Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory



Capitalism and Democracy – Debating various dimensions and variations of an uneasy Marriage

Seminar: Wolfgang Merkel in dialogue with CAS SEE Fellows

As Wolfgang Merkel argues democracy and capitalism are two highly contested models following different logics: “Unequally distributed property rights on the one hand, equal civic and political rights on the other; profit-oriented trade within capitalism in contrast to the search for the common good within democracy; debate, compromise and majority decision-making within democratic politics versus hierarchical decision-making by managers and capital owners.” (Merkel 2014) Recently, a debate about the compatibility of capitalism and democracy and respective tensions as well as a flourishing marriage between global capitalism and authoritarianism is on rise. Wolfgang Merkel is taking part in the debate and co-shaping it, while CAS SEE and its Fellows are engaged in thinking about various aspects of the relationship between capitalism and democracy. The Seminar will engage in an intensive interdisciplinary exchange about various dimensions and variations of the above-described uneasy marriage.


Political Authority and Autonomy

Seminar: Maeve Cooke

In contemporary political theory there is a remarkable readiness to adopt a Hobbesian view of liberty as the absence of impediment as the normative basis for theorizing about politics. This normative starting point goes hand-in-hand with a Hobbesian view of political authority, according to which loss of liberty is the price paid for accepting the obligations authority imposes, even when this is done willingly in the interests of peace and self-conservation. I seek to challenge such a view of political authority; furthermore, to show that it is not confined to those who explicitly endorse a Hobbesian position, but is rather the logical implication of the view of subjectivity underpinning Hobbes’ conception.

Against those who subscribe to the Hobbesian view of political authority, I endorse Hannah Arendt’s view that authority is conceptually connected with freedom. Taking seriously this conceptual connection allows for important distinctions between authority and domination and casts light on the relationship between authority and authoritarianism. But what exactly is the nature of the conceptual connection that Arendt asserts? My answer diverges from Arendt, who speaks of subjects retaining their freedom. Instead, I conceive of the relationship between authority and individual freedom as mutually constitutive: authority engenders freedom and vice-versa. In the first part of the paper, I make a connection between the Hobbesian view of political authority and a view of subjectivity I find problematic. In the second part I present the main elements of a re-articulated conception of individual autonomy, as the core of a reconceptualised idea of individual freedom. In the third part, using Habermas’ writings on law and democracy as a point of reference, I confront the question of the mutually constitutive relationship between political authority and autonomy.