Lead Theme: Dignity, Democracy, Diversity
The concept of human dignity has become a major aspect of current international discussions in today’s legal and social philosophy – a debate that has been characterised by critical and deconstructive perspectives on the one hand, and more affirmative approaches on the other. The congress aims to explore the intricacies of the idea of human dignity in the context of the theory of human rights, its conceptual history, content, justification, critiques and the various ways in which it has been articulated in different cultural contexts. In addition, we intend to shed light on innovative and contentious approaches to dignity, referring in particular to the concept of dignity of animals and even of nature in general – a concept exemplified by the Swiss constitution’s protection of the “dignity of living beings” alongside human dignity.
At present, democracy faces several problems – from threats issued by new antidemocratic political forces to challenges posed by recently developed forms of political discourse and mobilisation mediated by the internet. Given such challenges – and in view of the long and specific tradition of democracy in Switzerland (both representative and direct) – we propose to address questions of contemporary democracy as one of the main themes of the congress. In particular, we intend to focus on the apparent crisis of the representative system and the various challenges with which it has to contend at present – from populism to more participatory, direct forms of democracy that have been made possible by the advent of the digital era (e-democracy, liquid democracy).
The concept of diversity refers to the cultural and religious pluralism of the modern world and the questions such pluralism presents for political and legal systems. It embraces the variety of forms of life but also alludes to processes of distinction and differentiation that may conflict with the principle of equality. The congress shall address in particular the theoretical challenges implied by this pluralism for the concept of law and democratic citizenship: can the results of an ever-more globalised world be met with a politics of accommodation and/or integration, or do these challenges indicate that globalisation is approaching its limits and that a new 'localisation' is beginning to supersede it?
Within this overarching framework, we specifically encourage research on the interplay between dignity, democracy and diversity. Numerous intricate questions can be raised in this respect, including – but by no means limited to – the following: Is human dignity of foundational importance for the conceptualisation, legitimacy and normative structuring of democracy and political autonomy? Or is it rather dispensable for a theory of democracy? Are there limits of majoritarian decision making created by human rights? How can religious, cultural and linguistic diversity be accommodated in democratic structures? Does diversity conflict with the idea of universal human rights and of human dignity? Or is diversity best accommodated within the framework of these concepts? Are certain forms of democracy (e.g. direct vs. representative democracy, centralised vs. federal democratic systems) better or less suited to accommodate diversity?
The research on such topics is to be embedded in perspectives which focus on the international order and the effort of establishing the global rule of law. This outlook is productive for attempts to properly reconstruct and assess the structure of contemporary legal systems in a transnational perspective, taking account of both trends of further globalisation and thrusts towards new forms of localisation.