Democracy and Counter-Extremism

17-18 February 2022

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law (MPI-Freiburg)

Prof. Ralf Poscher (Director MPI-Freiburg)

This two-day course examines growing concerns regarding counter-extremism and democratic rule. Each of our four workshops explores different means by which counter-extremism measures reveal conventional democratic models to be undertheorised or to overlook important contributing values and justifications. Engaging at individual, state, and international levels, the course aims to stimulate discussion on a wide range of substantive and procedural questions.

The first workshop introduces the program’s foundational theoretical premises. Besides reviewing conventional democratic models and their justifications, important distinctions are drawn between positive, negative, and republican ideas of freedom and their significance for democratic theorising. Such distinctions raise interesting issues for counter-extremism. For instance, differing conceptions of liberty inform how some limitations on obstructive or incendiary speech might bolster collective self-realisation. Similarly, notions of deliberative and participatory democracy explain how counter-extremism measures protecting the flow of truthful information or prohibiting certain groups and associations can be sensibly understood as ‘democratic’. Determining appropriate responses to specific counter-extremism measures requires that we first be precise about basic political concepts.

The second workshop gives these concerns a practical footing by investigating Germany’s domestic counter-extremism practices. Relying on constitutionally entrenched values of freie demokratische Grundordnung (‘free democratic basic order’), the German state can invoke in its defence a wide range of restrictive measures—known collectively as ‘the principle of militant democracy’—which can include banning political associations and extremist parties. On its face, this notionally ‘democratic’ principle appears susceptible to abuse. This risk of abuse is intensified by the vagueness of the basic values of the German constitution and the expanding range of restrictive instruments. Questions naturally arise whether democracy should be militant at all and how far such defensive measures should go. These concerns require careful elaboration in view of our earlier discussion of foundational concepts.

 

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    17 Feb 2022
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