Associative Democracy: From ‘the real third way’ back to utopianism or towards a colourful socialism for the 21st century?

Thesis Eleven 167 (1):12-41 (2021)
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Associative Democracy has been developed as a specific response to statist socialism and neoliberal capitalism, drawing on older traditions such as associationalism, democratic socialism, and cooperative socialism. As the ‘real third way’, it is distinct from neoliberal privatization and deregulation in the Blair–Schröder varieties of social democracy and in the conservative Reagan–Thatcher–Cameron varieties. This article summarizes what seemed to make AD an attractive realist utopia: its combination of economic, societal and political democracy; its focus on democratic institutional pluralism in all these regards; its considered moral/political minimalism; and its practical experimentalism. It recapitalizes some of the important economic, societal and political changes during the last decennia that seem to make AD plainly utopian again. It focuses on an outline of basic principles and institutions of socio-economic alternatives to capitalism because, if neoliberalism rules supreme, no viable alternatives can emerge and grow. Even if there is not one institutional design that fits all countries and contexts, we can show what the basic tenets of such alternatives are and how such a colourful democratic socialism relates to and can integrate other approaches such as ‘circular economy’, ‘foundational economy’ and ‘radical social innovation’. The hope is that AD’s broad institutional pluralism and its emphasis on practical experimentalism show new ways of thinking which are urgently needed for sustainable and socially fair economic development and for renewing representative democracy.



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