Compromise and Representation – University of Copenhagen

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Compromise and Representation

Eric Beerbohm (Harvard University)
Sofia Näsström (Uppsala University)
Simon May (Florida State University)
Melissa Schwartzberg (New York University)

Anders Berg-Sørensen (University of Copenhagen)
Patrick Overeem (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) 
Dominique Leydet (Université du Québec à Montréal) 
Andrew Schaap (University of Exeter) 
Christian F. Rostbøll (University of Copenhagen) 
Acar Kutay (University of Copenhagen) 
Élise Rouméas (University of Oxford) 
Sandrine Baume (University of Lausanne)
Loren King (Wilfrid Laurier University) 
Daniel Weinstock (McGill University)
Enrico Biale (University of Piemonte Orientale) 
Shany Mor (Bard College)
Gustavo Hessmann Dalaqua (University of São Paulo)
Nenad Stojanović (University of Lucerne)
Ronald Van Crombrugge (University of Leuven)

We live in times that are haunted by profound disagreements over what counts as democratic politics. Some people believe that democracy does not deliver on its promise to give "the power to the people." But what some regard as giving the power back to the people and taking back control, others regard as undermining the fundamental principles of democracy. How can we, as political theorists and philosophers, make sense of these disagreements? How do we combine the necessity and value of representation and compromise with fundamental democratic principles of equality and freedom?

The classical idea of democracy is that all political power emanates from "the people". However, in actually existing democracies, the people do not rule themselves directly but, rather, indirectly by electing representatives who, in turn, rule the people. Moreover, the people never appear as a unity, nor do they speak in one voice. The only way in which they can reach agreement, it seems, is by making compromises. But compromises are not easy to reach without parties that organize the people and their representatives in different groups. Thus, in actual democratic politics, the simple idea of popular sovereignty is translated into a complex structure of partisanship, party organization, representation and compromise formation. But the complexity of contemporary democracies does not stop here: representation and compromise formation are not regarded as sufficient guarantees for generating legitimate outcomes. In constitutional democracies, there are limits imposed on what can be decided by majorities and through political compromise. The question is how, if at all, the complex procedures of actually existing democracies – representative, partisan, and constitutional democracies – connect to the simple idea of rule by the people. Is it time to reformulate our democratic ideals to better fit actual politics? Or must we reform our institutions in order better to realize our ideals?    

We invite papers addressing any of the issues raised above. We welcome papers that discuss general theoretical or philosophical problems as well as papers with a more practical political focus. Suggested topics for papers include:

  • If we regard compromise as central to democratic politics, how does this affect how we understand popular sovereignty?
  • To what extent can compromises contribute to the ideal that citizens can be said jointly to decide what ought to be done and thus rule themselves? 
  • What does democratic representation mean today?
  • What is the role and value of partisanship in representative democracy?
  • What is the connection between partisanship, party organization, and compromise?
  • To what extent are referendums valuable supplements to representative institutions, and how do they relate to the practice and value of compromise in politics?
  • What are the limits of compromise?
  • Can citizens' initiatives and/or digitalized forms of representation improve democracy?

The programme can be found here.

Participation without paper is open to all. Please register by sending an email to no later than November 30th. Please also write which day(s) you will participate and if you would like lunch. 

Christian F. Rostbøll, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen