Abstract: The interrogation of a possible connection between degrowth and democracy inspires some questions of political epistemology. Is degrowth a socio-economic project which can be simply proposed as an “issue” and a “goal” in the democratic representative system, without discussing forms and processes of the political institutions themselves? Is the degrowth perspective fully compatible with the democratic theories and practices as we currently know them?
The perspective of degrowth allows a radical enlightenment of the blind spots of “really existing” democracies but also of the democratic theory. From a factual point of view, we need to acknowledge the existence of an historical connection between economic and political freedoms, since the claim for the autonomy of business has historically been a way to guarantee freedoms and civil rights to citizens, against the tyranny of the central political and religious authorities. Nevertheless, in the current configuration of market societies, the centre of the real power has largely moved from the political and institutional sphere to the economic one. Today the re-foundation of a democratic freedom and of new civil rights should be affirmed against a more and more pervasive economic tyranny. On this basis, a democratic re-foundation in the perspective of degrowth – which includes ecological, social and anthropological challenges – might be imagined.
The second part of this paper will be devoted to the formulation of hypotheses about which foundations might be imagined for a radical reform of the democratic theory and institutions, building on degrowth perspective. From the point of view of the political system, degrowth represents a new “cleavage” if confronted with the historical ones on which classical democracies have been structured. From the point of view of the political organization, degrowth clashes with the traditional competitive electoral models; so I will illustrate some perspectives for a possible reconstruction. From the point of view of a theoretical and institutional re-foundation of democratic regimes, degrowth calls for a philosophical acknowledgement of ecological and social limits, in terms of the institution of a new socio-environmental public sphere which can lead to new constituent processes and to the invention of new deliberative arenas, accordingly introducing different space and time criteria, if compared to the ones we are used to.
Futures, Volume 44, Issue 6, August 2012, Pages 553–561, Special Issue: Politics, Democracy and Degrowth