How to Write a Paper about the Crisis of Democracy?

Cheerful reception of the “How to Write a Law and Technology Paper?” convinced me that the format has comedy potential. The same disclaimer as previously applies here: this post is for laughs. Of course, I am worried about the state of democracy. But I am also skeptical of the value of repeating the same diagnosis and analysis over and over again. On a theoretical level, a question is crystalizing in my mind: “what is the value of repeating stuff that everyone in a community already knows?” There must be some, otherwise, why do we keep doing it? One day I will attempt an answer. After a few more “ten steps” is suppose. Today, however, enjoy the Friday piece of sit-down-comedy:

Are you concerned about the course that local and global politics have taken lately? Would you like to be remembered as someone who was not indifferent, and tried to have an impact? Does the prospect of actually going to the streets to talk to people and maybe help someone scare you as too much movement and effort? If the answer to all these questions is “yes”, you probably should write a paper about the crisis of democracy. A perfect way to feel like you’re doing something good for society, without actually having to do much.

“But I am no political theorist / constitutional lawyer! what do I know?” – is the thought that might pop up in your head, but be sure to disregard it. Unlike with natural (real) sciences, everyone is an expert on politics, constitution, and democracy.  After a couple of beers especially. Plus, you can use our instruction: How to write a paper about the crisis of democracy (in ten steps):

  1. Start by saying that it seemed in 1989 that it’s the end of history. Cite Fukuyama (and call him a “Neo-Con”. Mention he seems to have changed his mind. Make a little joke about that).
  2. Say that now, however, there are problems all around the world. Be sure to mention Russia, Trump, Turkey, Poland, Brexit, Philipinnes, Brazil and Hungary in the same sentence.
  3. Cite some numbers about how inequality is rising, growth stagnating, whatever, you need numbers (quote Piketty). Say that people nowadays will not be richer than their parents. Call them “losers of globalization”.
  4. Mention China and that maybe actually there is no necessary connection between democracy and market economy. Remind people that Hayek was friends with Pinochet.
  5. Be sure to include that democracy in the West might not be that democratic at all – refer to Citizens United and money in politics in general.
  6. Indicate that causes are actually even more complicated: economy, culture, ideology all play some role.
  7. Say that we are probably doomed. Add an analogy between today and the 1930s. Then say that we do not really know how it’s gonna go. Say that you predict that democracy will go down, or not, or maybe it will change.
  8. Add a splash here and there of buzzwords like “democratic backsliding”, “populism”, “illiberal”, “losers of globalization”. DO NOT ever explain what you mean by democracy or crisis. You must use the term “rule of law” very abundantly and make sure you conflate it with democracy.
  9. Propose to solve the problem by something that sounds simple but is actually very unclear: education, inclusion, regulation of social media. If you want to call your work “interdisciplinary”, mention blockchain.
  10. Say that of course more research is needed, but you wanted to just “start a debate” which is very important.

Congratulations! You just landed on a good side of history! If everything indeed goes down, you will be able to demonstrate that you cared. And if not, one of your predictions materialized, and you were a part of the movement! win-win.

Thanks to Nik and Fil for their comments about the “first draft”, haha.

When the state of exception becomes the rule

Europe got to the point when the state of exception might become the rule. If this happens, a social/political/legal response will be necessary. In my opinion, we are not intellectually prepared to give such a response. And I believe it is high time we get started. In this brief post, I sketch my idea of how this could look like.

This is an atypical post here, I treat it as a suggestion-giver to a possible EUI-wide initiative, which would connect scholars with a diverse substantial and methodological expertise/interest. However, I would obviously welcome any external cooperation, should this thing take off.

In short: in the aftermath the horrible events in Paris, France has extended the state of emergency for 3 months (90 sec explanation of what this means). We don’t know how the situation in Brussels will develop. God forbid, but it might be that as a result of another attack, or as a means of preventing it, others will follow.

No one questions the fact that we need security, that the criminals must be caught and next attacks must be stopped. However, the process might be longer and more difficult than it seems now. Next measures, based on real or just-strategic secret service reports, might add-up over the course of next months or years. I do not mean militarisation of the streets or curfew, I mean more subtle and ‘less visible’ changes: mass surveillance, arrests without warrants; something that we already witnessed in US after the Patriot Act, to name just CIA secret prisons or the NSA scandal.

If this happens, our notions of Democracy, Freedom, Human Rights or the Rule of Law will be challenged by the new factual (social and political) situation.

I think we can all well argue why this is undesirable. There might little place for argument, though.
What I think we are unprepared for is to argue: how, in this new situation, to best preserve them.
The trade-off between liberty and security is not a simple one, it is not even the correct one. What matters is not only what is done, but how it is done.


My idea, for a possible response at the EUI, would stand on two pillars: theory and facts-collection.

What needs to be theorised first is the state of exception, which remains in the dialectical relationship with the ‘standard/desirable/everyday state’.
On the previous, I would go for reading:

  1. The State of Exception by Giorgio Agamben (2005), the classic, where he analyses the concept back from Rome, through the Modernity, through the scary-but-sharp work of Carl Schmitt (Die Diktatur (1921) and Politische Theologie (1922)), WWII, to the Patriot Act of 2001 (also lecture available here);
  2. Normalising the State of Exception by Günter Frankenberg (2014), a longer, but really thorough monograph, connecting strong insight into philosophy, political theory and law with legal analysis of what has happened after the 9/11 in EU and US.

Another task would be data collection on what is actually going on and what media report, both on the level of ‘announced threats’ and the responses including explicit or implicit announcement of the state of exception, limiting the liberties, counter-actions etc. That would obviously lead to the enrichment of the concept.

With these two in mind, THEORY 2
Knowing what exactly is being compromised, and how to theorise it, it would be possible to reconstruct which parts of our ‘traditional’ understanding of Democracy, Human Rights, Freedom and the Rule of Law are being challenged, and prepare the path for the creative work.

Obviously, this will be much more complicated, and the scheme above might be challenged in any way, but I just wanted to show what I have in mind. And ask if anyone would be interested in doing sth like this.

I know we are all super busy, and it’s not that I have that much spare time, but I somehow have the feeling that we owe people something like this. And the more people would join, the better (and faster) this could be done. I might be wrong,

but if you’re interested, drop me an email (Przemyslaw Palka).