Power of the powerless: Democratic politics from below in an age of distrust

Parallel Session B.1 – 12:15 – 13:30, Thursday 2 May, Sala Lounge, Villa Salviati, EUI

Abstract: The panel seeks to present and discuss the various forms democratic participation has taken outside of the established political channels, through bottom-up organised and spontaneous movements. Whether Occupy Wall Street (USA), the Indignados (Spain) or the Gilets Jaunes (France), the at times months-long anti-governmental protests, (Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia) have all called into question the legitimacy of political “elites” and the enshrined ways of democratic politics. The nobility of the political vocation has withered dramatically. This is an age in which a variety of forms of democratic regression, “soft despotism” (Tocqueville), authoritarian patterns of leadership are appearing and apolitical or anti-political features are rearing their heads. Distrust in elites, political leaders and mainstream parties has given rise to bottom-up political currents that are the voice of the angry, disaffected citizens who feel a sense of disenfranchisement and powerlessness. Different alternative bottom-up forms of vivere civile (Machiavelli), and civic political engagement are manifesting themselves. What have these civic-political movements and voices brought to democracy at the beginning of the century? What are the ideas for a re-legitimisation of democracy and European politics that are emerging in the 21st century on the continent?

Moderator: Ivan Vejvoda, Permanent Fellow, Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna


Rosa Balfour, Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Brussels

Heather Grabbe, Director, Open Society European Policy Institute

Mary Kaldor, Professor of Global Governance, London School of Economics