Τετάρτη, 13 Οκτωβρίου 2010

George Contogeorgis "Democracy as Freedom



Prof. George Contogeorgis

"Democracy as Freedom "1


1. The definition of the modern political system begins from an incontestable preliminary hypothesis: it is of a democratic nature. However, this identification of the modern political system with democracy does not correspond to its history. At its beginning the modern system was opposed to democracy, one referring to the conditions of the ancient city, the other to that of the great modern states where not only the material impossibility of gathering the citizens, but also the complexity of the societies and the problems to be faced are observed. Then, apart from these first arguments, the qualitative argument of the superiority of the modern system known as representative to the system known as ‘direct democracy’ was added. The modern system, which will be defined henceforth as indirect democracy, will be classified among the forms of the democracy.

But this change in the typological classification of the modern system does not imply a transformation of its nature. The argumentation concerning the justification itself of the so-called indirect democracy did not change either: the institutional role the so-called direct democracy accords the assembled people is impossible to do in a large-scale state.

I want to focus the discussion on the nature of democracy, which appears to be self-evident, and, having specified its foundation, I will try to provide some response to the typology of political systems; then, having indicated the profound differences between democracy and representation, I will reflect on the value of the modern system, and, beyond that, on the feasibility of democracy in the technological age. My conclusion, which I announce here to allow us to follow the argumentation, is that the modern system not only is not democratic, but is not even representative.

On the other hand, I overlook the major question of the conditions of democracy and, beyond that, of any political system. Concerning, however, the argument of the feasibility of democracy in the domain of large-scale modern politics, it should be remembered that even the cities, in spite of their constitution on the small scale, did not always obey democratic forms. The city of Antigone, Solon, Clesthenes, Pericles and, of course, that of the ecumenical period, constitute as many stages in its anthropocentric development. It took several centuries for the societies of the city to reach democracy, after having lived the experience of various types of political systems, including that of representation2. The reflection on democracy must thus distinguish between Hellenic democracy and the democratic principle, the first being the experiment of the second within the framework of the small cosmosystemic scale. However, the question is not to know if Hellenic democracy is feasible in modern times, but if it is possible to envisage the democratic principle in the framework of the great scale. The working hypothesis that I adopt in fact is that it is not the large scale itself, it is the phase which the cosmosystem of the large scale in our time is passing through which makes democracy (and representation principle) impossible.


2. Finality, namely the raison d'être of democracy, is freedom. It is not a question, however, of any freedom. Insofar as democracy can be regarded as the supreme and final stage in the development of societies, it evokes global freedom, in all its individual, social and political dimensions. From this point of view, a system which does not involve freedom in all its dimensions is classified as the opposite of democracy and represents as earlier stage in the evolution of human societies and, in all cases, pre-democratic.

What do we mean by `global freedom'3? First of all, the concept of democracy, like any other system, is not limited to a political system; it refers to the nature of society as a whole, and more specifically to the nature of the global cosmos, the `cosmo-system,' that is, the whole of the politically formed societies that have common co-ordinates and foundations4. That is why the Ancients distinguished between ` politevma', which defined the political regime, and `politeia', which expressed the global nature of an anthropocentric society.

Let us specify further. The concept of freedom defines the status of autonomy of the individual in society. Autonomy is opposed to heteronomy and freedom defines the individual who does not depend on anybody, who decides for himself, who manages his own affairs. In the democratic principle, freedom, in terms of autonomy, cannot be forfeited, even voluntarily, without the freedom of the individual or of society being affected. The individual who consents to heteronomy, for example, the serf in the feudal society, is not free. In the same way, the free individual at a personal level who forfeits the time of his work to the will of a third party or the management of politics, ceases to be free beyond his personal freedom (the fundamental freedom), that is, he does not enjoy social and political freedom. The consent to heteronomy is related to the legitimization of the system; but it also affects its nature. The system of heteronomy, by definition based on power (authority) – legitimate or not – is not democratic. Another important point to specify is the difference between freedom and right. Freedom concerns the domain of human autonomy; right delimits the perimeter of freedom or even the conditions of heteronomy, so that this heteronomy does not affect the freedom which one enjoys. It is the case of the institutional protection of " dependent " work which poses the framework in which the individual offers his work, and thereby, the fact that he does not enjoy social freedom.

Each dimension of freedom has its own functional domain: personal freedom concerns the personal autonomy of each human being in his private life or in his sphere of social and political activity. Social freedom involves implications of the individual in social life, where it forms contractual relations, such as the relation of work, with the aim of ensuring his participation in the socio-economic benefits. Social freedom is invited to respond, indeed, to two major questions: one concerns the constraints resulting from the material needs which oblige the individual to spend of his spare time satisfying them; the other refers to the conditions of acquisition of these goods, namely the fact that this obligation can demand a contractual concession of freedom (for example, dependence regarding work)5. Political freedom, for its part, defines the autonomous status of the individual where it meets the whole of society. It projects the non-dependence of the individual, and thus of society, in terms of politics. Here, the operational goal (effectiveness) of politics is called to take account of freedom. That means that the argument of the `competence' in politics (the knowledge of the political object) and beyond, the division of political labour forfeits its place to the universal competence of the social body, which is politically constituted, that is, to the demos.

The project of political freedom subscribes to a certain number of hypotheses: the first, that political freedom is irreconcilable with any autonomous structure of the political phenomenon, in other words, with the constitution of politics in terms of power, which may be legitimized, whether moderate, controlled or not. The second is that politics is absorbed by the social, so that society is constituted politically, is identified with politics, and thus assumes universal political competence. The political system is detached from the state and is attached to the social body (to the demos). Political freedom, like any other dimension of freedom, has a positive aspect: it is defined in terms of autonomy - and a negative aspect: it is situated opposite any autonomous authority, that is, the negation of power.

In order to be able to rule on the conditions of justice, the exercise of freedom, as its extent, one usually evokes equality - which constitutes the measure that makes it possible for each individual to compare himself with others in terms of freedom. However, two precise clarifications are essential: firstly, that equality does not have a sense and a fixed value because its orientation depends on priorities of freedom. If freedom is defined as individual freedom, equality and justice are also referred to with this dimension of freedom; it is not interested in the political and social phenomenon in terms of freedom, but in term of rights. Moreover, equality is not necessarily identified with the equal distribution of goods: the decision to opt for the equal ditribution or for equal participation in the pleasure of a good depends on several factors, the first being related to the effective divisibility of this good6. The problem does not concern the ownership of land, which primarily interests the first period of the construction of individual freedom, but the goods that cannot be distributed, in the context of the project of equality, without disappearing. We refer particularly to equality vis-a-vis the law, to equality in an economic unit (for example, in an enterprise) and essentially as regards politics. Indeed, politics, defined as the process which refers to the whole society, cannot be divided and distributed to the citizens, without society disappearing.

The example of politics is significant. The focusing of equality on politics in order to realize political freedom does not imply equal distribution – namely, the "molecularization" - of politics but the political "molecularization" of the individual: from private or social individuality, one reaches political individuality. From being entitled to the results of politics, the citizen becomes a direct shareholder; from being an individual member of the private society, he becomes an individual molecule of the political space. At the level of political action, which must necessarily be delegated, participation is introduced with the `archais' (to the representative political functions) and thus, their pleasure in turn. This explains the introduction of the drawing of the lottery in the place of elections, which applied in the city to acceed to the political institutions with a representative content.

These three dimensions of freedom, as well as the equalities which are attached, are presented, in modernity, as irreconcilable7.However, the essence of democracy shows that various dimensions of global freedom accumulate, and indeed are constructed in order of successive development, at least during the protogenetic phase of the anthropocentric cosmo-system. Indeed, individual freedom precedes the other two in the process of construction of global freedom. Personal autonomy of the human being constitutes the condition sine qua non of the passage from the despotic or feudal society to the anthropocentric society. Social freedom presupposes the individual freedom; it constitutes a more advanced stage in the process of human emancipation. It claims the extension of the autonomous space of the individual where he is obliged to form contractual relationships with social subsystems such as the economic system. Political freedom appears only in the context of individual freedom: one cannot imagine that somebody can be free on the social level without being free at the individual level. In short, political freedom constitutes a stage of higher emancipation than that which suggests individual freedom, and even social freedom. This is why this stage is not accessible without the conquest of preceding autonomies at the level of individual and social freedom. In any case, although democracy proclaims global freedom, it is recognized primarily by political freedom: it is this which differentiates democracy from other systems because individual freedom, and eventually social freedom, can be recognized in other systems, but not political freedom.


3. How is this project of global freedom translated into system? The question is posed essentially where the object of freedom, as we have said, is not divided, so that each individual has equal enjoyment of good (social, political, etc).

A first remark is that the democratic project, as regards social freedom, rejects as much the identification of the economic system with the property of capital, is private or public: both lead to dependence and thus to the suppression of social and political freedom. It is then necessary to return to the internal nature of the economic subsystem to find a solution in favour of social freedom.

Where the economic subsystem is identified with the property of capital, so that each of its units (for example, a company) is constituted in terms of power belonging to the owner, the solution to the problem does not come from a protection of labour, but from the dissociation of the economic system from the citizen. This remark implies that the citizen withdraws himself, does not participate anymore in the economic process which requires dependence as regards work and, in the extreme, the pains of living.

But, in this case, the question is to know how to ensure production and how to carry out the redistribution of the economic and social goods. Because, if the transition from the working society to the leisure society is a process which ensures social freedom, and indeed political, it must also answer to the character of economic and social foundations of society. For the democracy of this period of (proto-)construction of the anthropocentric cosmosystem, the solution as regards work was given by the introduction of work-merchandise, thanks to economic emigration. It is not a question of a leisure society in general, but of a leisure society concerning only the citizens. With regard to the (re-)distribution of economic resources, the solution, for those who do not take part in their production, was given through political work, that is, the leisure society does not define a society of inaction, but a working society beyond the economy, which is regarded primarily as a constraint for the citizen. Moreover, in the leisure society, social mobility and social integration are carried out by politics,i.e., by political work, and not by economic work. By introducing the remuneration of political work - political wages replace economic wages - one reaches, at the same time, social freedom (the non-dependence on social matters) and political freedom (the non-dependence on politics.) This is precisely a formula which is offered by the unique example of the transition to democracy resulting from the Hellenic city8. And, from a certain point of view, it appears on the horizon of modern societies9.

The other solution to the problem of social and political freedom was given following the transition from the stato-centric period of the city, the independent state, to the post-stato-centric period, i.e. the ecumenical, after the 4th century BC. There, the economic system was dissociated from the property of the capital. The owner of the capital is no longer the owner of the system, is not identified with the system of the company. The company is constituted in `politeia', in `economic city' in which the whole of its human potential participates. The working relationship within this system is no longer a relationship of dependence but a relationship of partnership (`hetairic') and beyond that, of participation also in the profit and the needs of the ‘society of partners.’ The corporation is an emanation of this system adapted to the conditions of Western-European feudality.

Political freedom is opposed to any dichotomy of society and politics. The assimilation of the politics in society, i.e. the diffusion of politics in society and the withering of power are carried out by the constitution of the society in terms of politics and by the fact of assuming it transformed into the demos, the universal political competence. The dilemma between the autonomous power and the universal competence of demos, the social body constituted politically, defines the difference between political right and political freedom. The civil society, which is based on the dichotomy between social and political, evolves in this case to political society where the political system is no longer identified with the state but with the demos, the social body constituted politically. In this respect, the great discussion opened by A.Gramsci, among others, about the identification of the political system with the state and, consequently, of the imaginary coexistence of the civil society and the political society, simultaneously, within the same society is revealed to be not only `un-historical', but also scientifically absurd. Because in fact, the transition of a system with autonomous power – resulting from the civil society - to a democratic system – the system of a political society - corresponds to a later phase of the anthropocentric development of societies. Besides, this evolution is of great interest at the level of the typology of citizenship. 10

In any case, the definition of freedom in term of autonomy means that the democratic society completely rejects the idea of the division of the social labour, since it is regarded as being at the base of the hierarchies and thus inherent in pre-democratic societies. As I have underlined, `competence,' which refers to the knowledge of the `dossier' (for example, in medicine), cannot be applied unrestrictedly in political matters, because there are possibly other values concerned and, first of all, political freedom11.

4. We are already in front of a new typology of the political systems which distinguish democracy, in its various forms (moderate, `classic', radical or `anarchic'), from the other systems whose social and political domain is constituted in terms of nonpolitical freedom and, thus, in terms of power. If one leaves aside the feudal or despotic system, what remains is only to examine democracy in relation to the political system which resulted from the modern post-feudal period, or the post-feudal period of the city, before democracy.

Like democracy, the representative system appears in several forms, according to the degree of affirmation of the representative principle and, consequently, of freedom. But it is not a question, in the representative system, of global freedom, but of individual freedom which, as we have already said, is surrounded by a body of socio-political rights which define its perimeter. However, individual freedom, like any other dimension of freedom, is also developed: for example, the freedom of speech. From the moment when politics is introduced into the content of the freedom of speech, there are consequences for the relationship between the social and politics. The citizen acquires the right to `judge' the acts of his government. He does not, however, become politically autonomous. This political right confirms the domain of individual freedom; it belongs to this freedom. So that the individual and society can become politically free, it is not enough to have the individual right to express themselves in politics, to criticise politics, but it is necessary to be able to exert this right within a framework in which all citizens constitute a political body (i.e., ‘demos’) and deliberate. Thus, there is a fundamental difference which makes the distinction between freedom and right.

We can distinguish, as a working hypothesis, two principal forms of representation: the primary, or indirect representation, and the literal representation. In indirect representation, politics concedes entirely to the power and the intermediate forces: the people form a private society; they do not constitute a ‘demos’, namely, a political body, except to legitimize the political personnel in power. The political system, because politics belongs essentially, like the political process, to the state, is also identified with the state: we speak without distinction about the state and the political system. Moreover, the goal of politics is not the social will or interest, but neutral or distinct concepts such as the ‘nation,’ the ‘public,’ `general interest, ' which help the power to justify at the same time the dichotomy between the political and the social, and its autonomy in the management of politics. Politics, including the political class, is located above the law; the political personnel also enjoys immunity in his private life. There is thus no political justice12 because the holder of the sovereign political power is not subject to the law for his political actions. It is the opposite of what prevails in the representative system, and mainly in the democratic system.

We thus presume that the definition of the modern political system as democratic describes essentially a political system which is not even conceptually representative13. Indeed, the representative principle requires the meeting of its fundamental elements: the representative, or mandatee, and the represented, or mandator. In the modern political system, these two functions of the representative principle belong literally to the state. The citizen does not have the quality of the represented, and that is why he does not assume his functions. His vote14 – the only political competence which is conferred to him – is meant only to legitimize the political personnel destined to manage the political power of the state.

The lack of a representative basis in the system remained until now safe from any criticism. It was, however, attempted to confront the collateral effects either by institutional arrangements (for example, distinction of power of the state), or by the addition to the interediary forces of a second level of mediation, which was defined by the idea of `civil society.’

During the period of anthropocentric proto-construction (of the post-feudal phase), the lack of representativeness of the system was compensated by the mediative function of the ideology (liberal or socialist) which joined the social layers to the political forces. The attachment of the political classes to the social project ensured the political militancy of the legitimacy of its mediating action and, beyond, the legitimacy of the sovereign power of the state.

Beside this mediating action of the partisan phenomenon, we will add the idea of `civil society,' which will claim for itself a place in the mediating function. But this function is also not representative; it is reduced to a role of articulation of the political process resulting from the relationship between the intermediary forces and the holders of state power.

Without going to the depth of the consequences of this question, let us recall that, like state power, the project of `civil society' is guided by the general logic which excludes the social body from the political system15. Even the concept of `civil society' does not refer to a representative structure of its components16. Moreover, it reserves for its elements a place not in the political system but at its edge. They are allowed to intervene with the holders of power; they do take part in the power. The intermediary ‘forces’ exert – as their name clearly indicates – a function of `force', and more precisely of `pressure', not of `power' (authority). The distinction between `force' and `power' is fundamental, although it is ignored by modernity.

It is interesting to note that politics, in the representative system, especially in its primary phase, is defined in terms of power and, indeed, in terms of state. Modern political science is the only social science which defines its object not in terms of its own nature, but according to the structure which it acquires in the phase which crosses the modern cosmosystem17. Since politics is conceived as a phenomenon identical to power, it arises that modern societies cannot hope to be released from the power and to be formed in terms of political freedom (autonomy); political action has a purely operational content and is subject either to the relation of forces regulated by the political power (inside the state) or to the force of the states (international relations).

The literal representation also ignores political freedom, but it approaches it: the people constitute a demos, a political body, but to assume the functions of the represented in the political system; it thus assumes the function of control and of the revocation of representatives, of the harmonisation of power with the social will; it subjects the political personnel to justice for the damage which it was caused by the policy it enforced as representative. Since the political praxis is subject to the law, we clearly distinguish the choice of the political personnel by election, and its responsibility for the policy it pursues. Power in the representative system becomes ‘collegiate’ as well. We observe, moreover, a significant change which concerns the approach of the principle of the majority: it is no longer applied within the framework of a unified global society, as before, but by taking into account the existing cultural groups, so that they are represented in the power, and are not excluded from the exercise of political power. It should not be thought that this concept of representation is a product of the imagination, an intellectual elaboration. Just like the indirect representation, it is seen in the pre-democratic city.


5. We can conclude that modern societies are passing a primary phase whose traces are impressed on freedom. Moreover, the feudal period bequeathed to our time significant elements which persist. I take in this respect the United Kingdom as an example where almost half of the political system - although the balances of power have changed – belongs to the preceding institutional arsenal of the period of absolute monarchy, i.e., the feudal period. The fact that this system enjoys increased legitimacy, however, does not make it possible to conclude that it becomes democratic.

Generally, we can note that we are confronted with a development, a considerable progress in our time on the level of technology and prosperity, but this progress does not have its equivalent in the development of its anthropocentric acquirement. This contradiction can mean that the conditions of evolution regarding the freedoms of the social and political system are created gradually to the detree that the large cosmosystemic scale of our modern period is developed. But it would be too much to support that we have arrived at an anthropocentric development suitable to support the project of a representative system.

This conclusion largely explains why the difficulty resides not in the absence of material conditions that are supposed to allow the development in a direction of representation or democracy, but in the difficulty of the contemporary world to understand representation and democracy ideologically and mentally. It is more than clear that this difficulty of the modern period to reflect and to elaborate concepts such as representation or democracy is present in daily life, in the experience of daily life: one does not demonstrate for projects such as global freedom or social freedom; one demonstrates to ensure one’s work or working conditions, for elementary sociopolitical rights - and not for freedoms – such as the right of legitimatory vote, the respect for human dignity, etc, in the majority of the countries of the world; but, in no case for the change of the nature of the political and social system.

However, this conclusion that democracy or representation do not form part of our culture of everyday life does not mean that they do not form part of our general culture, of our civilization: it is our Greco-Roman civilization, the Hellenic or anthropocentric cosmosystem on a small scale, which produced them, which experienced them, preserved and transmitted them to the modern time; and it is this framework of our civilization which still remains to be discussed and to be rediscovered.

Our difficulty in beginning a debate on the nature of the representative project, and indeed the democratic project, should not prevent us from beginning a new debate with history because, apart from feasibility, for us, of this project, the discussion on the nature of the modern political system is fundamental, either to become aware of our anthropocentric phase or to reflect on the future, namely about democracy as freedom. In the final analysis, the conditions of conflict, consensus, legitimacy or dispute are different according to the nature of system: system of force (for example, the international system), system of power (nonrepresentative or representative) or, finally, the democratic system.


Bibliographical references


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1n E.Venizelos, A.Pantelis(eds.), Civilization and Public Law, London, 2005, pp. 79 –92. Une version au D.Damamme (ed.), La démocratie en Europe, L’Harmattan, Paris, 2004 (« La démocratie comme liberté »).

2 On this subject see my studies, Contogeorgis, 1975/1978, 1984b, 1992, 1993, 2000a.

3 It is obvious that the approach to the concept of freedom which follows is situated to the opposite of the modern concepts which do not leave the context that represents our epoch. See, among others, Rawls, 1987, 1996; Walzer, 1997; Hayek, 1960; Van Parijs, 1991; Sartori, 1973; Constant, 1819; Coulanges, 1864.

4 See Contogeorgis, 2003α, and op.cit.

5 The approach to work as a good or as a constraint arises from the phase that passes through the anthropocentric cosmosystem; see on this subject, Contogeorgis, 2002.

6 For the approach to justice and equality through the prism of the scarcity of goods which realize freedom, see Contogeorgis, 1975/1978, pp. 12 and ss.

7 As an example see Constant, 1819; Van Parijs, 1993.

8 See more in Contogeorgis detail, 2000a, 2002, 1984a.

9 This is precisely the hypothesis that we support in Contogeorgis, op.cit., 1996,2003b.

10 On this subject see Contogeorgis, 2000a.

11 Aristotle, Politics, 1281b, 25 and so on.

12 On this subject, see Contogeorgis, 2000b.

13 It is precisely this system which Bernard Manin treats in his work entitled, Principes du gouvernement représentatif. See also, as an indication, Sartori, 1973; Habermas, 1992, 1997, 1998; Bowles, Gintis, 1988; Leleux, 1997; Bobbio, 1996.

14 It should be specified that the vote, although it marks the meeting point of the individual with citizenship, it cannot be evaluated in its function without taking account of its contents. The legitimizing vote is different from the elective vote, and both are to it vote which confirms the decisional autonomy of the citizen (Contogeorgis, 2000a).

15 See, for example, Barber, 2000.

16 Indeed, the intermediary groups can be founded on the despotic principle (for example, the church) or authoritarian (for example, the company), etc.

17 On this very significant subject, see Contogeorgis, 1999.

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