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The Civic Constellation Project



Civic Constellation (CivCons) III: Democracy, Constitutionalism, and Anti-Liberalism

(PGC2018-093573-B-100, 2019–2022)

Over the past decade the rise in constitutional democracies across the world, and significantly throughout Europe, of anti-liberal politics has changed the terms of academic and public debates on democracy and rights. In real politics anti-liberal claims and practices are argued in the name of democracy and even of basic rights. Resulting from an alternative, anti-systemic understanding of political action comes a way of doing politics that is affecting seriously the performance of democratic institutions, and the civic experience of individuals, to the point of presenting the basic tenets of constitutionalism and the rule of law as principles that can be left aside when governing real democracies.

Civic Constellation III argues, first, that if the rule of law is not enforced and basic freedoms are not institutionally protected along with pluralism, the legal and civic conditions enabling the democratic process become critically distorted and fatally damaged. And second, that opposing democracy to liberal constitutionalism is not a mere play with words. It is not exactly philosophical speculation but a theoretical view with performative consequences discernable through philosophical argumentation. Underlying its rhetorical force is a flagrant misunderstanding of constitutional democracy and an undissimulated defence of authoritarian rule.

Relying on the team’s recent and ongoing research, particularly within the framework of COST Action 16211 Reappraising Intellectual Debates on Civic Rights and Democracy in Europe (RECAST), the project aims at:

Exploring the academic and public debates on the relations between democracy, constitutionalism, and anti-liberalism in Europe from a comparative, transnational perspective. They are not mere resonance chambers that reflect what happens in the everyday politics of democratic regimes. Rather, in the debates both political actors and scholars scrutinize it, process it and bring about arguments of all sorts either to justify such anti-liberal leanings or to critically re-evaluate its growth.

Advancing new scholarly insights based on conceptual, argumentative, and rhetorical inquiries to shed light on the normative assumptions underneath recent anti-liberal, populist claims formulated as: a defence of rights without strong democracy, the idea that constitutionalism and the rule of law are irrelevant to democratic decision-making, as well as the endorsement of plebiscitarian and anti-parliamentary alternatives ironically argued in the name of democratic rule itself.

Contributing to the public and academic awareness of the values of constitutionalism and the rule of law to the advancement of democracy. Doing research in this case in the humanities (from moral and political philosophy to history) and the social sciences (from social and political to legal theory) requires engaging in debates and adducing reasonable options for institutional reform.

Civic Constellation (CivCons) II: Debating Democracy and Rights

(FFI2014-52703-P, 2015–2018)

Drawing on the experience of the previous project, Civic Constellation II fine-tunes the focus of inquiry into two basic concepts out of a broad constellation of civic concepts, namely democracy and rights. Their conceptual history is examined, from a transnational comparative perspective, along with their political history as institutions, and with their underlying intellectual debates since the end of the eighteenth century to the present. The project aims to:

Critically disentangle the rhetorical uses of democracy and rights in intellectual debates. The entire project pivots around the open contestability of civic concepts, and in particular of the civic conceptual constellation epitomized by the notions of democracy and rights. Both are used as rhetorical resources to advance not just theoretical or practical interpretations, but precisely opposite, antagonistic views on apparently the same issues.

Elucidate argumentatively their conceptual layout as the basic cluster concepts of the civic constellation, hence their semantic pivotal role in the languages of democracy and rights. Significantly, upon them most other civic concepts (from freedom to responsibility, from equality to citizenship, from sovereignty to representation) get their theoretical and practical significance. This fact informs about the contingent, relational and conflictual character of their meanings, and of their plural uses in civic arguments and practices.

Comparatively examine the paths linking the conceptual, argumentative configurations of democracy and rights to their institutional accomplishments. We need concepts and arguments to understand practices and institutions. Yet these practices and institutions conform both the experiences underlying our concepts and arguments, and the expectations thereby created.

The Civic Constellation (CivCons): A Conceptual and Argumentative Study of the Democratic Experience

(Spain's National Research Fund, FFI2011-23388, 2012–2014)

To embark on this project, a conceptual and argumentative study of the democratic experience, the team settles on an intellectual journey whose guiding thread is an experiment with methodological cooperation. Drawing on the complementariness of Begriffsgeschichte, contextual history, intellectual history and rhetorical or argumentative analysis, the project contributes to bridging the gap separating normative from historical and institutional approaches.

Arguably, the experience of democracy is rendered through the actions of political agents, namely politicians, citizens and immigrants either through conventional or through non-institutional channels. It portrays the conflictual though instructive history of the institutional distance that separates ideals from experience. To research its meanings and consequences, the project aims to contribute at:

Exploring the civic practices of democratic agents through the political and moral vocabularies that weave their intellectual representations and public actions. Politicians, citizens and immigrants devise those representations argumentatively, their civic actions becoming moves to access the resources for exercising rights and advancing interests.

Reappraising the civic question in the debates on democracy, paying attention to the revaluation of citizenship brought about by the challenges of immigration; and relatedly, to the claims of alternatives to reform liberal democracy: social movement initiatives, deliberative democracy proposals and populist politics. Their agendas sharing an antipolitical criticism of representative democracy, debates testify to the malleability of moral and political vocabularies and the rhetorical force of their conceptual and argumentative civic constellation.

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