The IAPSS Annual Theme is what can one see as a ‘red thread’ running throughout the year, around which our events and publications are centred. This manifests itself in a number of ways, such as the main focus of study trips, the theme of the IAPSS World Congress and several publications.
Democracy, Identity, and Power
Democracy, identity and power, concepts that behind the “veil of abstraction” enhanced by innumerable studies addressing them, are cornerstones for understanding contemporary politics and international relations. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy or more pointedly, liberal democracy has produced a domino effect, waxing and expanding across the planet at a nimble rate, becoming the chief system of government adopted by states. At the beginning of the third millennium the widely-known political scientist Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the so called “victory of liberal democracy”, as most governments around the world started to uphold fundamental rights, more individuals were able to freely cast their votes, and civil society commenced to engage in dialogue with political actors.
However, in the last five years liberal democracy has been gradually shattering by the thus termed “identity politics”. The massive waves of migration that reached Europe starting from 2015 raised a big challenge to the concept of national identity, propitiating the upsurge of populist and extreme nationalist movements. Moreover, the accentuating economic and social gap caused by globalization, the abuses of the “established elites”, among other phenomenon, have fuelled even more the populist discourse, challenging the traditional understanding of democracy, its practice and theory.
At the same time, identity is constructed according to the interests of power, which consequently propels itself by the cohesion of people’s collective identification. Today, due to the mercurial spreading of “identity politics”, the primacy of rules (based primarily on reason) as the prime source of authority is eroding, and observers witness the empowerment of Max Weber’s two alternative sources of rule: traditions (frequently, although not always directed against progress and development) and charisma (cantered around political leaders who may or may not feel bound by laws or traditions). But how can democracy survive in this complex and volatile scenario? If identity politics is polarising democratic societies to the point of no return, what is the way out? What are the consequences for governance of the shift from the primacy of rules to alternative sources of authority?
Justice is a fundamental value for individuals and societies around the globe. However, the understandings of just and unjust conduct may vary significantly depending on a range of factors, including historical traditions and embeddedness, ideological preferences or regime types of the respective political community. While justice is very frequently associated with courts as one of the branches of the classical conception of separation of powers, developed by the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu and his successors, other political institutions and actors play an at least equally important role in shaping individual and societal perceptions of justice. Moreover, in some political communities, justice that is aimed to be achieved through judicial systems in modern democracies is not generally accepted and other forms of ‘everyday’ justice are much more common.
Diversity and Globalization
We live in a diverse and increasingly globalized world. Its complexities have become evident not least during several major political changes in the last few years. For example, after the breakdown of the bipolar world and the short period of predominance of the United States in international relations, the world order has become much more fluid and dynamic. Several unstable regions and relationships between states and other international actors initiate questions on the transformation of the so-called Westphalian model. New conflicts appear to be on the rise, including in wholly new environment, such as the cyberspace, while in Europe but also in other regions throughout the world debates are ongoing on deeper integration versus differentiation or even breakdown of existing integration mechanisms.
The Meaning of Politics
In contemporary world, the word ‘politics’ and its variations are virtually everywhere. Less frequently, however, the meaning of the term in different contexts and settings is analyzed and tried to be understood. Far more than an academic endeavor, which is itself of core importance for developing new and creative models of human interactions, the meaning of politics shapes our view of core elements of contemporary society, such as regimes, institutions, actors, conflicts, human rights or governance. A range of theoretical and methodological approaches can be used to design innovative research that helps us understand what politics really means.
Democracy is a type of government that has been with us for more than two millennia. Only in the last century, however, it spread over all continents and became the standard against which all governments in the world are measured. What is this standard, however? Is liberal democracy really the model that fits all countries and nations? Should we be satisfied with the current status and stop trying to improve on it? Many political philosophers and social thinkers believe that there are better alternatives how to govern the society – that there are models bolstering more the economic development, more protective of the environment or better in utilizing the potential of human intellect.
Democracy is today challenged by its critics and by its own flaws. There is inequality in wealth distribution, conflicts over natural resources, or the rise of extremist movements. Can the critics of democracy be silenced and the flaws remedied?
Conflict, Security & Cooperation
Any relationship, be it a personal one, or the relationship between groups of people, or countries, knows times of conflict and times of cooperation. Indeed, these times are not even so easily distinguishable – cooperation may be rich, cordial and fruitful, but also restrained, cautious, and profitless. Conflicts, on the other hand, may be harsh and violent, but also moderate and perfunctory. There is a large grey area in between. Conflicts and cooperation are the everyday bread of actors on every level of politics, in municipal councils, national assemblies or in a non-institutionalized environment, on the ground of a battlefield. Political science researches the dynamics of relationships between all political actors in cooperative as well as conflictual states.
From local protesters demanding the protection of their green space, through the passing of a new pension reform bill in the parliament, to the proclamation of a new country, political practitioners and researchers always face the same question: when is it more profitable to cooperate, and when to enter into a conflict with the other side? What should we do to secure our interests against external threats? Is violence the inevitable result of all conflicts, or are there measures how to prevent it?
Limits to Global Governance
With the technological advances that the 21st century has already seen and will see, the world has set out on a path towards full globalisation of economic and social processes. Politics does not lag behind these processes and governmental institutions of traditional nation-states make way for institutions of a transnational, globalised character. The institutions of global governance, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the International Criminal Court, have already been given substantial powers by which they can influence world politics.
Where are the limits of these powers? Are there any inherent limitations to global governance, we should recognise? Or should the process towards one-world government 0be directed towards a future, where all important national institutions will eventually be replaced by global institutions, universal to all people?