerpts: "Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini is making an unexpected popularity comeback in Italy, a phenomenon nurtured by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over the past 15 years. [...] [T]he Duce, as Mussolini's admirers call him, is becoming increasingly popular [...] even with the younger crowd. In January, the iPhone application iMussolini became the most popular in Italy. The program [...] allowed users to read and listen to speeches of the Fascist leader. Up to 1,000 people downloaded the app each day, before Apple pulled it from its Italian store earlier this month. [...] Streets are being renamed after 'regime heroes,' 'good Fascists' are the stars of movies and politicians from all major parties are belittling the Fascist horrors. In 2008, the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a member of the National Alliance, Mussolini's political descendants and key allies of Berlusconi, defended the Fascist dictatorship during a tour of Israel. Last June, Michela Brambilla, the Italian minister of tourism and a possible successor to Berlusconi, did what many interpreted as the Fascist salute [...]. She remains in power, despite the fact that doing the salute is against the law. [...] Berlusconi [...] himself has spoken warmly of the Duce many times".

The UPI report is based on a book by Aram Mattioli (Professor of 19th and 20th Century History at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland) that has just been published in German. It is titled "'Viva Mussolini': Die Aufwertung des Faschismus im Italien Berlusconis" (translated by UPI as "An Appreciation of Fascism in Berlusconi's Italy"; Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, February 2010):


Says Mattioli (quoted from UPI): "I see a close connection between the revisionist tendencies and the inner state of today's Italy, were political culture has reached a low-point, Italy has entered a state of post-democracy. Democracy is still formally existent but policies are increasingly illiberal."

19 February 2010

Article: Democratic and Anti-Democratic Regulators of the Internet

Michael L. Best and Keegan W. Wade, "Democratic and Anti-Democratic Regulators of the Internet: A Framework" ("The Information Society", 23 [5], October 2007: pp. 405-11):


Abstract: "We employ Lessig's framework of regulation to conceptualize the relationship between the Internet and democracy. Lessig defines four classes of regulators, forces that control and define systems such as the Internet. They are markets, architectures, norms, and laws. We propose that a 'democratic regulator' is a force that serves to enhance civil or political liberties. And we argue by example that there are democratic (and, indeed, anti-democratic) regulators that control aspects of cyberspace. Expressing the democratic effects of the Internet in this manner may prove useful for future comparisons across existing Internet and democracy theories, especially in the realm of quantitative analyses."

Excerpts: "Over the past 15 or so years there has been substantial speculation as to the relationship between the Internet and democracy, with most scholars falling into one of two main camps: the pro-democracy, 'cyberoptimist' camp, and the anti-democracy, 'cyberpessimist' camp [....] [E]xponents of the anti-democracy camp [...] demonstrate that authoritarian governments can harness the Internet for their own purposes. [...] An anti-democratic regulator is the opposite of a democratic regulator – it undermines civil liberties or political rights. If a government were to limit the speed at which their backbone servers operated by imposing bandwidth quotas, this could [...] result in citizens being less able to engage in civil society activities online, causing democracy to suffer. Similarly, if a private Internet service provider (ISP) privileged certain commercial communications while restricting the communication of civil society, this too would be anti-democratic within our framework. Witness the ongoing debate over Net Neutrality [...].

"For each of Lessig's categories of regulation, prominent democratic or anti-democratic regulators of the Internet can be identified. [...] Encryption can have a powerful positive effect on the democratization process by allowing, for instance, dissident groups to organize secretly. But, as Lessig points out, cryptography is 'Janus-faced ... it [...] will undermine dictatorships and it will drive them to new excesses' [....] Filtration software can have negative implications for civil society since it can make it difficult for citizens to access media concerning political ideas, and can prevent people from associating with certain groups. [...] Filtration software, when embedded in the architecture of networks run by authoritarian states, serves as an undemocratic element of code. [...]

"It is possible that some governments use price controls to keep certain users/citizens away from the Internet. [...] [A]ccess price can prevent citizens from exercising the civil liberties and political rights that they might otherwise gain if they could afford access [...]. Thus, low Internet access prices encourage a broader set of users and are thus democratic market regulators. Conversely, high Internet access prices would discourage use and be an undemocratic market regulator. [...] [V]arious governments around the world – in Malaysia, Turkey, China, and other places – have criminalized politically dissident online speech, and this hurts civil liberties in those nations [...]. Even if these kinds of laws cannot be enforced in full, governments can still make occasional examples of dissenters, intimidating others."

Michael L. Best is Assistant Professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Keegan W. Wade is a Technical Consultant at Blackbaud Inc.

Journal special issue on state crimes against democracy

The journal "American Behavioral Scientist" has published a special issue on so-called state crimes against democracy (53 [6], February 2010):


It includes the following articles:

Matthew T. Witt (University of La Verne) and Alexander Kouzmin (Southern Cross University/University of South Australia), "Sense Making Under 'Holographic' Conditions: Framing SCAD Research" (pp. 783-94).

Abstract: "The ellipses of due diligence riddling the official account of the 9/11 incidents continue being ignored by scholars of policy and public administration. This article introduces intellectual context for examining the policy heuristic 'State Crimes Against Democracy'
(SCAD) (deHaven-Smith, 2006) and its usefulness for better understanding patterns of state criminality of which no extant policy analytic model gives adequate account. This article then introduces papers included in this symposium examining the chimerical presence and perfidious legacy of state criminality against democracy."

Lance deHaven-Smith (Florida State University), "Beyond Conspiracy Theory: Patterns of High Crime in American Government" (pp. 795-825).

Abstract: "This article explores the conceptual, methodological, and practical implications of research on state crimes against democracy (SCADs). In contrast to conspiracy theories, which speculate about each suspicious event in isolation, the SCAD construct delineates a general category of criminality and calls for crimes that fit this category to be examined comparatively. Using this approach, an analysis of post-World War II SCADs and suspected SCADs highlights a number of commonalities in SCAD targets, timing, and policy consequences. SCADs often appear where presidential politics and foreign policy intersect. SCADs differ from earlier forms of political corruption in that they frequently involve political, military, and/or economic elites at the very highest levels of the social and political order. The article concludes by suggesting statutory and constitutional reforms to improve SCAD prevention and detection."

Christopher L. Hinson (Florida State University), "Negative Information Action: Danger for Democracy" (pp. 826-47).

Abstract: "This article explores evidence of, and provides insight into, secrecy-related information actions that are sometimes used to circumvent established government policy and law. These information actions may also be used to cover up such circumventions after the fact. To better understand secrecy as a negative information action and its impact on democracy, secrecy-related information actions are described according to methods, information technologies, and knowledge support. Negative information actions are willful and deliberate acts designed to keep government information from those in government and the public entitled to it. Negative information actions subvert the rule of law and the constitutional checks and balances. Negative information actions used by government officials to violate policies and laws during the IranContra Affair are identified, analyzed, and categorized by type. The relative impact of negative information actions on enlightened citizen understanding is demonstrated using a Negative Information Action Model by assigning a location according to type on a continuum of enlightened citizen understanding. Findings are compared with democratic theory and conspiracy doctrine."

Laurie A. Manwell (University of Guelph), "In Denial of Democracy: Social Psychological Implications for Public Discourse on State Crimes Against Democracy Post 9/11" (pp. 848-84).

Abstract: "Protecting democracy requires that the general public be educated on how people can be manipulated by government and media into forfeiting their civil liberties and duties. This article reviews research on cognitive constructs that can prevent people from processing information that challenges preexisting assumptions about government, dissent, and public discourse in democratic societies. Terror management theory and system justification theory are used to explain how preexisting beliefs can interfere with people's examination of evidence for state crimes against democracy (SCADs), specifically in relation to the events of September 11, 2001, and the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reform strategies are proposed to motivate citizens toward increased social responsibility in a post-9/11 culture of propagandized fear, imperialism, and war."

Kym Thorne (University of South Australia) and Alexander Kouzmin (Southern Cross University/University of South Australia), "The USA PATRIOT Acts (et al.): Convergent Legislation and Oligarchic Isomorphism in the 'Politics of Fear' and State Crime(s) Against Democracy (SCADs)" (pp. 885-920).

Abstract: "The irrelevance of habeas corpus and the abolition of 'double jeopardy,' secret and protracted outsourcing of detention and torture, and increasing geographic prevalence of surveillance technologies across Anglo-American 'democracies' have many citizens concerned about the rapidly convergent, authoritarian behavior of political oligarchs and the actual destruction of sovereignty and democratic values under the onslaught of antiterrorism hubris, propaganda, and fear. This article examines synchronic legislative isomorphism in responses to 9/11 in the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union, and Australia in terms of enacted terrorism legislation and, also, diachronic, oligarchic isomorphism in the manufacture of fear within a convergent world by comparing the 'Politics of Fear' being practiced today to Stalinist-Russian and McCarthyist-U.S. abuse of 'fear.' The immediate future of Anglo-American democratic hubris, threats to civil society, and oligarchic threats to democratic praxis are canvassed. This article also raises the question as to whether The USA PATRIOT Acts of 2001/2006, sanctioned by the U.S. Congress, are examples, themselves, of state crimes against democracy. In the very least, any democratically inclined White House occupant in 2009 would need to commit to repealing these repressive, and counterproductive, acts."

Matthew T. Witt (University of La Verne), "Pretending Not to See or Hear, Refusing to Signify: The Farce and Tragedy of Geocentric Public Affairs Scholarship" (pp. 921-39).

Abstract: "This article opens with an inventory of how popular culture passion plays are homologous to the stampeding disenfranchisement everywhere of working classes and the emasculation of professional codes of ethics under siege by neoliberal initiatives and gambits. The article then examines a recent example of contemporary, 'deconstructive' scholarly analysis and inventory of presidential 'Orwellian doublespeak.' The preoccupation among contemporary critical scholarship with 'discourse analysis' and language gambits is criticized for displacing interrogation of real-event anomalies, as with the porous account given by the 9/11 Commission for what happened that fateful day. The article concludes by explaining how critical scholarship consistently falls short of unmasking Master Signifiers."

I wasn't able to access the full text of any of these articles.

18 February 2010

Book chapter: Elective Aristocracy as a Form of Government for African Nations

Bekeh Ukelina Utietiang's book "Afridentity: Essays on Africa" (2nd edition; Africa Reads Books, 2007) includes a chapter on the failure of democracy in that continent and the solution he proposes, "Elective Aristocracy as a Form of Government for African Nations" (pp. 99-109).

Excerpts: "African politics today is perverted and highly trivialized; corrupt people have been chosen to govern, and massive riggings and irregularities accompany the elections. [...] They are not just an African problem, however, but are common in other nations in the world where democracy is forced on the people. [...] Ideally, politics is inseparable from a people's culture; but colonialism brought to Africa a separation of culture from politics. The indigenous political culture of the people was abolished and a new political culture called 'Democracy' was introduced. [...] African leaders were ill-equipped to run democracy because democracy is alien to them. [...] One would have expected the emerging African leaders to return to the traditional African forms of government [...]. Chiefs and elders governed [...].

"We have always believed that democracy is not the best form of government for African countries to adopt. This position is contrary to what the rest of the world today believes. Most of our friends have become our foes because of this position. [...] There is no essay or presentation we have ever done that received as much criticism as our position on democracy in African countries. We have consistently argued that democracy is un-African and African governments should abandon the pursuit of it in favor of a traditional African form of government. [...] Our experiences in Africa in the last forty years or more have clearly shown that democracy is not for Africa. [...] African leaders[' ...] projects are not geared towards helping the common African but in [sic] aping the Europeans."

At the end of this chapter, Utietiang refers to an earlier book which may contain a more extensive exposition of his arguments against democracy, "Rediscovering Our Identity as Africans: Awareness"
(Ibadan, Nigeria: Schoen Publishers, 2000).

While that book may be hard to come by, the later book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


Nigerian-born Bekeh Ukelina Utietang is a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia, USA.

Article: The End of Democracy? Curtailing Political and Civil Rights in Ethiopia

Lovise Aalen and Kjetil Tronvoll, "The End of Democracy? Curtailing Political and Civil Rights in Ethiopia" ("Review of African Political Economy", 36 [120], June 2009: pp. 193-207):


Abstract: "This article assesses political developments in Ethiopia after its 2005 federal and regional watershed elections. Although an unprecedented liberalisation took place ahead of the contested and controversial 2005 polls, a crack-down occurred in the wake of the elections, when the opposition was neutralised. Subsequently, the government rolled out a deliberate plan to prevent any future large-scale protest against their grip on power by establishing an elaborate administrative structure of control, developing new legislative instruments of suppression and, finally, curbing any electoral opposition as seen in the conduct of the 2008 local elections. As a result, Ethiopia has by 2008 returned firmly into the camp of authoritarian regimes."

Some excerpts: "Supported by a growing body of literature on electoral authoritarian regimes [...] Ethiopia is seen as a case which demonstrates how elections can be instruments of political control rather than devices of liberalisation [...]: the political consequences of elections [...] depend on the interaction with a range of extra-electoral factors, which in the end determine whether elections are supportive of democracy or authoritarianism. [...]

"The ruling party [...] justified the use of force by the need to contain 'anti-peace and anti-democratic elements'. [...] It has attempted to ascribe the events following the 2005 elections to the 'infancy of the democratic system of the country' [...], indicating that massive human rights violations should be considered as a natural part of the development towards a more democratic society. [...] However, [...] such an approach may lead to under-estimation of the suppressive capacities and objectives of an authoritarian regime. Ethiopia is not an incomplete democracy; it is rather an authoritarian state draped in democratic window-dressing in which manipulated multiparty elections are a means to sustain power. [...]

"These incidents imparted a strong message to the [international] donor group in Addis Ababa, which could either stay quiescent on internal human rights violations and lack of democracy or face the consequences. [...] Furthermore, by not supporting or deploying [election] observers, the donor community could justifiably keep quiet in the aftermath of the elections as they supposedly did not have any 'substantial' and 'independent' observations to pass judgement. [...] By suppressing criticism from the donor assistance group, the Ethiopian Government has managed to silence or contain all opposition. The only opposition avenue remaining open appears to be that of armed struggle."

Lovise Aalen is a Senior Researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute, Bergen, Norway.

Kjetil Tronvoll is Professor of Human Rights at the University of Oslo, Norway.

17 February 2010

Book chapter: Žižek against democracy

Jodi Dean's book "Žižek's Politics” (Routledge, August 2006) includes a chapter on "Democratic Fundamentalism" (pp. 95-133):


That chapter seems to be largely identical to an article titled "Zizek against Democracy" Dean published in the journal "Law, Culture, and the Humanities" a year earlier (1 [2], June 2005: pp. 154-77):


From the abstract: "This article takes up [the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst] Slavoj Zizek's critical interrogation of democracy, defending Zizek's position as an alternative left politics, indeed, as that position most attuned to the loss of the political today. Whereas liberal and pragmatic approaches to politics and political theory accept the diminishment of political aspirations as realistic accommodation to the complexities of late capitalist societies as well as preferable to the dangers of totalitarianism accompanying Marxist and revolutionary theories, Zizek's psychoanalytic philosophy confronts directly the trap involved in acquiescence to a diminished political field, that is to say, to a political field constituted through the exclusion of the economy: within the ideological matrix of liberal democracy, any move against nationalism, fundamentalism, or ethnic violence ends up reinforcing Capital and guaranteeing democracy's failure. Arguing that formal democracy is irrevocably and necessarily 'stained' by a particular content that conditions and limits its universalizability, he challenges his readers to relinquish our attachment to democracy. I argue that critical Left theory should take up this challenge."

Some excerpts (from the book): "[D]emocracy is the form our attachment to Capital takes; it is the way we organize our enjoyment. He writes, 'what prevents the radical question of "capitalism" itself is precisely belief in the democratic form of the struggle against capitalism.' Faithful to democracy, we eschew the demanding task of politicizing the economy and envisioning a different political order. Some theorists think Žižek's position here is mere posturing. [...] [Ernesto] Laclau implies that Žižek's antidemocratic stance is something new. Attention to Žižek's writing shows, to the contrary, that a skepticism toward democracy has long been a crucial component of his project. [...]

"In a number of his early books published in English, Žižek voices a sense of betrayal at the bait and switch occurring in Eastern Europe when they 'went for' democracy and got capitalism and nationalism instead [...], what Žižek calls a 'scoundrel time' when capitalism appears as democracy and democracy as and through capitalism. [...] In subsequent work, Žižek names the limit to current thinking 'democratic fundamentalism'. [...] [D]emocracy binds our thinking – anything that is not democratic is necessarily horrible, totalitarian, and unacceptable to any rational person. [...] Are we destined to fetishize democracy [...]?"

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


While I haven't been able to access the 2005 journal article, yet another version of this text is available from Dean's blog (I don't know/didn't check, however, to what extent the text may or may not be identical with that published in either the journal or the book):


I couldn't shake the feeling that Dean is a whole lot more anti-democratic than Žižek, and Žižek's writings merely serve her as a prop to expound her own ideas. But, then, that's how Žižek works too.

Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Erasmus Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Book: Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies

Jodi Dean, "Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics" (Duke University Press, July 2009):


From the publisher's description: "Through an assessment of the ideologies underlying contemporary political culture, Jodi Dean [...] argues that the left's ability to develop and defend a collective vision of equality and solidarity has been undermined [...]. As Dean explains, communicative capitalism is enabled and exacerbated by the Web and other networked communications media, which reduce political energies to the registration of opinion and the transmission of feelings. The result is a psychotic politics where certainty displaces credibility and the circulation of intense feeling trumps the exchange of reason. Dean's critique ranges from her argument that the term democracy has become a meaningless cipher invoked by the left and right alike to [...] confronting the marriage of neoliberalism and democracy".

Under the title "W(h)ither the State", she yesterday wrote on her blog: "In a discussion of Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies today some students pressed a point of weakness in my discussion: namely, the critique of democracy in all or nothing terms. Rather than considering the multiplicity of forms of local action and community engagement, I reject the democratic 'system,' its liberal-democratic justifications, and its materialization in communicative capitalism. The state is rotten and thus the only solution is revolution."

Reviews: "Her diagnosis of 'communicative capitalism' discloses how our 'really existing democracies' curtail prospects of radical emancipatory politics. Dean demonstrates this status of democracy as a political fantasy not through cheap, pseudo-Marxist denunciations but through a detailed examination of social, symbolic, and libidinal mechanisms and practices. To anyone who continues to dwell on illusions about liberal democracy, one should simply say: 'Hey, didn't you read Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies?'" (Slavoj Žižek, University of Ljubljana/Birkbeck College, London)

"Jodi Dean provides an incredibly lucid explanation of what neoliberalism has been in terms of both policy and collective fantasies regarding the relation of markets to freedom." (Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago)

Dean is also the author of a number of articles apparently opposed to democracy. Among those I haven't been able to access (and that were published in journals that many university libraries may not be subscribed to) is "The Democratic Deadlock" ("Theory & Event", 10 [4], 2007: pp. not given):


Excerpt: "A commonplace of media punditry in the middle years of the first decade of the twenty-first century concerns the deep divide in American politics. Whether in terms of political parties, red states and blue states, support or opposition to US militarism in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the ongoing culture war between the religious right and the secular left, the United States is depicted as a nation split in its fundamental ethico-political self-understanding. This depiction is misleading. It occludes the way these seeming opponents continue to appeal to democracy. Thus, the administration of George W. Bush presents itself as actively engaged in bringing democracy to the Middle East, as encouraging countries throughout the world to strengthen their democratic institutions. The Left, although seemingly opposed to the Bush administration, also appeals to democracy as that which it wishes to restore, redeem, or reach. Why does the Left continue to appeal to democracy? Is democracy, as Slavoj Žižek asks, the ultimate horizon of political thought? For Žižek, to accept this horizon is to accept an impoverished political field, a diminishment of aspirations to something better. We accept the limitation of democracy, convinced that this is as good as it gets. Real existing constitutional democracies privilege the wealthy. They exclude, exploit, and oppress the poor. Crucial determinants of our lives and conditions remain outside the frame of political deliberation and response."

I also had no access to her article "Feminism, Communicative Capitalism, and the Inadequacies of Radical Democracy", published as a chapter in the contributed volume "Radical Democracy and the Internet: Interrogating Theory and Practice", eds. Lincoln Dahlberg and Eugenia Siapera (Palgrave Macmillan, July 2007).

Presumably the book covers most of the arguments she made in her earlier articles.

Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Erasmus Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Article: The Failure of Democracy in Africa

Mukui Waruiru's article "The Failure of Democracy in Africa", published on 31 October 2007 online in "Taki's Magazine", voices a sentiment that I have personally heard expressed by other black Africans too.


Excerpts: "Pure democracy is a system that works well in particular cultures, and not all cultures are equally capable of building harmonious democratic societies. [...] [In] Sub-Saharan Africa, [...] the introduction of pure democracy 50 years ago resulted in disaster for the people of the region. [...] If anything, in many countries, Africans enjoyed greater personal freedom and prosperity under colonial rule, than they do today under independent governments. [...] Putting restrictions on the vote using poll taxes, literacy tests, and property ownership qualifications, has helped many Western nations to preserve liberty and order for centuries. [...] Universal suffrage is a very recent development in the West. [...] Given that Britain and the US took so long to build well-functioning democratic systems, it is unrealistic to expect African nations to have set up successful democratic societies, given the high poverty rates and the low levels of civilization of most of the population. [...]

"Ian Douglas Smith, the former Prime Minister of Rhodesia, [...] was falsely labeled as a racist and white supremacist [...], unlike the architects of apartheid in neighboring South Africa, [...] Smith recognized that the low levels of education and cultural development of most of the blacks, made the establishment of a successful pure democracy a difficult undertaking. [...] Facing a possible future of either a Marxist dictatorship or anarchy, the Rhodesian leadership declared independence and prevented Britain from imposing majority rule in the colony. [...] Blacks were allowed to have 16 seats in the 66 member Rhodesian parliament, [...] [e]ventually, white and black Rhodesians would share power in the Rhodesian Parliament, under a 50-50 arrangement. [...] But the international community would not accept anything less than black majority rule. [...] Smith can accurately be described as a prophet, because he predicted disaster for Rhodesia [now called Zimbabwe] once it came under the control of the communist terrorist, Robert Mugabe."

Mukui Waruiru is the founder of the African Conservative Forum, a Christian human rights and public policy organization based in Nairobi, Kenya.

16 February 2010

Seminar: After the Revolution: Youth, Democracy and the Politics of Disappointment in Postsocialist Serbia

Northwestern University, Department of Anthropology, Anthropology Building, Seminar Room 104, 1810 Hinman Avenue, Evanston, Illinois, USA, 22 February 2010, 3.00 pm

Jessica Greenberg: "After the Revolution: Youth, Democracy and the Politics of Disappointment in Postsocialist Serbia"

Abstract: "On October 5, 2000 the citizens of Serbia staged a mass democratic revolution on the streets of Belgrade. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the capital demanding in signs, songs, whistles and chants that Slobodan Milošević accept electoral defeat and step down as the country's leader. Democratic activists, opposition leaders, and students had overcome ten long years of authoritarian control of government and media to bring democracy to Serbia. In the years leading up to the revolution, student democratic activists became a symbol of hope, courage and energy in Serbia and internationally. October 5th marked both the high point and the end of the love affair with these young revolutionaries.

"Two years later, when I began my research with student activists, their image had been tarnished. Former opposition members, government ministers, and media figures dismissed student groups as at best irritating and at worst corrupt. For many people, inside and outside the country, Serbia's revolutionary tale was one of hope turned to disappointment, promise to failure. In narrating their hopes for a democratic future, people had drawn on the images and discourses of youth protest. 'After the Revolution' traces the history and significance of revolutionary and post-revolutionary political expectations in order to demonstrate how disappointment shapes Serbia's emerging democracy.

"Democratic failure in Serbia was produced when both local and international actors judged post-revolutionary democracy in terms of expectations generated in the crucible of the student-led revolution. Democratic youth revolutionaries promised positive political transformation and a more hopeful future for Serbian citizens. But actual democracy delivered poverty, social unrest and factional struggle. I will demonstrate how youth and student activists have become metonymic for the movement from hope to disappointment in newly democratic Serbia."

Followed by a reception. All are welcome.

Jessica Greenberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University.

15 February 2010

Article: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy

Nancy Fraser's article "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy" was published in the contributed volume "Habermas and the Public Sphere", ed. Craig Calhoun (MIT Press, 1992: pp. 109-42).

The article can be found (and partly read) at this link:


Some excerpts: "Today in the United States we hear a great deal of ballyhoo about 'the triumph of liberal democracy' and even 'the end of history.' Yet there is still quite a lot to object to in our own actually existing democracy, and the project of a critical theory of the limits of democracy in late-capitalist societies remains as relevant as ever. In fact, this project seems to me to have acquired a new urgency at a time when 'liberal democracy' is being touted as the ne plus ultra of social systems [...].

"[Jürgen] Habermas's idea of the public sphere is indispensable to critical social theory and democratic political practice. I assume that no attempt to understand the limits of actually existing late-capitalist democracy can succeed without in some way or another making use of it. I assume that the same goes for urgently needed constructive efforts to project alternative models of democracy. [...] According to Habermas, the idea of a public sphere is that of a body of 'private persons' assembled to discuss matters of 'public concern' or 'common interest.' [...] The result of such discussion would be public opinion in the strong sense of a consensus about the common good. [...]

"[W]ith the emergence of welfare-state mass democracy, society and the state became mutually intertwined; publicity in the sense of critical scrutiny of the state gave way to public relations, mass-mediated staged displays and the manufacture and manipulation of public opinion. [...] I do not mean to suggest that subaltern counterpublics are always necessarily virtuous. Some of them, alas, are explicitly antidemocratic and antiegalitarian, and even those with democratic and egalitarian intentions are not always above practicing their own modes of informal exclusion and marginalization. Still, insofar as these counterpublics emerge in response to exclusions within dominant publics, they help expand discursive space. In principle, assumptions that were previously exempt from contestation will now have to be publicly argued out. [...]

"[M]y argument enjoins four corresponding tasks on the critical theory of actually existing democracy. First, this theory should render visible the ways in which social inequality taints deliberation within publics in late-capitalist societies. Second, it should show how inequality affects relations among publics in late-capitalist societies, how publics are differentially empowered or segmented, and how some are involuntarily enclaved and subordinated to others. Next, a critical theory should expose ways in which the labeling of some issues and interests as 'private' limits the range of problems, and of approaches to problems, that can be widely contested in contemporary societies. Finally, the theory should show how the overly weak character of some public spheres in late-capitalist societies denudes 'public opinion' of practical force.

"In all these ways the theory should expose the limits of the specific form of democracy we enjoy in late capitalist societies. Perhaps it can thereby help inspire us to try to push back those limits, while also cautioning people in other parts of the world against heeding the call to install them."

It appears that an earlier version of this article had been published previously in the journal "Social Text" (25/26, 1990: pp. 56-80), although I couldn't find an acknowledgement in the book. The text of the journal article (which differs somewhat from the version in the book) is available free of charge here:


Nancy Fraser is Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science and Chair of the Department of Political Science at the New School for Social Research.

Article: H.G. Wells's "Liberal Fascism"

Philip Coupland, "H.G. Wells's 'Liberal Fascism'" ("Journal of Contemporary History", 35 [4], October 2000: pp. 541-58):


Abstract: "During the 1930s H.G. Wells's theory of revolutionary praxis centred around a concept of 'liberal fascism' whereby the Wellsian 'liberal' utopia would be achieved by an authoritarian élite. Taking inspiration from the militarized political movements of the 1930s, this marked a development in the Wellsian theory of revolution from the 'open conspiracy' of the 1920s. Although both communist and fascist movements evinced some of the desired qualities of a Wellsian vanguard, it was fascism rather than communism which came closest to Wells's ideal. However, in practice, despite the failure of approaches to parties of the left and centre as possible agents of revolution, Wells rejected the British Union of Fascists. The disparity between Wells's theory and his actions when faced by the reality of fascism echoes the unresolved tension between ends and means at the heart of the concept of 'liberal fascism'."

Excerpts: "[I]n [the writer, social critic, and utopian] Wells's thinking the forces of destruction and creation, darkness and light, are best understood as a dialectical unity. The same paradigm, I would argue, when applied to Wells's theory of revolutionary praxis in the 1930s, shows how he was not forced to be either a liberal or an authoritarian, but could seek 'liberal' ends by means which were anything but. [...] The relationship between these two sides of Wellsism is well illustrated by the 'Liberal Fascism' which Wells called for in his address to the Young Liberals at their Summer School in Oxford in July 1932.

"'Central' to this reborn 'Liberalism' would be what Wells called a 'competent receiver', by which he meant 'a responsible organisation, able to guide and rule the new scale human community'. The 'competent receiver' was also, Wells carefully explained, 'flatly opposed' to the norms of 'parliamentary democracy', being a 'special class of people' of the type anticipated in 'the Guardian of Plato's Republic'. 'Concrete expressions of this same idea' included 'the Fascisti in Italy', Wells believed. [...] The alternative was for 'civilization' to be left to 'stagger down past redemption to chaotic violence and decadence'. [...]

"[L]iberalism would become an organization to 'replace the dilatory indecisiveness of parliamentary politics' [...,] 'a sort of Liberal Communist Party or a sort of Liberal Fascism'; 'a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis ... a greater Communist Party' [...]. The early [Russian communist] party had been acceptable because it replaced the mysticism of 'the version of deified democracy, the Proletariat' with an authoritarian élite. However, against this he saw the 'heavy load of democratic and equalitarian cant' which 'ordained that at the phrase "Class War" every knee should bow'. [...] Wells condemned 'the old sentimental unwashed sweating "democratic" side' of socialism, 'all natural virtue, brotherhood and kisses' [...].

"Wells believed that the early twentieth century had seen the opening of 'the epoch of dictatorships and popular "saviours"'. However, not all forms of authoritarian rule were equal in his opinion. Because Wells firmly and consistently believed that the cult of the leader displaced the force of reason, what was important in the modern form of dictatorship was not the person of the leader but the organization he led. [...] He dismissed the Soviet system as 'a politician's dictatorship, propagandising rather than performing, disappointing her well-wishers abroad'."

Philip Coupland earned a PhD in History from the University of Warwick in 2000. The author of a book and various articles, he does not appear to be currently affiliated to any university.

Article: The Charisma of Autocracy: Bal Thackeray's Dictatorship in Shiv Sena

In 2002, the Indian journal "Manushi: A Journal about Women and Society" published an article by Julia Eckert titled "The Charisma of Autocracy: Bal Thackeray's Dictatorship in Shiv Sena" (130: pp. 13-9). Shiv Sena is a regional far-right/Hindu nationalist political party in the Indian state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital), that more recently has been seeking to go national. It was part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance coalition government that ruled India between 1998 and 2004.

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "The autocratic control of Bal Thackeray over the Shiv Sena is probably the party's most notorious feature. [...] [T]he movement's founder [...] is said to rule the organisation with dictatorial powers. It is his charismatic appeal that is assumed to inspire his followers, and it is his 'remote control' which is said to govern Mumbai. [...] Bal Thackeray has time and again advocated a 'benevolent dictatorship' as the most beneficial form of government for India. [...]

"Accordingly, dictatorial rule and anti-democratic structures within the Shiv Sena are [...] part of the projected counter-politics of 'getting things done' and justified by the failure of other forms of decision making, namely the parliamentary one. [...] Corruption is in this construction intrinsically linked to democratic procedure, and democratically legitimised power. [...] The theme of 'betrayal by democracy' as well as that of the dangers of party rivalry holds sway far beyond the Sena's constituency."

In 2003, Oxford University Press published Eckert's monograph "The Charisma of Direct Action: Power, Politics and the Shiv Sena":


Publisher's description: "This book is a study of the Shiv Sena, a minor but most influential affiliate of the Hindu nationalist movement. It discusses the politics and appeal of the party which has been governing Mumbai and has achieved electoral success in a democracy that it often dispises [sic]. Through an analysis of the Shiv Sena, the book attempts to understand anti-pluralist movements of voilent [sic] direct action in particular."

Julia M. Eckert is now a Professor in the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Berne, Switzerland.

14 February 2010

Article: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy

French communist political theorist Gilles Dauvé wrote his essay "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy" for the fifth annual "Vår Makt" seminar, organized by the Swedish group Motarbetaren in Malmö on 1-2 November 2008. The text surveys various theories and criticisms of democracy and discusses their respective limitations.

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Public opinion dislikes but understands those who despise democracy from a reactionary or elitist point of view. Someone who denies the common man's or woman's ability to organize and run himself or herself, logically will oppose democracy. But someone who firmly believes in this ability, and yet regards democracy as unfit for human emancipation, [...] gets the reputation of a warped mind who'll end up in the poor company of the arch-enemies of democracy: the fascists. [...] For all these reasons, the critique of democracy is a lost or forgotten battle. [...]

"Still, while most people go on at length about the failings of democracy, very few are willing to discuss its nature, because it appears as the best framework for human emancipation, and the only way to get it. [...] Communism opposes democracy because it is anti-State. Fascism only opposes democracy, because it is pro-State. We take on democracy as a form of the State, whereas reactionaries take it on as a political form they consider too feeble to defend the State. [...] Communists have had to deal with parliamentarianism as one of the forms (and not a feeble one) of government and repression. [...]

"[R]ejecting parliament does not sum up nor define our perspective, no more than despising the rich or hating money. [...] Dictatorship is the opposite of democracy. The opposite of democracy is not a critique of democracy. [...] [D]emocracy has been a distorted word ever since its return in the mouth of bourgeois revolutionaries from the 18th century onwards, and of most (but not all) socialists in the 19th and 20th centuries. [...] Democracy is not to be denounced and smashed, but superseded. Like other essential critiques, the critique of democracy will only become effective by the communizing of society. [...]

"The partial, confused yet deep communist movement that developed in the first half of the 19th century initiated an equally confused yet persistent critique of democracy. Both movement and critique were soon pushed in the background by the rise of organized labour that tried to make the most of bourgeois democracy. Yet every time the movement re-emerged, it got back to basics, and revived some aspects of the critique of democracy. [...] In the first half of the 20th century, new proletarian shock waves led to a reborn critique that (re)discovered these long-forgotten intuitions, but failed to be up to them. [...] The theoretical inroads made over 150 years ago have yet to be taken up. [...]

"Democracy is the most adequate political capitalist form. Whether we like it or not, democracy is an excellent expression of life under capitalism. It helps maintaining the degree of liberty and equality required by capitalist production and consumption and, up to a point, also required by the necessary forced relationship between labour and capital. [...] To put it bluntly, there's no practical critique of democracy unless there's a critique of capitalism. Accepting or trying to reform capitalism implies accepting or trying to reform its most adequate political form. [...]

"There's no point in sorting out bad (bourgeois) democracy and good (direct, worker, popular) democracy. But there's no point either in declaring oneself an anti-democrat. [...] There are no 'anti-democratic' specific actions to be invented, no more than systematic campaigns against advertising billboards or tv – both closely linked to democracy, actually. [...] So, in future troubled times, our best contribution will be to push for the most radical possible changes, which include the destruction of the State machinery, and this 'communization' process will eventually help people realize that democracy is an alienated form of freedom. [...] Democracy is the separation between action and decision."

In French, Gilles Dauvé and Karl Nesic in February 2009 published a book titled "Au-delà de la démocratie" (Beyond Democracy; my translation) with Éditions L'Harmattan:


The arguments of the book appear to be very similar to those of the above article.

13 February 2010

Articles: Communism Against Democracy

The pamphlet "Communism Against Democracy" (Treason Press, 2005) contains two older articles by (semi-)anonymous authors, namely "Against Democracy", written in 1993 by "Wildcat" (from the UK), and "... And Democracy Continues its March", written also in the 1990s by, presumably, the publisher of the irregular magazine "Against Sleep and Nightmare", one Red Hughes (from the US).

The pamphlet can be read free of charge here (though it is advisable to print it out as otherwise the pagination is all mixed up):


From the introduction: "The two texts in this pamphlet are communist critiques of democracy. Not just 'bourgeois democracy' but democracy as such. Democracy implies the separation of people into isolated, warring individuals. This isolation will be overcome in struggles against capitalism (and thus democracy). These struggles will need to be organised but not by a mass of atomised individuals voting on decisions, then acting. Most struggles do not happen because a mass of citizens vote to take action but because a determined minority of troublemakers take bold action [...].

"Democracy is the ideal form of capitalist rule. Of course capitalism can and does quite happily exist under various forms of undemocratic rule, whether fascist, military dictatorship, monarchy or 'Communism'. But 'one man, one vote' corresponds to the abstract equality of capitalism where my dollar is worth just as much as [late Australian media tycoon] Kerry Packer's. It is no coincidence that in the last 30 years during which life has been subordinated to monetary relations like never before that [sic] more and more states have become democratic."

Excerpts from "Against Democracy": "[R]evolutionaries should oppose democracy in all its forms. [...] I want to suggest that when people talk about 'real' or 'workers' democracy in opposition to bourgeois democracy, in fact they do mean the same thing that the bourgeoisie mean by democracy, despite superficial differences. The fact that they chose to use the word democracy is actually far more significant than they claim. This is why it is important to say 'Death to democracy!'. [...]

"My basic contention here will be that however much you claim to be against property (as Lenino-Trotskyo-Stalinists do) or even against the state (as anarchists do), if you support democracy you are actually for property and for the state. [...] You can say that democracy expresses the essence of capital [...] that equality is just an expression of the equivalence of commodities. [...]

"The miners' strike in the UK in 1984-5 provided many inspiring examples of how the class struggle is anti-democratic in practice. The strike itself did not start democratically – there was no ballot, no series of mass meetings. It began with walk-outs at a few pits threatened with closure, and was then spread by flying pickets. [...] There were also numerous examples of sabotage and destruction [...], such activities, by their very nature, cannot be organised democratically".

From "... And Democracy Continues its March": "Democracy is the language of 'common sense' in a world where capitalism controls people's senses. [...] Today's democracy never has to attack its true enemies but only phantasms within itself. It is only the exchange of one sort of rhetoric for another. [...] This system is the dictatorship of the commodity, the world market and of the billionaires. But simultaneously it is the rule of democracy. Once all action and every person can be translated into empty choices, those choices can be exchanged with each other like dollars or spectacular images. [...] Democracy is now the ideal dialogue of capital. [...]

"The [communist] spirit of collective power, of a community of masters, is exactly the opposite of the democratic spirit. Democracy drowns the individual in the choices of the majority. It presumes that the individual choice is always hostile to the power of the masses. Thus democratic ideology creates the paranoia that everything contrary to its current formalism of process is the same as Stalinist dictatorship. [...]

"Those who are taking back their lives must be strong and alive, not fair and democratic. [...] To be anti-democratic is to reject the fetish of democracy, to not give any voting process an inherently superior position over the total process of living. Proletarians, those who have nothing to lose from the destruction of this society and know it, must become anti-democratic to achieve their ends."