A paper accepted to Seventh Meeting on Ethics and Political Philosophy

A paper accepted to Seventh Meeting on Ethics and Political Philosophy

Milán Pap's paper (Neo-Hobbesian democracy?: the theory of modus vivendi and democratic legitimacy) was accepted to Seventh Meeting on Ethics and Political Philosophy (BMEPPVII), University of Minho, Braga, Portugal, June 15-16.

Congratulations, Milán!


Neo-Hobbesian democracy?: the theory of modus vivendi and democratic legitimacy

In political theory, the criticism of Rawlsian constructivist liberalism has been articulated in theories of political realism. John Gray, one of the promoters of realist liberalism, recommends a neo-Hobbesian way of social coexistence which is based on the conflictual and antagonistic idea of political life. It takes social values and forms of life as incommensurable in modern multicultural societies. Taking value-pluralism and its conflicts seriously, a theory of modus vivendi has been articulated among realist political thinkers.  Being a post-liberal (or post-Enlightenment) theory, modus vivendi is more a practice oriented and open-ended theory than philosophical constructions based on high morality. Nevertheless, as Gray writes, modus vivendi is not the theory of “anything goes” and it is necessary to have a solid theoretical foundation. Modus vivendi theorists as David McCabe, Glen Newey, John Horton and others make an emphasis on the peaceful co-existence of social groups and a moral minimum of the political society. In this sense, modus vivendi theories are less ambitious than contemporary constructivist (Rawls) or perfectionist liberalisms (Raz). At the same time, the basis of legitimacy in modus vivendi theories seems to be too weak, since it is justified on secondary political values, as social peace, political order and the absence of fear (Skhlar).

One of the deficiency of the theory is that it says not much about democracy. Nowadays, similar to the interwar and post-war years, democracy need protection against various forms of anti-democratic extremism. Populist movements and religious-political groups are up against the culture and ideology of liberal democracies in Western societies. Though, unlike the abovementioned historical periods democracy exists among altered circumstances. On the one hand, a modern political system would be impossible or outrageous without any form of democratic legitimacy. On the other hand, there is an exhaustion of the liberal project(s) and the societies featured by multicultural prosperity. Besides constitutional protection, defending democracy in this new context means balancing between cultural and other value-oriented groups in modern societies. Balancing would mean proactive and reactive manners of state actions, irrespectively, and requests a new definition of democracy and democratic ideas.

Has democracy only an instrumental role, say in the way of representing values of different communities? Will democracy leave behind its ‘exaggerated formalism’, as Karl Loewenstein, the theorist of militant democracy, put it, in the context of modus vivendi intentions?  Or, can democracy or democratic ideas have coercive force in the conflicts of cultural communities, that is forming the foundation of modus vivendi?

In my paper, I make an attempt to examine the concept of democracy in the light of modus vivendi theory, confronting the latter with its critiques as well.


Keywords: political realism, pluralism, democracy, legitimacy, moral balancing