2020 Volume 14 Pages 5-14
In the age of what Gert Biesta calls subjectification, “the uniqueness of each individual human being,” the promise of citizens-as-subjects is to break with the ideal of the “good citizen” whose identity is inscribed by state and market. Making such a break involves “exposure to the experiment of democracy,” in Biesta's view. This essay argues that the promise is real but the danger is that subjectification becomes “identity politics” which erode the responsibility of citizens for society as a whole and generate bitter clashes as identities are manipulated by elites using social media and other technologies. “What is democracy?” is the question that marks the difference between subjects as co-creators and subjugation. To overcome the dangers and realize the possibilities of the age of the subject requires shifting paradigms from state-centered democracy to citizen-centered democracy. Citizen-centered democracy rests on conceptions of citizens as co-creators who undertake the collective, self-organized work of building society (which is a concept of the citizen which predates the modern state); and politics as pluralist, negotiation across differences. State-centered theories of democracy and associated ideas of the citizen and politics form the dominant paradigm today. Despite problems in Japanese political education such as passive instructional pedagogies, this essay argues that there are powerful resources in Japan's civic life and cultural history to push back against the dominant view and lay foundations for a paradigm of democracy as society. There is also current evidence of a shift from civic attachment to insular communities, bonding social capital, to what many theorists call “bridging social capital,” which I argue is better described as pluralist citizen politics. The essay describes the experiment in democratic pedagogies and conceptual innovation of a new paradigm at Tokai University. It calls for international collaboration on this paradigm of citizen-centered democracy.