Guest Lecture in Philosophy

Dr. Dannica Fleuß, Helmut Schmidt University (Hamburg, Germany), gave a lecture on Political Theory, on January 21st, 2021.

Dr Dannica Fleuß is a postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer in political theory at Helmut Schmidt University (Hamburg, Germany) and a research associate at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance (University of Canberra, Australia). She is also a co-convenor of the British Political Studies Association's Participatory and Deliberative Democracy Specialist Group.

Dr. Fleuß holds an M.A. in Philosophy and political science and a Ph.D. in political science from Heidelberg University. From 2014 until 2017, she worked as a lecturer at the departments of political science and philosophy at Heidelberg University. Her research focuses on theories of democratic legitimacy, philosophy of science, and measurements of deliberation. Her forthcoming book Radical Proceduralism: Democracy from Philosophical Principles to Political Institutions (Emerald, UK) proposes a theory of political legitimacy and explores the role of political theorists in democratic societies.

Abstract of the Talk 

Democracies’ political legitimacy crucially depends on their acknowledgment of all individuals’ equal autonomy: policies and principles are legitimate if and only if they result from inclusive democratic procedures. This means that all members of a community have equal rights to determine their collective course of action.

This lecture critically assesses what this ‘normative core’ of democratic political legitimacy means for the role of political philosophers or theorists. It departs from two fundamental premises: (1) In the circumstances that characterize democratic politics in pluralistic societies, there are no universally valid ‘political truths’ or action-guidelines that could be deduced from a ‘philosopher’s heaven.’ (2) Political theorists or philosophers have no authority to determine what should be done in democratic politics that exceeds the authority of ‘ordinary citizens’.

This arguably leaves academics who engage in normative theorizing about politics with the following dilemma: Taking democracy seriously seems to require philosophers and theorists to adopt a stance of epistemic abstinence, to restrain their theoretical ambitions, and to not engage in democratic discourses and politics after all. Yet, normative argumentations about politics essentially aim at providing standards for criticism – for example, when basic (human) rights are violated – and frequently wish to propose an action-guiding, aspirational vision for how to improve the status quo.

What is, against the background of these considerations, the task of political theory or philosophy in democratic societies? In answering this question, I will argue for three core claims:

  1. (1)  Political theorists should democratize theorizing about politics. A normative theory that takes democracy seriously must take the heterogenous perspectives and preferences of citizens from different cultural and social backgrounds seriously and should systematically integrate them into normative theorizing.

  2. (2)  Theorists have good reasons for taking an affirmative stance vis-à-vis political activism: democratic politics crucially depends on political criticism, civil disobedience, and protest from diverse interest groups.

  3. (3)  Yet, when participating in public discourses or engaging as activists, theorists must acknowledge the ‘limits to theorizing’: they then participate in the role of democratic citizens and cannot claim to have ‘superior knowledge’ or ‘authority’ that is based on their education or profession.