Mapping Democracy: Utopia and Renewal

February 24, 2013,
Washington D.C. – Munich – Athens

9 p.m.
Goethe-Institut Athens

Political protest derives its momentum from outrage. And yet, political visions are what initiate authentic change. With the economic crisis, economic liberalism, the only remaining utopia of the post-Soviet era, has lost its ideological power. Whereas at the end of the bipolar era, voices were raised that spoke of an exhaustion of utopian potential or even of the end of history, today, new models of a more just economic system, of political participation and plurality are emerging. Thus, in the very centres of the crisis visions are arising that point beyond the given political reality. Inasmuch as they reveal possibilities for a more humane ordering of human affairs, utopias are responses to societal upheavals. At first no more than a hope, a utopia contains, as Leszek Kolakowski puts it, “the precondition that it at some point ceases to be a utopia.”

The political situation in Athens is deadlocked. The birthplace of democracy is struggling with the consequences of political mismanagement like scarcely any other European metropolis. While international creditors intensify the pressure for reforms, elected representatives seem overwhelmed by the country’s structural problems. Frustration is growing among the population, to the extent that voter participation in the most recent parliamentary election hit its historic low point. However, it would be premature to interpret this as a general crisis of democracy. In all European countries, sinking voter participation is being counterbalanced by an increase in new types of political participation. Humanitarian and ecological engagement, politically motivated consumer choices, internet protests and direct-democratic decisions represent multiple modes of democratic participation that are supplementing the established forms of representative democracy. What is certain is that lasting renewal must come from below. Here, new societal models are required, that point the way beyond the deadlocked situation between reform and strike.

As headquarters of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Washington D.C. is the hub of international monetary policy. Here, loans are given to states in financial trouble and intergovernmental foreign-exchange transactions are concluded. As America’s capital, Washington D.C. bears the name of one of the founding fathers of the USA. At its origination, the constitution itself was a utopian model of a body politic without any comparable prototype. Its sources were theories of a just social order. As Hannah Arendt writes, the US constitution was “not anticipated by any tradition,” but “arose solely out of the spirit of the revolution.” The concept of the social contract that citizens enter into to protect their inalienable rights is to this day valid and in effect. Nonetheless, increasing economic inequality expresses the weaknesses of the liberal system. Under the slogan “We are the 99%,” thousands of people congregated in Washington in the past two years to create a new global contract. The camp of the Occupy D.C. movement was located only a stone’s throw away from the official residence of the president. It was cleared in June 2012 as the last of all the Occupy camps in America. The questions revolving around social justice, opportunities and participation remain.

Moderation: Melinda Crane
Speaker: Susan Neiman , Andres Veiel
Ticket service Münchner Kammerspiele (9€ / 5€ reduced)

Moderation: Libby Casey
Speaker: Benjamin Barber , Sascha Meinrath

Moderation: Tasos Telloglou
Speaker: Antonis Liakos , Thanos Veremins

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