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New Social Compact

In Defense of Self-Determination and Political Will



Defense of what he calls a ‘neo-Jacobin’ conception of democracy and political will is increasingly urgent today, argues Professor Peter Hallward. A Canadian political philosopher whose published work includes a sophisticated and morally enlightening analysis of the postcolonial oppression in Haiti since the US invasion in 1915 and a despicable neoliberal assault on Haiti’s economy, Hallward’s conviction and intellectual vigour is hard to ignore even by those who persistently deny the American betrayal of democracy.

In a recent talk on ‘the will of the people’ he gave at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, Hallward argued that the idea of democratic political will, understood as an ‘emancipatory practice of collective self-determination’, must be brought to the forefront of our political and moral consciousness, especially in a contemporary context marked by ‘ever more brazen exercise of unilateral financial or military power’ as well as ‘the ever more ‘automatic’ or involuntary nature of accelerating social and technological change’ notably systemic and globalising ‘reforms’ that are coordinated only by the blind, compulsive forces of commodification and the market’. As he reminds us, we only need to think about ‘rescue’ packages dictated to supposedly sovereign governments by the bankers in and after 2008, or the wars of aggression waged against Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan to get the picture.

Hallward’s lecture starts with a sharp critique of the various ways that a voluntarist conception of popular empowerment has been rejected or dismissed across the modern European philosophical tradition. In Hallward’s words:

‘In the philosophical circles I’m familiar with, voluntarism remains little more than a term of abuse, and an impressively versatile one at that: depending on the context, it can evoke fascism, idealism, obscurantism, vitalism, infantile leftism, petty bourgeois narcissism, neocon aggression, folk-psychological delusion…In a European context, of all the faculties or capacities of that human subject who was displaced from the centre of post-Sartrean concerns, none was more firmly proscribed than its conscious volition. Both structuralist and then post-structuralist thinkers, by and large, relegated volition and intention to the merely ‘psychological’ domain of deluded, imaginary or humanist-ideological miscognition. In particular, Rousseau’s notion of a general will, with its unsettling invitation to ‘denature human nature’ and its threat to ‘force people to be free’,[1] has long figured as the prototype of a fascist Volkswille at worst, or as fictional if not utopian escapism at best.’

To illustrate the point, Hallward briefly evokes a few recent examples, from a list that could be easily expanded:

‘Nietzsche’s whole project presumes that ‘there is no such thing as will’ in the usual (voluntary, deliberate, purposeful…) sense of the word.[2] Heidegger, over the course of his own lectures on Nietzsche, soon comes to condemn the will as a force of subjective domination and nihilist closure, before urging his readers ‘willingly to renounce willing.’[3] Arendt finds in the affirmation of a popular political will (‘the most dangerous of modern concepts and misconceptions’) the temptation that turns modern revolutionaries into tyrants.[4] For Adorno, rational will is an aspect of that enlightened pursuit of mastery and control which has left the earth ‘radiant with triumphant calamity.’ After Nietzsche, Deleuze privileges transformative sequences that require the suspension, shattering or paralysis of voluntary action. After Heidegger, Derrida associates the will with self-presence and self-coincidence, and strives to open up a self-questioning space in which ‘freedom is no longer determined as power, mastery, or force, or even as a faculty, as a possibility of “I can” [je peux]’.[5] After these and several other philosophers, Agamben summarises much recent European thinking on political will when he effectively equates it with fascism pure and simple. Tiqqun and some of the currently fashionable theorists of ‘communisation’ now follow Agamben’s example, as they explore various forms of a merely ‘destituent’ power.’[6]

The aversion to a voluntarist conception of political action, Hallward suggests, ‘includes even some of those who, against the grain of their times, have insisted on the primacy of self-determination and self-emancipation. Sartre and Badiou, for instance, still tend ‘to do so in ways that devalue political will per se, and along with it the whole ‘psychological’ domain of motives, intentions and purposes.’[7] It’s telling, for instance, that

‘like Agamben and Žižek, when Badiou looks to the Christian tradition for a point of anticipation he turns not to Matthew (with his prescriptions of how to act in the world: spurn the rich, affirm the poor, ‘sell all thou hast’…) but to Paul (with his contempt for the weakness of human will and his valorisation of the abrupt and infinite transcendence of grace). As for the two other great post-Maoist philosophers of Badiou’s generation, Jacques Rancière and Guy Lardreau, they too have only managed to remain faithful to the ideals of equality and popular revolt in terms that dilute their contemporary political purchase.’

So where do we go from here? What might an alternative conception of ‘popular empowerment’ and ‘free will’ promise? As a starting point, Hallward argues, we need to dissociate the idea of ‘free will’ from a mere whim, wish or desire, and affirm it as ‘a concrete capacity to realise one’s own consciously chosen end or purpose, free from constraint, coercion, or submission to another’s will’.

Crucially, he suggests, if we care about the value of a participatory and deliberative democracy grounded in the assertion of the people’s will, we should take as our foundation the philosophical perspective that originates mainly with Rousseau and his Jacobin followers, ‘and then continues via different deflections through Kant, Fichte, Hegel and Marx, before arriving at a tacit synthesis in the theory and practice of Lenin, Gramsci, Mao and Che’.

Hallward proposes four main dimensions of practice that might lend a political will the means it needs to act as a form of genuine self-determination, in keeping with his general association of will and capacity:

‘1. The first and most basic capacity of any collective will is, by definition, a capacity for association and assembly, an ability and a readiness to gather together as a group with some sort of common interest or purpose.

2. A second capacity implied by the idea of political will involves informed or ‘educated’ deliberation and critique. Every modern revolutionary mobilisation has been anticipated and accompanied by an explosion in the available means of communication, from the cafés and pamphlets of the Palais Royal in the 1780s to the blogs and online communities that helped sustain the 2011 Arab Spring and anti-austerity movements. Voluntary action (as opposed to unconscious, instinctive or habitual reflexes) presumes awareness or ‘enlightenment’ by definition, and it’s no accident that the question of consciousness, and the education of consciousness, has been a central and divisive issue of emancipatory politics since Rousseau’s Emile and Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

3. An ability to lend an organised and coherent shape to the informed and critical collective it assembles. This is a capacity for deliberate orientation or direction, i.e. a capacity for discipline, leadership, planning, and decision. These are the concrete powers or ‘virtues’ that, for Rousseau and the Jacobins, invest the people as an actually sovereign, law-giving power.

4. A capacity to determine one’s own ends remains indeterminate if it lacks the means of achieving them, and so the fourth point I want to emphasise, in closing, overlaps with a cliché that echoes across the voluntarist political tradition. ‘Quiconque accorde la fin ne peut refuser les moyens‘ (Rousseau); ‘whoever aims at the end cannot reject the means’ (Trotsky); ‘whoever genuinely wills an end must also will the means’ (Gramsci).[8] If what distinguishes will from wish is its potential to realise its end and to achieve its goal, then this necessarily involves those further capacities required to overcome the obstacles or resistance that might obstruct this achievement. […] What distinguished Robespierre and Marat from most of their contemporaries during the first years of the French Revolution, for instance, is that they knew that the course of the revolution would depend entirely on the capacity of the people to formulate and impose their collective will as sovereign command, and to oblige their former rulers to respect it.’[9]

At this point, Hallward reminds us aptly of the case of Haiti:

‘The victor of Haiti’s long struggle for emancipation, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, was eventually driven to accept a similar logic to that of Robespierre, and to take the severe steps that would ‘forever assure the empire of liberty in the country of our birth’, by depriving the colonial powers of ‘any hope of re-enslaving us.’[10] When Haiti’s Cuban neighbours won their own war of national liberation, in 1959, Che recognised that ‘the basis, the essence of guerrilla struggle’ lies in the fact that ‘each guerrilla fighter is ready to die not just to defend an ideal but to make that ideal a reality.’[11] From Danton to Che, through Engels and then Lenin, one and the same principle animates the difficult ‘art of insurrection’, the principle of courage and lucid perseverance: ‘de l’audace, de l’audace, encore de l’audace!’’[12]

Hallward knows that recent geopolitical and ‘technological developments have rendered old notions of armed struggle tactically obsolete, of course’, and that ‘today’s oligarchs have much more to gain than to lose by deflecting political conflict onto militarised terrain. Rarely has a democratising threat been contained as ruthlessly and effectively as in Syria, Libya and Egypt, in the wake of 2011’s Arab Spring.’ One of the many challenges that confronts our generation is then ‘how best to continue with the demilitarisation of our means of popular empowerment without abandoning the end of victory itself, and without simply reducing the sphere of struggle to one of more or less futile ‘protest’ or ‘resistance.’

Finally, Hallward concludes:

‘To affirm the practice of political will as a practice of autonomous self-determination, then, is also to affirm the capacities that alone enable such practice to become actual or determinant: a capacity for association and combination, for informed deliberation and critique, for organisation and leadership, and for imposition or realisation, no matter how daunting the obstacles that might stand in our way.’

Peter Hallward teaches at Kingston University’s Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, and is best known for his work on Alain Badiou and Gilles Deleuze. He has also published works on post-colonialism and contemporary Haiti.


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract 2:7; 1:7.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, ed. Walter Kaufmann, Vintage, New York, 1968, §488, cf. §666; cf. Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals I §13, in Kaufmann ed., Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Modern Library, New York, 2000, p. 481; Twilight of the Idols, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Penguin, London, 1968, p. 53.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking, Harper & Row, New York, 1969, p. 59; cf. Bret Davis, Heidegger and the Will: On the Way to Gelassenheit, Chicago, Northwestern University Press, 2007.

[4] Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, Penguin, London, 1990, p. 225; cf. pp. 156-157, 291n.24.

[5] Derrida, Rogues [2002], Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 40.

[6] Cf. Agamben, ‘From the State of Control to a Praxis of Destituent Power’, Athens, 16 November 2013.

[7] Cf. Hallward, ‘The Will of the People’, Radical Philosophy 155 (May 2009), pp. 17-29.

[8] Rousseau, Discours sur l’économie politique, p. 263; Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism [1921], Verso ed., p. 25; Gramsci, ‘Workers’ Democracy’ [1919] Pre-Prison Writings, p. 99.

[9]Reflecting on the revolution of 1789, Blanqui recognises how the privileged classes resisted it every step of the way, and sought every opportunity to reverse it. ‘The scaffold alone demonstrated to them the legitimacy of the Revolution; before then, they had treated it as nothing more than a mutiny of school children […, but] they recognised, respectfully, the sovereignty of the axe’ (Auguste Blanqui, Manuscripts [Bibliothèque Nationale], vol. NAF9581, p. 167).

[10] Dessalines, Declaration of Independence, 1 Jan 2014, cited in Berthony Dupont, ‘Revolution vs. Counter-Revolution’, Haiti Liberté 7:51 (2 July 2014); cf. C.L.R. James, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint l’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, Random House, 1963, p. 357.

[11] Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, p. 20tm.

[12] Danton, speech in the National Assembly, 2 September 1792, cited in Engels, Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany [1852], ch. 17, and in Lenin, ‘Advice of an Onlooker’ (8 October 1917), Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 26, 1972, pp. 149f.

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New Social Compact

Political Parties, Church and Grand Mufti in Bulgaria: No Rights for Women



Photo: BNR

On 12 March, the European Parliament called upon EU countries including Bulgaria to ratify the Istanbul Convention. However, only one Bulgarian MEP was present at the debates. And he was against the treaty.

Just on the eve of International Women’s Day on the March 8, the Bulgarian government, attacked by political parties, the Holy Synod and Grand Mufti, said it would abandon its plans to send the Istanbul Convention to parliament for ratification. This situation clearly shows that Bulgarian society is not ready yet for the European future that envisages rights equality.

The Council of Europe Convention, known as the Istanbul Convention, was signed in 2011 in Istanbul to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. So far, it has been supported by 45 member states of the Council of Europe amid having been ratified in 28 countries with only 17 of them being EU members.

Unfortunately, the Convention still faces fierce opposition in many European Union countries. Thus, when in late February Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov said the motion to ratify the document had been rejected, Slovakia announced it would also withdraw its request for the ratification of the Convention under the pressure of similar conservative politicians.

Having signed the Convention in April 2016, the Bulgarian government announced it was going to ratify the treaty only at the end of 2017. A statement came from Deputy Minister of Justice Desislava Ahladova during the round table discussion Prevention of Violence through Education organized by the Bulgarian Fund for Women.

The announcement of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov’s ruling coalition GERB sparked off a wave of criticism. First, the United Patriots, a group of three parties known for their radical views lashed out at the government’s decision. “A woman cannot refuse her husband sex. That is why she gets married,” said Volen Siderov, chairman of the parliamentary bloc. In another statement, the United Patriots claimed that the Convention would legitimize the “third gender” and open the door to “transvestites from Iran.”

Soon, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church joined the criticizing group, though it backed the Convention in January 2015. Urging the National Assembly not to ratify the document, the Synod published a declaration blaming the government for introducing “a new understanding of man – man as an absolute master, the man without God who follows his desires and passions to such an extent that he can even determine his gender.” According to the Church, the term gender is the one that raises much concern. “The consequences of denying biblical truths are tragic and we are witnessing them in many societies where “gender” ideology has long been a state policy,” the Synod stressed. The Orthodox Church even called for prayers against the ratification.

Just a day after the Orthodox Church came up with comments, the Bulgarian Grand Mufti followed the suite. In a quite lengthy statement, the supreme body of Muslims in the country provided a number of theistic and secular arguments against the ratification. First of all, some legal uncertainties are a reason for the Grand Mufti’s disapproval. Although the government officials have stated several times that no changes would be made in the Constitution if the Istanbul Convention is adopted, the Mufti worries that important documents such as The Family Act, the Anti-Discrimination Act, the Young People’s Act, the Internal Policies Act would have to undergo substantial change in order to fulfill the Convention’s requirements. Both Christianity and Islam stand for traditional values, so it’s not really surprising that their positions in this matter coincide.

On the 25th of January Bulgarian Socialist Party introduced an initiative to submit a referendum proposal in the National Assembly. “[The convention] has generated enormous tension in the Bulgarian society and diverging opinions. That’s division,” BSP leader Kornelia Ninova said, as quoted by public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television. “We think that the one who has to have their say on this issue is the Bulgarian people. This is why tomorrow we will be tabling the necessary signatures of Bulgarian Socialist Party MPs to ask for a decision to hold a referendum on the Istanbul Convention.”

However, her initiative failed as on the same day the government changed its mind and withdrew the proposal for ratification.
Obviously, the reaction of confessions and politicians depends on the current mood in Bulgarian society. Recent surveys show that the majority of Bulgarians are against the proposed Convention. Thus, according to the Barometer Bulgaria pollster, 63% of respondents said they disapprove of ratifying such a document. However, it is not shocking as four in five people in Bulgaria think that the most important role of a woman is to take care of her home and family, per a November 2017 Eurobarometer survey.

The story of the Istanbul Convention in Bulgaria is a vivid example of how conservative politicians and clergymen can influence the political agenda in a country and impede new motions in the human rights sector.

Endowment for Public Awareness

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New Social Compact

United Nations Drowning Prevention Group launched on World Water Day 2018



Photo: Zackary Canepari for RNLI International

Ambassadors from across the world have highlighted the need for global drowning to be tackled if the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are to be met by 2030.

In an open letter on World Water Day (22 March), members of a newly formed UN group on drowning prevention, launched today, have called on the international community to recognise safe access to water as a global development priority alongside access to safe water.

With drowning claiming 360,000 lives a year across the globe, the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention – with founding members including the governments of Bangladesh, Vietnam, Fiji, Thailand, Tanzania and Ireland – has called for drowning to be recognised and resourced in line with its impact on communities worldwide.

This comes as the UN launches the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development, focussed on addressing water-related challenges including access to safe water and sanitation.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) Head of International Advocacy Helen Morton said:

“Drowning is a silent epidemic. Responsible for more deaths each year than international development priorities including malnutrition and maternal mortality, it goes unrecognised and under-resourced. Drowning hits the most vulnerable first and worst; children and young people represent the majority of lives lost and almost all occur in low and middle income countries. Wasted lives and preventable deaths on an epidemic scale.

“Rightly, resource in recent decades has focused on delivering the human right to water, but it’s now critical that we focus on water access in the fullest sense; recognising safe access to water as well as access to safe water as a pressing development problem, and as a means to enable development.

“The RNLI has been working with governments across the world committed to helping to end this silent epidemic, and we’re encouraged that a new dedicated UN group has launched today on World Water Day to prove that prevention is possible.”

The full open letter is available below.

A letter from the UN Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention

Today, on World Water Day, we celebrate that water enables the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across our planet. The launch of a new United Nations Decade of Action on Water is an opportune moment to reaffirm our commitments to this urgent and important issue.

But in our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and make the UN Decade on Water successful, we must address the issue of water access in the fullest sense – that includes recognition of the realities in which those who are left behind live.

While our focus has been on access to safe water, it is critical to draw the attention of the global community to the need for safe access to water.

Each year, drowning is responsible for more deaths than malnutrition or maternal mortality. It affects the most vulnerable first and worst; almost all of the 360,000 drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Among these, children and young people represent the majority of lives lost. Every other minute, a child loses their life to the water. Drowning is the number one cause of child mortality in many countries across South East Asia and the Western Pacific.

In committing to the SDGs every country in the world has committed to deliver a set of Goals for their citizens by 2030. Ensuring safe access to water will be critical to reducing child mortality and to achieving sustainable development as a whole. Drowning prevention is a forgotten but fundamental enabler to ensure that every child survives and thrives; while insuring investment in nutrition, education and immunisation and providing a set of required survival skills that will protect our future generations.

Drowning is not fate, nor inevitable.

Every life lost to the water is preventable. Simple and scale-able solutions, such as survival swim lessons, community crèches and flood response skills, can be delivered at a large scale and low-cost, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. This is ever-more important with growing exposure to water due to climate change and increased risks of natural disasters, yet to date drowning has been absent from political debate, and has not received the level of public attention it deserves.

So, today, we officially launch the Group of Friends on Drowning Prevention, to mobilise governments from across the geographic and political spectrum to act on this common cause; to ensure that the issue of drowning prevention is recognised and receives resources commensurate with its impact on communities worldwide.

As the President of the General Assembly launches the Decade of Action on Water for Sustainable Development, we call upon him, and fellow leaders, to recognise the importance of safe access to water alongside access to safe water. If we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure that no one is left behind, inaction is not an option.

Signed by:

Masud Bin Momen, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations Luke Daunivalu, Ambassador of Fiji to the United Nations Virachai Plasai, Ambassador of Thailand to the United Nations Nguyen Thi Phuong Nga, Ambassador of Viet Nam to the United Nations

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Seven Out of 10 Top School Systems Are in East Asia Pacific

MD Staff



The East Asia and Pacific region has seven of the top ten performing education systems in the world, with schools in China and Vietnam showing significant progress, according to a new World Bank report released today. This is a major accomplishment that offers important lessons to countries around the world. In the rest of the region, however, up to 60 percent of students are in under-performing schools that fail to equip them with the skills necessary for success.

Growing Smarter: Learning and Equitable Development in East Asia and the Pacific argues that improving education is necessary to sustain economic growth and highlights the ways that countries in the region have been able to improve learning outcomes. Drawing on lessons from successful education systems in the region, it lays out a series of practical recommendations for key policies that promote learning so that students acquire foundational skills in reading and math, as well as more complex skills that are needed to meet future labor market demands.

Providing a high-quality education to all children, regardless of where they are born, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the foundation of a strong economy and the best way to stop and reverse rising inequalities,” said Victoria Kwakwa, World Bank Vice President for East Asia and Pacific.

A quarter of the world’s school-age children – some 331 million – live in East Asia and the Pacific. Up to 40 percent of them attend school in education systems whose students are ahead of the average students in OECD countries. These schools are not only in wealthy countries such as Singapore, Korea and Japan, but also in middle-income countries such as China and Vietnam. And, as the report highlights, student performance isn’t necessarily tied to a country’s income level. By age 10, for example, the average Vietnamese student outperforms all but the top students in India, Peru and Ethiopia.

But many countries in the region are not getting the results they want. In Indonesia, for example, test scores showed students were more than three years behind their top-performing peers in the region. In countries such as Cambodia and Timor-Leste, one-third or more of second graders were unable to read a single word on reading tests.

Another key finding of the report is that across the region, household incomes do not necessarily determine children’s educational success. In Vietnam and China (Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces), for example, students from poorer households do as well, if not better, in both math and science, as compared to average students in the OECD.

Effective policies for the selection, motivation, and support of teachers as well as sound practices in the classroom are what determine how much students learn. For policymakers looking to improve their school systems, allocating existing budgets efficiently, coupled with strong political commitment, can make a real difference in the lives of children across the region,” said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Senior Director for Education.

The report lays out concrete steps for improving learning for lagging systems in the region and beyond, starting with ensuring that institutions are aligned so that objectives and responsibilities across the education system are consistent with each other. The report also urges a focus on four key areas: effective and equity-minded public spending; preparation of students for learning; selection and support of teachers; and systematic use of assessments to inform instruction.

The report found that top-performing systems spend efficiently on school infrastructure and teachers, have recruitment processes to ensure the best candidates are attracted into teaching, and provide a salary structure that rewards teachers with proven classroom performance. It also found that schools throughout the region increased preschool access, including for the poor, and have adopted student learning assessment into their educational policies.

The report complements and builds on the World Bank’s World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise, which was released in September 2017 and found that without learning, education will fail to deliver on its promise to eliminate extreme poverty and create shared opportunity and prosperity for all.

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