12 February 2010

Article: Demo-skepticism and Genocide

Daniele Conversi, "Demo-skepticism and Genocide" ("Political Studies Review", 4 [3], September 2006: pp. 247-62).

Abstract: "Genocide studies have expanded rapidly over the last twenty years, impelled by events such as the Bosnian and Rwandan tragedies and aided by the interdisciplinary confluence between comparative politics, history, anthropology and other social sciences. The challenge from historical sociology is particularly meaningful and few scholars are better equipped to achieve this task than Michael Mann. His explanation, linking genocide to 'democracy', is a relatively novel one. However, while scholars from various disciplines broadly agree on the link between genocide and modernity, the description of ethnic cleansing as the 'dark side of democracy' is more controversial. This article assesses Mann's claim, contrasting it with recent research in the field: after situating Mann's contribution within the structure-agency debate, I question whether causality and human responsibility are lost. I then explore the broader, recent trend of 'demo-skepticism' to which the book belongs. Its main weakness is a contraction of the concept of democracy into that of 'majority rule'. This is accompanied by an intermittent overlap between the concepts of democracy, liberalism and neoliberalism, under the umbrella term 'liberal democracy'."

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


Some excerpts: "Rarely in recent history has the faith in democracy become so debilitated as in the current dawning of the twenty-first century. Terrorism and counter-terrorism have demolished many certitudes. [...] In several Western countries, the lack of governments' responsiveness accompanied by the introductions of new 'anti-terror' legislation often sacrificing human rights in the name of 'security', have led many to question whether we still live in a democratic age. 'Liberal democracies' are facing a legitimacy crisis, while disenchantment, even cynicism, with our very political systems has gained ground. [...]

"[Academic thinking has been] expanding into a general critique of democratic theory and the very idea of 'liberal democracy'. It has combined with a much larger onslaught on the very notion of democracy, emerging in various areas and disciplines [...,] a rapidly growing circle of scholars, a larger, fashionable 'anti-democratic' trend which I define hereby as demo-skepticism. [...] US academics of different ideological persuasions [...] argue that mass democracy coupled with neoliberal globalization imperil multi-ethnic coexistence. [...] [T]he critics' true targets are not democracies per se, but more specifically globalizing market democracies. [...]

"Colin Crouch [...] has recently argued that we already live in a post-democratic age, where government slips away from popular control while big business and multinational corporations rule unchallenged. With globalizing neoliberalism, the era of popular sovereignty has come to an end, and with it the very meaning of democracy. The very fact that we begin to feel that we no longer live in 'democratic' societies could account for the rise of demo-skepticism. Long before the demo-skeptic turn, the Italian sociologist Franco Ferrarotti [...] had warned that the death of democracy is always a suicide, never a murder."

Italian-born Daniele Conversi is now Research Professor in the School of Social and Communication Sciences at the University of the Basque Country and at Ikerbasque, the Basque Foundation for Science.

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