Radical democracy

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The term radical democracy or radical democracy (from the Latin radix = concerning the root and democracy ) denotes models of democracy or theories of democracy that exclusively recognize the sovereignty of the people as the basis and both natural law and the influences of third parties through economic power or unauthorized institutions such. B. reject the financial markets as well as the lack of alternatives .

Systems of oligarchy , plutocracy and technocracy can be used as counter- terms .

Central idea providers for the idea of ​​a radical democracy are u. a. the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his work Contrat Social , the German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt , the Greco-French philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis , the Argentine political theorist Ernesto Laclau and the Belgian political scientist Chantal Mouffe .

The exact form of the political structures differs greatly depending on the radical democratic model: The spectrum ranges from the "rule of laws and no longer of people" to direct and council democratic approaches to the abolition of all "institutions that cannot be democratized". Since the outbreak of the global financial crisis in 2007 , the term has again experienced a stronger reception within the social sciences and in the discourse of post-Marxism and the political. "One of the main concerns of the discourse of radical democracy could be the defense of 'the political', understood as the force of the collective self-institution of a society, against 'politics', understood as the administration of the community within established parameters."

Comprehensive democratization

The idea of ​​radical democracy is primarily about the democratization of all social conditions, i. H. about overcoming authoritarian and hierarchical structures that are a prerequisite for the self-determined shaping of all living conditions of each individual. Because crucial areas are beyond democratic control (such as the economy ) or are organized in an authoritarian manner (such as the education system ), radical democrats criticize the undemocratic character of this society and advocate change. The main focus here is on the emancipation of the individual and social relationships that enable comprehensive self-determination . Liberation of the individual from domination and oppression and the creation of an emancipatory society are inextricably linked in radical democracy.

Freedom and participation

The starting point of radical democracy is the positive reference to freedom . Freedom, however, cannot only be understood as formal freedom. Freedom encompasses more than just legally allowed opportunities to exercise rights. Freedom means "being free" from all imperial constraints and violent relationships.

Radical democracy is a form of rule, no matter how it is turned. Radical democracy is therefore to be understood as a process that tries to give the different interests of people a form in which they resolve the conflicts that necessarily arise because of their different interests. Radical democracy differs from bourgeois ideas of democracy in many ways. Radical democratic procedures imply that, in contrast to bourgeois democracy, not only everyone has formally the same opportunities for participation (“one man, one vote”), but also the same opportunities to get involved in decision-making processes. Capitalist conditions, in which economic power becomes political power, therefore contradict radical democratic ideas.

Social conditions

Radical democracy is first of all a process in which people can resolve their conflicts of interest. A radical democratic process also implies the same opportunities to get involved in decision-making processes. This is where a radical democratic process differs from a bourgeois democratic process.

The concept of radical democracy, however, implies more than just a procedure, as in a social condition in which people themselves have become masters of their conditions - in which the commodity form of their production process is no longer independent through people, i.e. people are no longer objects , but rather are the subject of human history, i.e. they have come to themselves - decisions are made. The concept of radical democracy also includes a strategy for how this can be achieved.

This strategy includes - derived from the goal of individual freedom and the resulting radical democratic procedure - that radical democracy not only limits the freedom of the individual, but is also a necessary prerequisite. Whoever strives for the freedom of the individual wants to push back all areas in which there are currently dominant conditions. This also results in the need to radically democratize all areas that have hitherto been withdrawn from democratic processes, i.e. the need to support wage workers and the disadvantaged of all kinds, to abolish lordly power structures in which the responsibility and power of the individual are to the chagrin of the Majority “undemocratic” concentrated.

Origin of the history of ideas

In terms of the history of ideas , radical democracy takes up the elements of various existing political views and utopias , especially from those parts of the political spectrum that stand in the tradition of the Enlightenment . Radical democratic ideas can traditionally be found on the one hand in many varieties of left politics, in particular in socialism , communism (especially council communism ) as well as in anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism . But the bourgeois tradition is also included in the radical democracy's idea of freedom, in particular liberalism , which is linked to the bourgeois idea of ​​a responsible and autonomous political subject , as it was philosophically and politically designed by Immanuel Kant or Jean-Jacques Rousseau . The idea of ​​democratic self-government goes back to the Greek polis .

In addition to the political currents mentioned, communitarianism is also close to radical democracy at the present time. Aspects of radical democratization can also be found in related concepts such as direct democracy , grassroots democracy , council democracy or participatory democracy .


Supporters of representative democracy consider radical democracy to be too extreme an interpretation of the idea of ​​democracy, which in favor of a general will based on the concept of the masses could potentially lead to a violation or even abolition of the individual rights of the individual. They consider rule alone or mainly through referendums to be dangerous because, in their opinion, this could lead to populism and, in the worst case, to a dictatorial "rule of the mob " ( ochlokratie ) or charismatic popular leaders authorized by it, or at least to a restriction of private ones Sphere in favor of the public. Instead of a radical democratic identity model of rule, they in principle prefer a delegation model (according to Joseph Schumpeter , for example ) that does not see the main problem in the exercise of political power by a few, but in their control through the option of voting out and courts .

In the opinion of representatives of radical democracy, they thus show anti-democratic thinking, since they considered people to be incapable of making sensible decisions, and thus undermine any emancipatory approach from the outset and consider their elite elites to be infallible. Radical democrats consider populism to be possible in this context also in representative democracy (“rule of representatives”); Supporters of representative democracy do not contradict this, but consider it less likely and more limited in its possibilities.

Liberal opponents criticize radical democracy, which - as mentioned above - often also demands a “democratization” of non-political areas of society (culture, economy, school, etc.) that one type of rule does not mean less rule if it is by many practiced against a few; Radical democracy is dangerous insofar as it introduces rule into previously domination-free or at least particular spaces that are to be assigned to the private sphere of the citizens, and thus abolishes their individual freedom of action (s). Behind this is the question of whether a democracy is only really democratic if all areas of life are a matter for the public, or whether the possibility of acting privately or socially beyond the political “democratic” public should not be the basis for a democracy.

Critics also consider radical democracy to be practically hardly feasible in anonymous modern mass societies, unlike in Greek city-states or small Swiss cantons . Radical democrats point out, however, that radical democracy has not yet been tested in modern nation states.


  • Aristotelis Agridopoulos and Paul Sörensen (eds.): Imagination - Autonomy - Radical Democracy: Cornelius Castoriadis' political thinking (special issue ), in: kultuRRevolution. Journal for Applied Discourse Theory , No. 71, 02/2016.
  • Alain Badiou : Is politics possible? Merve, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-88396-265-8 .
  • Thomas Bedorf and Kurt Röttgers (eds.): The political and the political . Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-518-29557-1 .
  • Martin Breaugh, Christopher Holman, Rachel Magnusson et al. (Ed.): Thinking Radical Democracy: The Return to Politics in Post-War France . University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2015, ISBN 978-1442650046 .
  • Ulrich Bröckling and Robert Feustel (eds.): Thinking about politics. Contemporary positions . Transcript, Bielefeld, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8376-1160-1 .
  • Cornelius Castoriadis : Democracy as a procedure and democracy as a system as well as this: Which democracy? , in other words: Autonomie oder Barbarei , Lich / Hessen: Edition AV 2006, ISBN 3-936049-67-X .
  • Dagmar Comtesse, Oliver Flügel-Martinsen, Franziska Martinsen and Martin Nonhoff (eds.): Radical Democracy Theory. A manual. Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2019. ISBN 978-3-518-29848-0 .
  • Oliver wing-Martinsen: questioning the political. Subject constitution - social order - radical democracy . Springer VS,: Wiesbaden 2016, ISBN 978-3-658-13733-5 .
  • Oliver wing, Reinhard Heil and Andreas Hetzel (Hrsg.): The return of the political. Democracy Theories Today. Scientific Book Society: Darmstadt, 2004. ISBN 3-534-17435-6 .
  • Takis Fotopoulos : Comprehensive Democracy. The answer to the growth and market economy , Grafenau: Nevertheless 2003, ISBN 3-931786-23-4 .
  • Uwe Hebekus and Jan Völker: Introduction to New Philosophies of the Political . Junius, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 9783885066637 .
  • Reinhard Heil, Andreas Hetzel (ed.): The endless task. Critique and Perspectives of Democratic Theory . Transcript, Bielefeld 2006, ISBN 978-3-89942-332-7 -
  • Michael Hirsch, Rüdiger Voigt : (Ed.) State, politics, democracy and law in modern French thought. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-515-09308-8 .
  • Ernesto Laclau , Chantal Mouffe : Hegemony and Radical Democracy. On the deconstruction of Marxism (1985), Vienna: Passagen Verlag 2000 (2nd edition), ISBN 3-85165-453-6 .
  • Ernesto Laclau: Emancipation and Difference , Vienna: Turia + Kant 2002, ISBN 3-85132-244-4 .
  • Oliver Marchart : The political difference. On the thinking of the political with Jean-Luc Nancy, Claude Lefort, Alain Badiou, Ernesto Laclau and Giorgio Agamben Suhrkamp, ​​Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-518-29556-4 .
  • Ingeborg Maus : To clarify the democratic theory. Legal and democratic theoretical considerations following Kant , ISBN 3-518-58130-9 .
  • Chantal Mouffe: On the political - Against the cosmopolitan illusion. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2007, ISBN 978-3-518-12483-3 .
  • Martin Nonhoff: Discourse - Radical Democracy - Hegemony: On the Political Thought of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Transcript, Bielefeld 2007, ISBN 978-3899424942 .
  • Jacques Rancière : The disagreement. Politics and philosophy. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 2002, ISBN 978-3-518-29188-7 .
  • Helge Schwiertz: Migration and Radical Democracy . Political self-organization of young migrants in Germany and the USA . Transcript, Bielefeld 2019, ISBN 978-3-837-64832-4 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Jens Thudichum, Formulating Criticism and Utopia with Radical Democracy Theory ( Memento of the original from March 27, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.sternezumtanzenendung.jdjl.org
  2. so the self-portrayal of the North Rhine-Westphalian Young Democrats / Young Left
  3. See Breaugh 2015, Bröckling / Feustel 2010, Bedorf / Röttgers 2010, Flügel-Martinsen 2017, Hirsch / Voigt 2009, Marchart 2010.
  4. Heil / Hetzel 2006, p. 9.
  5. Ulf Bohmann, Barbara Muraca: Democratic Transformation as Transformation of Democracy: Post Growth and Radical Democracy . In: AK post growth (ed.): Growth - Crisis and Criticism . Campus, Frankfurt 2016, ISBN 978-3-593-43471-1 , p. 289-311 .