Democracy and Capitalism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
This workshop is informed by the consideration that the recent economic crisis has once again raised a long-debated and controversial issue in democratic theory: the relationship between democracy and capitalism. While the relative prosperity of the 1980s and 1990s and the accompanying expansion of liberal democracy across the globe (in particular in the post-Soviet Bloc) appeared to some extent to have resolved this argument in favour of those who maintain an essential congruence between democracy and capitalism, the recent deep economic downturn has however called into question once again whether a meaningful democratic politics is possible at all in capitalist conditions. Concerns about economic instability (heightened by the globalization of markets), deep-rooted and stark inequalities, an excessive focus on the pursuit of profit and the accompanying corruption of public institutions that are nominally supposed to act in the common interest are all subjects of public discourse across the world today as a consequence of the crisis. The recent statements of Party leaders in the UK calling for ‘capitalism with a conscience’ (David Cameron) and ‘responsible capitalism’ (Ed Milliband) are adequate testimony to this. The above are of course familiar themes in the incompatibility thesis and it is in this context that this workshop sets out to revisit this crucial issue in democratic theory and to re-examine democracy’s relationship with capitalism.
The workshop will consider the question of the relationship between democracy and capitalism in an historical perspective, re-examining the arguments propounded by proponents of compatibility and incompatibility that have perhaps been too long neglected in democratic theory and appear particularly relevant today. It is envisaged that there will be scope to explore a range of diverse accounts of the relationship between capitalism and democracy including for example those inspired by conservative, liberal, Marxist, republican and social-democratic traditions in political thought. The aim here is to reconsider historical debates in light of the current crisis taking adequate account of the context in which they emerged.
The workshop will also consider the question of democracy and capitalism from a contemporary perspective. Here the focus will be on the transformation of capitalism in the modern period and the onset of another major economic crisis, exploring the consequences of this for democracy and democratic theory. There will be scope here for examining the (uneven) globalization of capitalism, what some have seen as its ‘neo-liberalization’ and to consider whether more recent theories of democracy (including deliberative democracy) are adequately equipped to confront the challenges that these forms of capitalism present.
Geoff Kennedy (Durham)
Mark McNally (West of Scotland)