CIRJE-F-468 "A Theory of Deep Democracy and Economic Justice in the Age of Postmodernism"
Author Name Khan, Haider A
Date February 2007
Full Paper PDF file
Remarks @

The main purpose of this paper is to offer a somewhat novel theory of deep democracy and economic justice. Part of the novelty consists in considering radical uncertainty and indeterminacy under postmodern conditions. I claim that even under such conditions a plausible theory of deep democracy and economic justice can make sense. The theory of deep democracy presented here makes a distinction between formal aspects of democracy and the deeper structural aspects. In order for democracy to be deep, democratic practices have to become institutionalized in such a way that they become part of normal life ina democratic society. In this sense, ontologically, deep democracy overlaps with Barber's (1984) idea of "strong" democracy. There are, however, epistemological differences as well as differences of emphasis, particularly in the economic spere. I have tried to consider the postmodernist position with regards to democracy and economic justice by paying careful attention to the arguments of leading postmodernists. Barring a nihilism that rules out arguments entirely, such a procedure seems reasonable. Following this procedure, Lyotard's characterization of the discourse on morality and justice as phrase-regimes has been shown to lead to an ethical impasse. His appeal to the Kantian sublime, in this context, would seem to be a category mistake. The aesthetic category of sublime does not fit the requirements of moral judgments even in Kantian terms. Epistemologically, the postmodern dilemma arises from a correct critique of metaphysics and transcendentalism. However, the critique is partial and negative. It is partial in the sense that it does not take the challenge of Kant to develop normativity seriously enough to explore alternatives as Hegel did. It, therefore, pursues entirely the negative critical path leading to thoroughgoing skepticism and nihilism. Derrida's belated attempts to rescue philosophy from a linguistic nihilism may succeed. But it still falls far short of offering a positive account of normativity. A critical overcoming of modernism simply cannot be found in the postmodern turn. I have offered as an alternative to natural law and transcendental norms an account of Hegel's explorations. As Winfield and others have pointed out, this approach is also anti-foundational. However, by following the rational demands of self-determination, it is possible to break out of the vicious circle of skepticism. Instead a progressive structure starting with the minimum structure of freedom as self-determination can be built up. Following this alternative offers a way of exploring deep democracy and economic justice. A concrete set of institutions consistent with the development of self-determination can be seen as necessary for the idea of economic justice to have meaning. In the spheres of production, distribution, exchange, law and contracts among others, the development of appropriate economic institutions allowing this inter-subjective idea of freedom to unfold becomes the thematic development of economic justice. An important problem in this context is the coherence of the concept of the moral subject. By carefully considering poststructuralist psychoanalytical theory of Lacan and others a dynamically oriented approach to the question of the subject becomes possible. Pre-Freudian thinkers such as Hegel or Marx did not see the formation of the individual in all its deeply problematic aspects. However, the "speaking subject," though not innocent (as Helene Cixous wittily put it), is nevertheless capable of agency under specific social and economic conditions. A continuum of subjectivity ending with the fully liberated individual offers various possible levels of moral agency. In an economically and socially unjust setting radical analytic and social interventions will be necessary for these possibilities to materialize. Deep Democrfacy and economic justice, therefore, can be presented as a coherent set of positive requirements. It is part and parcel of the need for rational autonomy in our world. Reasonably enough, even if we choose to call such a world postmodern, a discourse on deep democracy and economic justice is both necessary and possible. It is encouraging to think that such discourses are not just phrase-regimes.