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Abstract: The present paper attempts to reveal the relationships between some long-run systemic processes (on the economic, ecological, social and symbolic levels) and the theme of democracy. Starting from the distinction between democracy and autonomy, the paper focusses on its main issue: the trade-off between growth and autonomy. Continual growth can be produced, and indeed has been produced throughout history, only if accompanied by a loss of autonomy, even, beyond a certain scale threshold, to the detriment of representative democracy. While this conflict has never been rejected by political theorists, it has, in actual fact, been removed from all political debate.
The second part of the paper seeks to individuate some of the long-run basic dynamics that characterise the global system: the analysis starts from the growth/accumulation/innovation process which characterized industrial capitalism, first, and financial capitalism, later, pointing out its self-pursuing, multi-scale, emergent nature with its main consequences for both ecological and social sustainability. The outcome of these processes, such as the loss of well-being, the increasing social and ecological costs and the growing fragmentation of the collective imaginary, in the long run leads the global system towards a condition of non equilibrium, from which either scenarios of greater autonomy or fatal risks for democracy itself, may emerge.

Futures, Volume 44, Issue 6, August 2012, Pages 524–534, Special Issue: Politics, Democracy and Degrowth