Imaginaries of Democracy and Dissent

From Kelsen's Legal Normativism to Patočka's Philosophical Heresy, and Beyond

When Charles Taylor engaged in explorations of modern social imaginaries more than two decades ago, he could hardly have predicted how popular his inquiry would become among political and legal philosophers in recent years. Imaginaries precede theoretical knowledge and refer to the ways people imagine and share their social existence. As deeply entrenched modes of collective understanding, they evolve in society and represent a symbolic dimension in which members imagine their collective existence and living as a whole.

Against this conceptual background, the talk explored the tradition of legal normativism and Hans Kelsen’s adoption of political imaginaries of democracy as a critical response to the varieties of legal and political existentialism in the early 20th century. Subsequently, this tradition was contrasted to the more recent philosophy of Jan Patočka, particularly his critique of instrumental and abstract reason typical of modern society and its totalitarian tendencies. Highlighting his notion of dissent as a negative voice of daimonion, the talk outlined its importance for modern democracies associated with legitimation by consensus and human rights. The contrast of the imaginaries of democracy and dissent were employed to recover an idea of humanity beyond the human condition.

Jiří Přibáň is an author, translator and essayist specializing in the areas of philosophy of law, sociology and politology. He is Professor of Law at Cardiff University’s School of Law and Politics and a graduate of Charles University in Prague, where he was appointed Professor of Legal Theory, Philosophy and Sociology in 2002, and has been a Visiting Professor and scholar at the European University Institute in Florence, the University of California in Berkeley, and the University of New South Wales, Sydney, among others. His latest book The Defence of Constitutionalism: The Czech Question in Post-national Europe was published by Karolinum in 2017.