Beppe Grillo goes to Rome – The rise and possible futures of the most unlikely winner of Italy’s 2013 election
By Dr Giovanni Navarria,
Institute for Democracy and Human Rights
The University of Sydney
29 May 2013
A general election always offers an important opportunity for checking the democratic pulse of a country. Italy’s 2013 election was no exception. With no clear ruling majority in the Parliament, there was a most unlikely winner: the 5 Star Movement, a citizens’ platform led by Beppe Grillo, the controversial, charismatic comedian-turned-blogger-turned-political-guru. Before the election, the pollsters had estimated the Movement could get anything between 15 and 18 per cent of the votes. But Grillo’s Movement went way beyond any forecasts by pollsters. It managed the impossible for a first-timer: with over 25 per cent, it became almost overnight the major single political force in the country.
In this seminar, Dr Navarria explains the reasons why this happened and what Grillo’s success may signify for the future of democracy in Italy, a country that is facing both an escalating crisis and stubborn refusals within the political class to initiate credible reforms of the political system. Ultimately, Dr Navarria argues, the Five-Star Movement’s success represents a wake-up call for Italy’s democracy: it embodies both the positive and negative aspects of the crisis the country is undergoing.
The Five-Star Movement, Dr Navarria suggests, could well collapse under the weight of its own promises and unexpected successes. Two factors may play a crucial role in its conceivable failure: the naivety of its newly elected MPs and the strange and contradictory qualities of its leader. Grillo is a controversial figure who has sown the seeds of a new form of populism marked by strongly anti-democratic sentiments that could very well define both the shape and quality of Italy’s democratic future and, perhaps more alarmingly, that of the rest of Europe.
Giovanni's research interests include the relationship between authoritarian regimes in Asia and the language and tactics of democracy; the role new communication media have in politics; the meaning of representation and the role of civil society in contemporary democracies. He is currently working on a project focusing on the effects communication media have on prevailing power-dynamics between state and citizens in the authoritarian regimes of the Asia-Pacific region. He is also completing a book exploring the changing meanings of power and civic engagement in technologically advanced societies. In the past eight years he has lived and worked in London and Berlin. During 2012 he was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center of Berlin. Dr. Navarria holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Westminster, United Kingdom, and a Degree in Philosophy from the University of Catania, Italy.
Cosmopolitanism and Nationhood in the Political Thought of Thomas Paine
By Dr Robert Lamb
The University of Exeter, UK
15 May 2013
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The late eighteenth-century political writer Thomas Paine is regarded chiefly as a rhetorician pamphleteer and polemicist rather than as a theorist of any great note. Yet in a number of writings devoted to defences of the American and French Revolutions, Paine outlined one of the first modern variants of rights-based liberalism, one that is of historical and philosophical significance. This paper offers an interpretative reconstruction of one key aspect of his neglected political theory: his account of international relations. A self-declared 'citizen of the world', Paine has traditionally been cast as offering the most radical form of cosmopolitanism visible in modern, Western political thought, one that goes much further than Kant in terms of delineating a set of globalised moral and political commitments. In this paper, I subject this reading of his thought to critical scrutiny, suggesting that it has been somewhat exaggerated. In particular, I argue that there is a tension in his thought between the cosmopolitan sentiments present throughout his writings and the clear, though oft-overlooked commitment to national sovereignty that he displays in texts such as Rights of Man: the apparently universalistic rights he ascribes to individuals would seem to be undermined by the particularistic rights he ascribes to 'nations'. Through analysis of his mature writings, I argue that this tension can ultimately be resolved and that Paine's international political theory emerges as a coherent and historically distinct species of liberal cosmopolitanism. Nevertheless, this resolution raises several further questions for Paine's theory that continue to pose difficulties for contemporary liberals.
Robert is Senior Lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Exeter in the UK. His main research and teaching interests are in the history of modern liberal thought, its relationship to contemporary political philosophy and the methodological questions involved in interpreting past ideas.
Lebanon: Political Challenges in the Face of Regional Turmoil
By Dr Ziyad Baroud
Saint Joseph University, Beirut
8 May 2013
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In this address, Ziyad Baroud, former Lebanese Minister of Interior, will attempt to point out the potential that exists for Lebanon to reset itself as a neutral place of hope and development within a region bathed in turmoil. Although the Lebanese potential has been squandered for so many decades by the political schisms induced by neighbouring plights, Lebanon must learn to assume a role of even handedness towards different conflicts and render itself as an essential pivot of hard-learned lessons in order to produce a forward-looking momentum in the nation-building process. Dr. Baroud will attempt to take his audience through the major challenges the country faces in the Middle East today, highlighting where the Lebanese potential has previously failed, where the nation has simply been a prisoner of history and looking forward to not repeating the mistakes of days past.
Dr Ziyad Baroud is a prominent Lebanese politician and civil society activist. From 2008 to 2011, he served as minister of Interior and Municipalities, considered to be among the most powerful positions in the country, in two consecutive cabinets in the governments of Fuad Siniora and Saad Hariri. He currently practises law at his own firm and teaches law at the St Joseph University in Beirut.
Baroud is a renowned expert on issues of decentralisation and electoral law reform. During his time as a cabinet minister, Baroud was widely credited for advocating a new culture of political responsibility and openness. He is today credited with overseeing Lebanon’s best-managed round of elections (in 2009).
Why Civil Disobedience?
Co-Hosted by the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR) and Greenpeace Australia Pacific
3 May 2013
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In an age in which financial disorders, violence and ecological crises are spinning out of control while politicians fail to act, citizens all around the world are increasingly turning to civil disobedience in an effort to achieve change. This is taking place against a backdrop in which governments are increasingly challenged by new technologies and political resistance, often provoking a severe response.
A high-level panel including a leading Australian human rights lawyer and counsel for Julian Assange, a representative from Greenpeace and a leading political theorist will share their thoughts on these and related matters.
Chair: Professor John Keane, University of Sydney
- Jennifer Robinson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Bertha Philanthropies, London
- David Ritter, CEO, Greenpeace Australia Pacific
- Professor Simon Tormey, University of Sydney
The Greening of Democracy
By Professor John Keane
Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR)
The University of Sydney
1 May 2013
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John Keane’s talk aims to provoke discussion about the long-term, ‘deep’ effects of green politics on the language and institutions and ‘imaginary’ of democracy. Some of these effects are more obvious than others, he points out. In half a generation, green-minded intellectuals, movements and political parties have helped ensure that such matters as chemical pollutants, nuclear power, carbon emissions, climate change and species destruction are ‘in the air’ and firmly on the policy agenda of democratic politics. Public awareness that humans are the only biological species ever to have occupied the entire planet, with potentially catastrophic consequences, is growing. Green politics has helped popularise precautionary attitudes towards ‘progress’ and its blind embrace. It has also tabled vital tactical questions: for instance, whether priority should be given to civic initiatives and social movements or to the formation of political parties and alliances with mainstream parties, how green parties are best kept ‘democratic’, and whether their political success requires broadening green politics to include themes such as immigration and gender discrimination.
Despite these notable achievements, John Keane argues, the profoundly radical implications of green politics for the way people imagine and live democracy remain poorly understood. Levels of support for democratic principles certainly run high within green circles, as confirmed by the widespread uproar triggered by James Lovelock’s suggestion that it ‘may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while’. Yet why people with green sympathies should embrace democracy for more than tactical reasons, whether democratic principles themselves can be ‘greened’ and what that might imply for the way people imagine to be the essence or ‘spirit’ of democracy are matters that remain obscure within green circles and beyond – or so this talk on green politics and the future of democracy suggests.
Professor John Keane is Director of the newly-founded Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR) at the University of Sydney. His full-length history of democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy was short-listed for the 2010 Prime Minister’s Non-Fiction Literary Award.
Trusting the Media
Co-presented with Sydney Ideas, the Department of Media and Communications, School of Letters, Arts and Media
16 April 2013
Trust in media has become a central issue for media workers and the public. But defining trust remains difficult as it overlaps with a range of other terms such as confidence, integrity, reliability, and credibility. For all of the discussion of trust there is a dearth of discussion of some core issues; namely that trust can not only be betrayed, withdrawn and lost, but built, earned and learned. Arguably, wiithout some common understanding of the basic principles upon which integrity can be built, we cannot learn or earn trust let alone improve our situation.
What do we mean by trust in the media? At what stage of media production and consumption should we judge it? How do we measure it? And who is the judge?
In this Sydney ideas event, a panel of academics and media practitioners adopt a different approach by going back to basics and asking critical questions of the some of the core concepts that inspire and characterise the media. Their focus is on principles and the issues that arise when the media holds onto them, abandons them, or takes them for granted. Specifically, do notions of objectivity, transparency, accountability and the public interest still have force in this new media environment?
The panel will be chaired by Peter Fray, former publisher and editor-in-chief of The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald, and now an adjunct professor in the Department of Media and Communications and the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.
- On Objectivity, Associate Professor Steven Maras, Department of Media and Communications and author of Objectivity in Journalism (Polity Press, 2012)
- On Transparency, Dr Fiona Martin, Senior Lecturer in Convergent and Online Media, Department of Media and Communications, ARC chief investigator ‘Mediating the Conversation.
- On Accountability, Paul Chadwick, journalist and lawyer. First Director Editorial Policies of the ABC (2007-12) and now a director of Guardian Australia.
- On the Public Interest, Amanda Wilson, Director, Amanda Wilson Communications and former Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Contemporary Populism and Crisis – Is the Tail Wagging the Dog?
By Benjamin Moffitt,
Department of Government and I.R.
The University of Sydney
10 April 2013
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It seems today that we are permanently experiencing some sort of political crisis. Suffering the hangover of the Global Financial Crisis, in the midst of the European Union crisis, and allegedly undergoing a crisis of faith in democracy, it would appear that the stage has been set for populists to sweep in, appeal to ‘the people’ and enjoy great success by capitalizing on a general loss of faith and disaffection with the elite. However, across the world this has not necessarily been the case in the past five years: after precipitous rises, the US Tea Party is flailing; in Australia, Pauline Hanson can’t get elected; in the Netherlands, Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party’s vote share has dropped; and a number of European countries have installed relatively popular technocratic governments. Only the Latin American region seems immune to this trend.
So what is going on here? In this presentation, Benjamin Moffitt argues that we need to flip the common wisdom on the relationship between populism and crisis, which sees crisis as a cause or necessary precondition of populism. Instead, there is a need to think of it as an internal feature of populism. In making this argument, he will examine the tactics, stylistic manoeuvres and performative repertoires that populist actors use to ‘perform’ and mediate a sense of crisis. Drawing on contemporary empirical examples, he will explore the effects of ‘performing’ crisis, including the division of ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’, the simplification of politics, and the legitimation of ‘strong’ leadership. Finally, he will ask what long-term effects populists’ performance of crisis has on democratic politics in Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific.
Benjamin is a PhD candidate and Postgraduate Teaching Fellow in the Department and Government and International Relations. He holds an Australian Postgraduate Award and University of Sydney Merit Award. He was awarded the inaugural Sydney Democracy Initiative PhD Collaboration Fellowship at the WZB (Berlin Social Science Research Centre) in 2011.
Working at the intersection of political theory and political sociology, Benjamin’s research focuses on the relationship between contemporary populism and democracy around the world, with a particular focus on representation, media, governance and crisis.
- Rethinking Populism: Politics, Mediatisation and Political Style Politics | by Benjamin Moffitt and Simon Tormey | Political Studies (2013)
Two Ideas for How to Treat People As Equals
By Professor Thomas Pogge
Yale University and the University of Sydney
19 March, 2013
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This seminar discusses two approaches to political inequality. They differ on what the core of the problem is and consequently envision different solutions. But they resemble each other in one respect: each involves an attempt to extend an idea that is familiar in the context of one national society to the world at large. One is Rawls's idea of an overlapping consensus on certain basic values which supposedly allows all participants in this consensus to regard themselves and one another as equals. This idea fails. A more promising alternative is the idea of impartiality as requiring that equal weight be given to the voice and interests of all human beings
Professor Thomas Pogge
Having received his PhD in philosophy from Harvard, Thomas Pogge is Leitner Professor of Philosophy and International Affairs and Director of the Global Justice Program at Yale. He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science as well as President of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP), an international network aiming to enhance the impact of scholars, teachers and students on global poverty, and of Incentives for Global Health, a team effort toward developing a complement to the pharmaceutical patent regime that would improve access to advanced medicines for the poor worldwide (www.healthimpactfund.org). Pogge's recent publications include Politics as Usual (Polity 2010); World Poverty and Human Rights (Polity 2008), John Rawls: His Life and Theory of Justice (Oxford 2007); and Freedom from Poverty as a Human Right (Oxford & UNESCO 2007).