Mapping the world's opinions

Rebuilding Democracy (Pt. 1): Equal Citizenship, with Robert Talisse

In this two-part podcast, we speak with Bob Talisse about rebuilding democracy, and how to put ‘Equal Citizenship’ at the heart of our understanding of politics.


S1 E14: Rebuilding Democracy (Part 1): Equal Citizenship

“Democracy is the thesis that a decent and stable political order is possible amongst equal citizens who disagree, but only if that disagreement is made to work in the service of democracy through civility.”

In this two-part podcast, Turi and Bob Talisse explain these core ideas of Equal Citizenship, Disagreement and Civility, why they’re so fundamental to democracy, and why they’re at threat today.

The radical idea of democracy is that a just and stable social order is possible in the absence of political hierarchies: nobody’s political participation is worth more than the next person’s.

It’s not just that government must treat us as equals, but that we ourselves must recognise each other as political equals. If we don’t, if we begin to see our political opponents as depraved, as morally or intellectually corrupt, we begin to see them as unfit for democracy. We will seek to exclude them from our common democratic project - we enter a ‘Cold Civil War’.

That is the idea of Equal Citizenship, and it is massively under threat from polarization across the world.

Why are we polarized?

  • Our societies have become much more diverse (through immigration) just as our local communities have become more homogenous.
  • The physical landscape has changed: social and physical mobility has meant liberals and conservatives can congregate around each others geographically.
  • Choice has expanded so much with technology that we can self-select for everything: liberals need only read liberal news; conservatives the same.
  • Our political identities mean much more to us than they ever have - stepping into the void left by Religion.
  • As we personalise our politics, so perforce we dehumanise our political opponents.

Listen to understand:

  • Why Polarization in democracy is a feature not a bug
  • The critical difference between Political Polarization and Belief Polarization
  • Lifestyle Politics: politics has suffused our consumer choices
  • how to tell someone’s politics from the number of maps they have at home
  • why everyone is incentivised to play extreme politics today

And why Bob’s father, an ardent Republican, had a Union-man as his best friend.

Robert Talisse

Robert Talisse is W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, USA, where he specializes in contemporary political philosophy, with particular interest in democratic theory and political epistemology. His two most recent books are Overdoing Democracy and Political Argument in a Polarized Age

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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 16 Sep 2020 at 10:08 UTC