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Individual Paper: Degrowth and Democratic Optimism

A critical discussion of the theoretical foundation of a fraternity-based democracy

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We do not find in degrowth literature an unambiguous roadmap to utopia in the same way Marx envisaged utopia in the necessary coming of a communist society and neoliberals imagine free interaction in a free market as the ultimate heights of human society. However, while degrowth does not provide an image of an ideal ‘degrown’ society, it is not directionless.
The degrowth movement appears to be in line with Richard Rorty who envisaged a shift in the foun-dation of modern democracy from being a democracy based on individual rights to a democracy based on fraternity and fellow-feeling. This type of society requires a community of rational community mem-bers who are capable of agreeing upon common goals and whose mode of behaviour is characterised by “mutual sympathy such that each person is concerned about the self-realization of the others for non-instrumental reasons”. This democratic optimism is a fundamental part of the visions we find at the core of the degrowth movement. It represents a vision that aims to replace competition with cooperation, self-centeredness with solidarity, and greed with generosity.
At the foundation of this compelling vision are implicit ontological assumptions regarding human reason, rationality, and freedom which must be put under scrutiny. Specifically, the ability of people in a community – regardless of the scale (a local, national or global community) – to reach agreement on common goals can be contested, as is assumes the possibility of a single morally right way of living which is universally accessible to all members of the community through their rationality. Drawing on the work of Isaiah Berlin, Axel Honneth and John Dewey, this paper aims to strengthen the theoretical foundation of the democratic optimism that lies at the core of the degrowth vision by critically discussing its central assumptions and offer replies to the objections being made.


Day: 2018-08-24
Start time: 11:30
Duration: 00:15
Room: Moriskan (Spegeln)
Track: Degrowth: Culture, Power and Change




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