Publication details

People are born to struggle: Vladimír Čermák’s vision of democracy

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Year of publication 2023
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Studies in East European Thought
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

Keywords Agonism; Augustine; Consensus; Constitutional jurisprudence; Democracy; Political theory; Totalitarianism
Description During the Czechoslovak normalization era (roughly from the 1970s to the 1980s), the Czech lawyer Vladimír Čermák, who later became a Justice of the newly established Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic after the breakdown of the Communist regime, authored a monumental piece called The Question of Democracy. Although this ambitious work has no equal in the Czech context, no attention has been paid to it in the English-speaking world. The present article aims to fill this gap by analyzing the most original aspects of Čermák’s political thought. First, I present Greek tragedy, Plato, and Augustine as the main influences on his thought, which was further shaped by Čermák’s experience with the First Czechoslovak Republic and the Communist era. Second, I show that the most important category permeating all of his intellectual project is the principle of polarity, combined with the concept of polémos as derived from Greek tragedy. Third, I focus on the consensually anchored value order of society, which is created through an interplay between positive and negative forces. Čermák’s idea that all law must be measured against the value order has deeply influenced the value-based jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court. Finally, I position Čermák’s thought in the context of contemporary political theory, arguing that the contrast with the work of the radical political theorist Chantal Mouffe is particularly illuminating. Even though Čermák and Mouffe share a similar attitude to democracy—in that the primacy of strife renders universal rational consensus impossible—I maintain that Čermák’s theory, due to its emphasis on the categories of good and evil, can be more usefully described as “secular Augustinianism”.
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