The Democratic Horizon: Discussion with Author Alessandro Ferrara

Alessandro Ferrara presenting his book

Alessandro Ferrara presenting his book

On Monday, March 14, The Guarini Institute for Public Affairs, along with the JCU Think! Philosophy Club and the Department of History and Humanities, hosted a panel discussion on Alessandro Ferrara’s book The Democratic Horizon.

Ferrara, Professor of Political Philosophy at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata,” was joined by JCU Professor Tom Bailey, Professor of Political Science Richard Bellamy from University College London, and Professor Lars Rensmann from the University of Groningen.

Professor Ferrara opened the discussion by presenting his book, The Democratic Horizon. He called the book “a tribute to American moral and political philosopher John Rawls,” and explained his reasons for expanding Rawls’ theories, and continued by analyzing the challenges posed to democracy by “hyperpluralism.” Ferrara also mentioned how “for many people, democracy is no longer one type of regime: but rather the right form of government.” However, he continued, where democracy is already established it has evolved into a form of “elective oligarchy.” All the while, new challenges are rising: mass immigration, media distortions, capitalism, and the generalization of societal time. These new challenges, Ferrara said, are issues that can be tackled with political neoliberalism. Specifically, Ferrara suggested that a principle of duality is to be applied: consent of the governed should be sought only on the highest level of decision-making, while simply respecting constitutional guidelines is enough at lower tiers.

Professor Richard Bellamy agreed with the author that hyperpluralism is a challenge that democracy struggles with, and that there should be a new system set in place with less restriction allowing for a more fluid and adaptable response. Bellamy argued that contemporary democracy tries to offer political equality, but at the same time it creates an environment in which we must be partial and censor our personal opinion. “Democracy is a way of having legitimate decisions in a context in which we are all partial to our own point of views,” Bellamy said. He closed by praising the EU for being an inter-governmental bureaucracy system which should set an example for the rest of the world.

Professor Lars Rensmann agreed with Ferrara’s description of the problems of democracy. Moreover, he said that society should have the ability to question and correct democracy when, as any system, it shows problems. However, Rensmann disagreed with Ferrara’s proposed solution to the problems of democracy. In fact, he claimed that adopting reflexive pluralism, as Ferrara proposed, reinforces the problems, rather than fixing them.

During the Q&A following the discussion, Professor Ferrara also gave a definition of democracy and oppression. “Democracy is being the author of the rules one obeys; oppression is being forced to obey rules one has not created,” Ferrara said.