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2nd International Philsoc Weekend

in Milan (Italy), Friday 17th to Sunday 19th November 2016

Democracy

Booking is now open for the second PhilSoc International Weekend. It takes place in Milan between Fri 17 and Sun 19 November 2017. The topic is 'Democracy’. We have 6 stimulating talks lined up, and there will be plenty of time for discussion. We are concentrating the talks on the Saturday to keep down room hire costs, but we expect to meet up for dinner on the Friday and sightseeing on Sunday (for those who wish it).

Milan is an attractive and historic city, with much to offer the visitor and an excellent transport system. Flights from Heathrow to Linate airport are very cheap in November. Please see the metro map and a PDF document giving some tourist information.

Venue: This is the 4 star Enterprise Hotel (excellent reviews) which is a couple of miles from the centre, but within walking distance of the Metro and the park where the Sforzesco castle & museums are situated. Trams to the centre (Duomo) stop outside the hotel. The hotel offers special rates to conference participants: €105 for single occupancy of a double room, €120 for double occupancy, including breakfast. Please see a PDF document giving various useful information as well as the hotel discount code.

Arrangements: Members will make their own travel and accommodation arrangements, either at the Enterprise or elsewhere. We are limited to 25 places, including speakers, so early booking is advised. The cost of the event for participants, including speakers, will not exceed £75. We are initially asking for a payment of £30 to cover cost of room hire. We will then ask for a second payment to cover the cost of Saturday night restaurant dinner and refreshments. Partners of members are welcome to attend the dinners and socialising.


PROGRAMME SUMMARY

(see below for full abstracts and CVs of speakers)

Alan Bailey sets the scene with a discussion of representative democracies. Alan Xuereb offers a relatively optimistic perspective on the topic, followed by two more ‘negative’ approaches from Ludwig Auer and Peter Townsend. Then we proceed to evaluate democracies with Barry King’s proposed methodology, and we close with Paul Entwistle’s talk on the future of democracy.

  1. Democracy: Introduction - Marta Vecchio
  2. Sir Alan Bailey: ‘Representative Government’. Alan discusses the origin and evolution of representative democracies, including our own.
  3. Dr. Alan Xuereb: ‘Democracy Comes Full Circle’. Alan’s talk concerns the ‘common good’. He is a lawyer by profession and will draw examples based on his personal experience.
  4. Prof. Ludwig M. Auer: ‘Present democracy is flawed, illusionary and dangerous’. Ludwig’s talk focuses on the drawbacks of democratic systems. He makes some controversial claims which are sure to stimulate a productive debate.
  5. Peter Townsend: ‘The Market of Democracy’. Peter’s talk investigates the interaction between open market and governments and how the two influence each other.
  6. Barry King: ‘Democracy in Crisis?’. Barry outlines a methodology to assess the efficacy of democracy.
  7. Paul Entwistle: ‘The Big Lie - Democracy at the Crossroads. What can we do?’. Paul discusses the future of democracy.
  8. Panel discussion with all speakers.
  9. Dinner.

Marta Vecchio (Milan organiser)

Biography: Marta has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Master’s Degree in Marketing and Communication from Bocconi University in Milan. She has worked for the past 12 years in consumer goods companies both in Italy and the UK, where she lived for 4 years, before moving back home to Como (Italy). Her interest in philosophy started in high school and has continued through the years till today.


Sir Alan Bailey
Representative Government and Democracy

Government is about power. (How power is exercised – proper functions of government - endlessly debated, but different subject from structure of government).

‘Separation of powers’: Locke/Montesquieu model (legislature makes laws, executive implements them, judiciary enforces them) misleading – executive power extends beyond ‘laws’.

Democratic input is essentially to appoint executive government and hold it to account. In modern states, where direct democracy is unfeasible, this entails representative democracy, electing people to appoint and monitor executive.

Important distinction: (1) formal authority to decide on exercise of power; (2) power to influence (1) – stronger/weaker, positive/ negative (constraints).

Implications: (a) Electorate chooses individual leaders as executive (judging character), hence representatives join parties putting forward leaders for election. (b) But parties also stand for policy programmes, by which they can be held to account. (c) Real choice at (a) needs clear alternative.

(d) Democratic influence between elections.

Review of problems/options under this framework.

Biography: Alan Bailey has been an active member of the Philosophical Society for more than 20 years, after he retired from the civil service (Treasury, and Permanent Secretary Department of Transport). He read philosophy at Oxford, with Grice, Strawson and Austin as tutors. His main continuing interest is ‘politics as a spectator sport’.


Dr Alan Xuereb
Is Democracy Coming Full Circle?

This paper explores the concept of democracy within the context of the common good. From the direct democracy of the popular assemblies in the Greek polis to the crowd-sourcing of ideas in e-democracy - seemingly this concept is coming full circle. Indeed, democracy is still the best political set-up that western civilisation has to offer. Though, it could be said that, since its inception democracy backfired utterly when inter alia: (a) it condemned Socrates to death; (b) it democratically elected the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei to power (c) it allowed populism to rise to power in different parts of our planet. Finally, whilst Plato’s “ship metaphor” may not be exact, it certainly highlights the issue that the best citizens to guide a democratic government are not always elected to do so. Everything points towards one solution: well informed citizens who are capable of right reason. In other words: not “philosopher kings” but “philosopher citizens”.

Biography: Alan Xuereb holds a doctorate in Law awarded by the University of Malta (1996) and an M.Phil. in Philosophy of Law (2004) by the same university. He is currently working as a lawyer-linguist at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. He has an ongoing fascination with the Common Good and this is his first Philsoc discussion.


Prof Ludwig M Auer
Present Democracy is Flawed, Illusionary and Dangerous

According to my hypothesis, democracy is not a better social system compared to others, e.g. from a moral perspective (or western universalism); it is ill-defined and conceptually not practicable, a muddle of illusions and ideologies. Many Western democracies are broken societies. I hypothesize that “democracy” is a priori flawed from two perspectives, the biological and the ideological (and flawed due to additional factors).

Biography: Ludwig graduated in medicine at the University of Graz, Austria. Emeritus professor of Neurosurgery (Austria, Germany, visiting professor in Newcastle, Calcutta and Chandigarh, India), interested in neuroscience, psychology and philosophy.


Peter Townsend
The Market of Democracy

Is the free open market a democracy? It is by the people, for the people – a self-regulating way to satisfy our wants. In what ways does it parallel conventional political models? Or significantly differ? Aspects examined will include: self-government, coincidence of interests of governing and governed, stability, checks and balances, transparency and the information feedback cycle, domination by elites (are political and market elites different in kind?), ownership, rights and responsibilities, minority interests. Finally, I shall look at ways in which the market and democratic government interact and complement each other – but may have conflicting interests. Are they, in fact, mutually dependent? By what criteria should a political democracy overrule the market?

Central to both models is the concept of competition. Modern democratic politics has copied many techniques from marketing: advertising, slogans, focus groups. Is competition necessary to efficient self-rule? 

Biography: Peter was educated at Luton Grammar School, Cambridge, and SOAS; subjects: languages, literature and linguistics. Working life: actor and comedian, advertising copywriter (as in 'Mad Men'), teacher and lecturer, freelance writer, marketing consultant. Came late to philosophy, via linguistics and Wittgenstein, and dropping in on Oxford lectures. Has spent most of his working life in the media industry and is therefore familiar with its mechanisms


Barry King
Democracy in Crisis?

It may seem odd to suggest that democracy may be in crisis when about 120 countries are now democracies when there were only 40 in 1972. Yet the level of dysfunction in old democracies such as the UK and the US, encroaching authoritarianism in Hungary, Poland and Turkey, near anarchy in Venezuela and democratic failures in Arab countries raise serious concerns. Meanwhile, authoritarian China is on the march.

The fundamental justification for democracy is that it has more beneficial outcomes for its citizens than other forms of governance. The central tension in any democratic system is thus to provide for these outcomes efficiently while keeping the governmental oligarchy accountable to the popular will.  This paper suggests and applies criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of democracies in achieving these ends. It then considers whether we can have confidence in democracy as a sustainable system of government that is the ‘end-state’ of history.

Biography: Barry studied PPE at Oxford 1964-67. He then taught economics and politics in state schools before becoming one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools, working subsequently as a freelance education consultant and inspector. His interest in philosophy was particularly kindled while studying educational philosophy at the Cambridge Institute 1975-76.  He contributes to philosophy groups in Bournemouth, catching up with many of the philosophy books he should have read but somehow didn’t!


Paul Entwistle
Democracy at the Crossroads – What Can We Do?

When the US President, newly elected, can lie blatantly about his inauguration crowd without undue censure, we are entitled to ask if Western democracy is likely to be fit for purpose. On a different scale, Britain's property market is an example of a visible and persistent Tyranny of the Majority, adversely affecting millions.

We have seen over recent decades that a flourishing democracy can only evolve in nations with a certain maturity of institutions, characteristics and processes in place. Plato's view that democracy should only be practised by those who can master it is highly relevant. The UK Is stable, but we exist on a spectrum of relative competence just like others.

Imaginative programs have been developed in recent years which could make our democracy more open, 'fact-based', deliberative and collaborative. I will use thoughts from the likes of Rawls, Ralph Nader and James Fishkin to show that we can improve the quality and effectiveness of how we rule ourselves in a Post-Truth World.

Biography: Paul studied Economics and Computing at L.S.E (1969-1972), incidentally being introduced to the works of Marx, Engels, Popper and other luminaries. He qualified as a Chartered Accountant, and had a career in Corporate Finance , mostly with American companies, and notably NCR. He left the 9-5 relatively early, with a subsequent portfolio existence including consultancy, education, and occasional sloth. This left room for Philosophy, which started some 15 years ago with an Adult Education course led by Prof. Ray Billington. This developed through the U3A and other organisations - most recently the OUDCE, under whose wise auspices his burgeoning cacophony of cognitive dissonance is finally stabilising!