Notes/Democratic Theory and Self Transformation

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  • Liberal democratic view is that self is prepolitical, formed by fixed desires or social institutions outside politics.
    • Democracy, on this view, is primarily a means for aggregating prepolitical interests and should be limited in scope and domain just because it is instrumental to prepolitical interests and not a good in itself. I shall refer to these theories as standard liberal democracy.
  • Expansive democrats rely on three assumptions counter to standard liberal democracy.
    1. Increased democracy transforms individualistic and conflicting interests into common and nonconflicting ones developing capacities that reduce factional threats to rights and pluralism.
    2. Because these transformations reduce conflict, they allow reduced use of power as a medium for political interaction.
    3. Far from threatening the dimensions of the self, democracy is necessary to the values of self-development, autonomy, and self-governance.
  • These assumptions form the self-transformation thesis.
  • Whereas in the standard view, democracy most often refers to institutional processes such as competitive elections, in expansive theories it refers more broadly to the effects of institutions in increasing individuals' control over self-determination and self-development.
  • Closely related, these theories assume that democracy has more than an instrumental value to ends such as freedom, protection of private satisfactions, security, and order. Democracy generates values that are intrinsic to political interaction and closely related to self-development. Limiting democracy to, say, electoral competition between elites deprives nonelites of access to conditions of their own development.
  • Standard liberal democracy holds, in effect, that it is desirable to depoliticize as many spheres of society as possible, rather than to democratize them. Depoliticization also means limiting spheres of democracy and leaving social life to be ruled by nongovernmental powers.
  • Our current institutions of liberal democracy are designed to satisfy people's wants, rather than the fashioning of their character for self-governance and self-development.
    • Transformations of the self are important for expansive democrats because they view democracy as justified not so much because it allows maximization of prepolitical wants or preferences as because it maximizes opportunities for self-governance and self-development. That standard liberal democrats view "preferences as given allows us to recognize democracy's contribution to the proper aggregation of wants through the counting of votes, but it obscures the contribution of democratic institutions to human development— their unique capacity to foster in people the ability intelligently and creatively to control their lives"
  • Standard liberal democracy does not, of course, a priori rule out that individuals might be motivated by desires for self-development and self-governance. Indeed, a key justification of standard liberal democracy is that it secures private space within which such values can be realized. What distinguishes expansive democracy is the view that political participation is necessary for self-governance; self-governance is not simply a "private", matter.
  • Theory is that democracy requires a balance between conflict and consensus. Competitive process can only produce a working government, if there is an underlying consensus about the rules of the game.
  • What distinguishes expansive democracy is the view that political participation is necessary for self-governance; self-governance is not simply a "private", matter.
  • Rousseau believed that individuals become free and self-governing when plurality of wills become a single general will. Recent theorists of expansive democracy (especially followers of poststructuralism) seek to recognize this without giving up linkage between democracy and self-governance. Similar to pluralists, they argue behind diverse interests, there exists an underlying will.
  • No matter how much we consider individual differences, collective decisions will diverge. Translated to politics, the general will produces insensitivity to difference. So in these cases, individuals maximize self-governance by identifying these differences, not just seeing the general will as their own.
  • So when we give up the idea of self-governance based on an identity of individual and collective will (from Rousseau), doesn’t democracy become the equal chance for everybody to influence collective outcomes? Just like the standard approach?
  • Expansive democrats argue there’s an important relationship between democracy and self-governance that doesn’t rely on identifying individual and collective wills. A relationship missing in the standard approach.
  • Democratic participation has the unique capacity to foster autonomy.
  • Autonomy is a key element of self-governance. Autonomy describes the capacity of judgement. Individuals are autonomous if their preferences, goals and life plans are not the result of manipulation, brainwashing, unthinking obedience or reflexive acceptance of roles.
  • Autonomy is the result of examining and evaluating wants, needs, desires, values, roles and commitments.
    • See more: (Dworkin 1988; Frankfurt 1989; see also Dahl 1985; Elster 1983, 15-23; Mansbridge 1980, 24-25; and Warren n.d.).
  • Standard liberal-democratic theory puts high value on autonomy, but only sees it as a prepolitical capacity. This capacity is maximized by a separation between private and public life.
  • Expansive democrats see autonomy as an inherently social capacity developed through interaction with other human beings. By coming to know others as separate beings with unique capacities, problems and interests that we also share with them.
  • Ideally everyday interactions cultivate within individuals the capacity to distinguish the wants, desires and commitments that give them a coherent identity, rather than those uncritically accepted from society that may bring them unhappiness.
  • This process of self-discovery (self-creation) is not about reinforcing narrow selfishness. A narrowly selfish individual would find life entangled with others in ways they didn’t previously comprehend, and an identity dependent on commitments and responsibility to public, communities and groups they didn’t recognize.
  • Autonomy is about fostering a sense of self-understanding that makes large scale democratic governance possible- the legitimacy of these mechanisms depends on people knowing what they want. Autonomy is not simply about critical judgment in isolation from others. Participation in democratic discourse, negotiation, challenge, compromise and consensus building foster autonomy. Autonomy does not exist for its own sake.
  • Democracy should distribute power in ways that multiply public spaces.
  • Another dimension of the self-transformation thesis is that democracy has an intrinsic as well as instrumental value. Participation completes individuals by enabling them to discover and develop their public dimension. One way it does this is by providing interactions that develop capacities for autonomous judgment.
  • Jiirgen Habermas developed this dimension of the self-transformation thesis in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989) that liberal democracy requires—but is increasingly devoid of—public spheres in which opinions can be put to the test of discourse and changed, and public wills formulated. The point of democracy, in Habermas' view, is not simply to reconcile conflicting interests (as in standard liberal democracy) but to design institutions that encourage discourse, which, in turn, is necessary to identify and distinguish plural, common, and emergent interests (Habermas 1975, 108). Without the experience of argument and challenge within democratic public spheres, individuals will have little sense for what relates them to, and distinguishes them from, others; and this deprives them of an essential condition of self-development. By raising one's wants, needs, and desires to the level of consciousness and by formulating them in speech, one increases one's sense of identity and autonomy—aside from any advantages that might accrue from the substantive outcomes of collective decisions. To the extent that democracy is rooted in discourse, it produces (not just mediates) individual and public wills—an idea with roots in Tocqueville.
  • Fourth argument in self-transformation thesis that increased democracy enhances governance rather than leading to overload and breakdown of democratic process (as in the standard view). Contemporary liberal democracy lacks institutional arrangements for transformational effects, relying exclusively on adversarial mechanisms that encourage conflict.
  • Engagement will encourage changes in interest to the direction of commonality, transferring conflict to consensus. Assuming structural casues of conflict can be mitigated (inequality of wealth and power), these transformations are most likely to occur inside frameworks encouraging interaction and discussion.
    • Frank Cunningham puts it: "The values of respect and tolerance are initially learned by people seeking the same goals but differing on means, and they can then be extended to respect and tolerance for people sharing some goals but disagreeing on others. Democracy-inhibiting prejudices (racial, sexist, or national chauvinist) thrive on mutual isolation but begin to be called into question in the interaction that participation in joint projects facilitates"
  • For this reason, we expect democratic participation to transform individuals in ways that increase governance and autonomy.
  • Four dimensions of the self-transformation thesis:
    1. Our interests and capacities are not simply prepolitical but also shaped by political institutions. The selfish, apathetic, alienated, ignorant selves endemic to liberal democracies are reflections of the general limits for citizens to self-govern.
    2. Transformations of the self are important. Expansive democrats justify democracy not because it allows maximizing prepolitical wants, but because it maximizes self-governance and self-development. Liberal democrats simply want to aggregate wants, rather than foster intelligent and creative ability in people to control their own lives simply breeding consumers.
    3. Participation completes individuals by enabling them to discover and develop their public dimensions. Liberal democracy requires public spheres (yet is increasingly devoid of them) to test and change the discourse, forming public wills. Democracy is more than reconciling conflicting interests but designing institutions that encourage discourse, exposing people to argument and challenge within democratic public spheres. Individuals raise their wants, needs and desires to consciousness, forming their identity and differentiating themselves.
    4. Increased democracy improves governance by fostering transformational effects which move interests into the direction of commonality, transforming conflict into consensus. Structural inequalities of wealth and power are mostly likely to be resolved within frameworks fostering interaction and discussion. Even if individuals fail to find common interests, they are likely to learn reciprocity and failing that, learn about tolerance.
  • Democratic transformed self:
    1. Autonomous and social
    2. Individuated and defined by common interests
    3. Rational and spiritual
    4. Expressive individual and publicly oriented
  • Liberal democracy has a privatized and static conception of the self missing these dimensions.
  • We mustn’t be reactive, emphasizing missing dimensions, mirroring the standard image.
  • We must reformulate those activities and spheres of interest from which the standard image draws its strength.
  • Criticisms of the self-transformation thesis:
    1. The Oversocialized Self
      • Most widely shared reaction to privatized concept of the self, is to emphasize the inherently social character of the self.
      • Expansive democrats point out that the self is constituted by social relations, identities and supports. It develops through social relations and practices which may develop mutual interest.
      • The standard liberal view is that political actions reflect prepolitical interests.
      • Expansive democrats point out that different kinds of social practices and identities produce different definitions of interest.
      • Standard liberal democracy reinforces outcomes in which individuals are formed by hierarchical or anomic social relations.
      • If these relations were to change, replacing bureaucratic hierarchies and anomic market relations with democratic relations, self-identities would change in ways that reinforce expansions of democracy.
      • In the best cases the socialized conception of the self does not rely on an identity between the individual and the collective (as might a traditional conservative or a communitarian view). Nor does it rely on a mechanistic account of social determination such that individual capacities for autonomy become incomprehensible.
      • Oversocialisation is conflation that development of a common interest based on social interdependence provides basis for self transformation. But there are also interests that are oppressive.
      • Interests around inherently scarce goods should be mediated not transformed. Self-defining interests have potential for significant commonality where goods depend on large-scale interaction or can be provided in common.
      • Expansive democrats should assume that conflict is a constant potential in such spheres and that it is undesirable to mitigate these conflicts except through impersonal mechanisms.
    2. The Overly Discursive Self
      • A related but distinct innovation in expansive democracy is the notion that the self is discursively constituted. If the self is discursively constituted, then the linguistic medium of politics has transformative potentials that do not show up in standard liberal- democratic theory.
      • Consistent with its origins in the Enlightenment, the standard approach places a heavy burden on language by viewing argument as a substitute for power in collective decision making. But it also views language in instrumental terms: at most, language can express prepolitical interests and facilitate discoveries of prepolitical commonalities.
      • Because the standard view does not see language as having constitutive features, it cannot understand how language might create new interests through its many roles in constituting the self.
      • In contrast, expansive democrats often argue that language serves not only the instrumental functions recognized in standard liberal democracy but also serves to explore mutuality, secure noncognitive relations of affection and affiliation, differentiate and maintain individual autonomy, express self-identity, and reformulate interests.
      • Each function suggests that language has transformative capacities rooted in its pervasive role in translating internal desires into consciousness and consciousness into something that can be communicated to others.
      • Self is discursively constructed. Self identity is forged in the medium of language doesn’t mean self is reduced to what we can articulate linguistically as identity.
      • Freud’s insight was that every self-articulated identity leaves a residue. There’s always a dislocation between self made of desires and strivings, and the articulate self formed by roles offered by a prevailing discourse with associated power relations (citizen, soldier, patriot, mother, boyfriend, caretaker, worker, boss), together with everyday rules of social interaction.
      • But discourse is also bounded by, and partly dependent for its meaning upon, nondiscursive relations to the world and incommunicable inner strivings. Just for this reason we should not expect that the intersubjective qualities of language will, by themselves, constitute selves that are possessed of generalizable interests. Language does not have these powers; and that is why a theory of discourse is not a theory of self-transformation.
      • Discursive dimensions of politics only provide a medium for self-transformation if there are the pressures, interests, motives or strivings in that direction.
    3. The Underpluralized Self
      • Markets are important because they allow alternative ways of solving problems.
      • We need to sort through differences, locating associated values, identify when they are antagonistic and generate an account of the self that relates interests to commonality and plurality.
  • By conceiving the self as a collection of interests, we imply that the self is politically competent. We say the self should be able to identify and communicate its needs and wants.
  • The idea that humans have interests, also is related to the concept that humans have an interest in autonomy.
  • Recognizing that needs and preferences diverge, preferences are formed externally which diminishes autonomy. A theory of democracy should be oriented towards creating institutional environments that foster the self-examination of preferences, that bring them closer to needs.
  • One might even say that the concept of interests, when elaborated, includes the democratic problematic of self-transformation in the direction of enlightened political competence and autonomy.
  • The self as a locus of interests, means locating the self in a structural context of conflict and consensus.
  • An interest is nonspecific until matched to a good, “I have an interest in X.” When these goods relate to or depend on other humans (as most do) then the interest has a potentially political nature. This allows us to formulate questions about commonality and conflict by looking at the differing characteristics of these goods.
  • Interests refer to a complex of relations which the self defines itself by holding in view these goods.
  • Conceiving the self as a locus of interests allows to view self from the perspective of conflict and consensus but as all theories of the self it fails to account for certain problematics such as individuals who seek to satisfy nonconflicting social interests by pursuing conflicting goods (e.g. someone who seeks social recognitions and acceptance by buying exclusive cars).
  • It cannot provide an account of either how such a personality might come into being or how it could be transformed. It can only politically significant highlight spheres of transformational possibilities. For these other tasks, complementary theories of the self are necessary- accounts based on other problematics such as welfare, therapy, communication and morality.
  • These problematics require theories of needs, personality, discourse and moral identity.
  • Will make 4 general assumptions of the self that require their own theory complementary to the account of the self as a locus of interests.
  • The point of expansive theories of democracy is to recommend institutional arrangements under which individuals develop control over their own articulation of needs (autonomy).
    1. Any articulation of interest is likely to imperfectly coincide or even conflict with what an individual needs for a satisfactory life.
    2. Interests maintain self-identity ordered to produce a functioning personality. The most possibilities for self-transformation emerges from self-identities that attach nonconflicting needs (e.g. membership or recognition) to conflicting goods (membership in the family of prestige car owners).
    3. Self-identity is in part a function of linguistic and symbolic identity since interests themselves are defined by the media they’re communicated in.
    4. A description of the self in terms of interests can be redefined in moral terms. This is because self-identity includes ideal representations of the self to the self, anchoring people’s conception of their interests in a moral representation of who they would like to be.
  • Account of the self in terms of interests requires complementary theories of needs, personality, language and moral identity.
  • Nonexcludable goods are supplied to everyone (roads, parks, national security, aesthetic public spaces, clean air). These goods require collective action for provision. In most cases they require cooperation to be provided. Democratic theory ought to look to arenas defined by nonexcludable goods for transformations of the self, since in pursuing these goods individuals may discover or create common interests.
  • Symbolic goods include recognition, self-identity and symbolic resources (language, culture, lifestyle). They more readily provide for the emergence of common interests because their value depends upon broad sharing.
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  • Social identity above is nonscarce and nonconflicting, its value depends on social interaction and recognition, and achieving the good requires common deliberation and action. The three yeses of social identity goods indicate that this is a promising area for self-transformation. It indicates that a democracy might encourage transformations of the self based on these goods without threatening autonomy.
  • “[material, scare goods] are, of course, the home domain of standard liberal democracy.” Attempting to transform scarce goods into the arena of commonality may become oppressive and self sacrificial.
  • We should have a recognition of allocative problems, a recognition resulting in distributional mechanisms that operate according to generally agreed upon principles.
  • These goods which are good, scarce are the home to standard liberal democracy. But even here the standard approach is inadequate.
  • First become it generalizes this allocative model of politics based on an assimilation of all interests to individual material interests.
  • The standard approach is unable to appreciate situations in which a community might choose to serve common social interests. They fall outside the framework.
    • For example individuals view the poverty of others as inconsistent with their view of a positive society, and agreeing to a method of allocation such as modifying the workings of markets through the tax structure.
  • These sentiments develop because we are partly defined by common, social interests.
  • Second, the standard approach is unable to identify situations where individuals attempt to satisfy nonconflicting interests through conflictual goods. These are situations where the self transformation these is entirely appropriate.
    • When two working parents compensate for their absence to their children by bringing them home gifts.
    • They introduce a scarcity of interpersonal goods, replacing these with individual material goods.
    • Their children may later seek love and recognition through individual material goods, a confusion that reduces their autonomy and satisfaction.
    • This confusion increases potential for conflict because of the scarcity of goods they seek but also the lack of satisfaction will likely produce resentment that fuels politics of scapegoating.
  • We can define consumer culture as a set of social structures, institutions and interpretations that displaces desire for nonconflictual nonscarce goods onto individual scare material goods.
  • Democracy can help us navigate between individual material goods and social goods which have been forced into the individual material arena. Expanded democracy might transform individual material interests in common directions while developing selves that are autonomous and diverse possibilities for satisfaction.
  • Parents working for material goods, lack of time with their children, children seek interpersonal satisfaction elsewhere such as politics. Unsatisfied interpersonal interests may be displaced into arenas with conflictual properties or even into politics itself. With politics, membership in nation, ethnic group or movement may vicariously substitute for scarce interpersonal relations, leading to frustration since the good is irreducible to the interest. Which would indicate reduced autonomy for individuals contribute to conflictual politics of scapegoating, racism and resentment.
  • Arrange goods where don’t exclude people on account of race. The transformational impact of expanded democracy in such cases will depend on how conflictual arenas of interest are arranged.
  • Adversarial institutions with limited democracy: they encourage political entrepreneurs to create regional, racial, ethnic, religious, and nationalist constituencies, producing conflicts where there may have been only differences
  • Public material goods while they do not depend on commonality for their value, they depend on common action and when combined with expansive democracy, allow people to discover other nonconflictual goods from the realm of deliberation and activity that public goods require.
  • Commonality can coexist with pluralism, however, only where institutions are appropriate to the kinds of interest they mediate and express. Finally, autonomy and self-development are increased by institutions that take into account the characteristics of each kind of interest as it relates to the self.