WHAT KIND OF GOVERNMENT? Thinking Contemporary Form/s of Government (historical and conceptual perspectives)

WHAT KIND OF GOVERNMENT? Thinking Contemporary Form/s of Government (historical and conceptual perspectives)


(Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2-4 June 2021, exact venue to be announced later)

In her ground-breaking analyses, such as The Origins of Totalitarianism and Between Past and Future, Hannah Arendt developed the thesis about the “break in (political) tradition” that could be identified at two levels. Its historical appearance is “total domination”, which occurred in the first half of the twentieth century, and, according to her, represents an entirely novel form of government that cannot be comprehended if thought of only as a more extreme form of despotism, tyranny, or dictatorship. On the other hand, the break also transpired in the Western political philosophy canon, with Marx, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, who first noticed the new predicaments in the world which could not be explained with old, traditional categories of political thinking anymore. Arendt’s main endeavour was to show how the use of the rests of questionable tradition starts concealing instead of revealing the new phenomena and forms of government, and, simultaneously, an attempt at a reconstruction of some basic political concepts and experiences.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening of the Iron Curtain (Churchill) marked the end of the so-called totalitarian period of the (post-)socialist condition, and the seeming restoration of democracy on a global scale. However, the question of the new forms of government did not re-emerge within the hegemonic currents of political theory, as one might expect. Rather than bringing the question of emerging forms of government back to play, many theorists accepted competing theses about the “end of history” and the triumph of “liberal democracy” (Fukuyama), as either crude or happy reality. In this context, current rises of populism and racism, criminalisation of migration, building walls on borders, widespread corruption, attacks on the traditional division of powers, control over the media and organised lying, enlarged police power etc. are dismissed as unhappy returns of “fascism,” while techno-managerial governance is usually conceived as a sign of neoliberal “post-politics”. It seems, therefore, that it is increasingly difficult to answer the question about the nature and the form of many corrupt, undemocratic, oppressive, and abusive governments progressively emerging around the globe at the beginning of the 21st century. However, with few exceptions, a more profound reflection on what kind of government will materialise from these phenomena seems to remain highly “repressed” when the word comes to these issues. It seems as if we are faced with a new type of power and a new type of government that evade conceptualisation. Is it just “a bad government”, “a failed state”, “an illiberal democracy”? Or should one label it “a new tyranny”? Fascism? Totalitarianism? Dictatorship? Authoritarianism? Sovereignism? Trumpism? Orbanism etc.?

Hence, the Conference seeks to foster a debate about two interrelated questions concerning the forms of government, which are at the same time highly neglected within hegemonic currents of post-WWII Western political thought:

  1. Conceptual questions: Which forms of government can be traced in contemporary politics? What are their features? How they relate to other historical forms of government? What concepts are to be applied?
  2. Methodological question: How to properly analyse contemporary forms of government after the “break-in-tradition” implying a gap between their historical forms as conceptualised by political theory canon and forms of government that we can witness and are experiencing nowadays?

The focus of the Conference is how the contemporary forms of government can be conceptualised. We are not interested in case-studies only. The papers should address the following questions: What are the roots of conceptual hurdles with the analysis of the contemporary forms of government and new phenomena in this field? Whether and how can we return to the old questions when addressing new forms of government (who rules, what are the limitations of the power of the ruling elite, how much autonomy do the ruled have)? How do we address changes in the form of government if we do not conceptualise in terms of ruling and ruled, domination and oppression, but take into account the political capacities, agency and the question of the power or powerlessness of the people to act together? Therefore, additionally to traditional questions about what limitations and guarantees (rights, freedoms, autonomy, periodic elections) the government has, questions about the conditions for political action can be addressed: who can (may) act and by what obstruction of action the rulers reproduce their power? We will be pleased to receive elaborations of terminological problems in the discussion of forms of government; for example, which words as concepts are (to be) used, how are they translatable between different languages and circumstances, and which additional, even nonpolitical, meanings they carry in different languages while promoting certain semantic associations? Papers can address new styles of politics that are gaining democratic legitimacy at elections and referendums and hybrid forms of governing and power that might escape the traditional framework of the division of powers etc. Contributions are welcome from different disciplines such as political theory, political philosophy, history of political philosophy, conceptual history, sociology of politics etc.

The conference takes place in the framework of the research project Break in Tradition: Hannah Arendt and Conceptual Change, financially supported by the Slovenian Research Agency and will represent one of the main events to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Peace Institute.


December 2020: Conference announcement and call for abstracts

20 February 2021: Deadline for registrations and abstracts

28 February 20121: Selection of conference participants

20 May 2021: Deadline for final papers

2–4 June 2021: Conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia

December 2021: Selection of texts for publication of collective volume


Dr. Vlasta Jalušič, a researcher at the Peace Institute, dr. Wolfgang Heuer, executive director of the Hannah Arendt net and Privatdozent at the Otto Suhr Institute, Free University Berlin, dr. Mirt Komel, a researcher at the Peace Institute and lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, dr. Gorazd Kovačič, researcher and lecturer at the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, dr. Boštjan Nedoh, a researcher at the Scientific Research Centre at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences, and dr. Lana Zdravković, a researcher at the Peace Institute.


The participants whose abstracts will be selected for the conference will be invited to arrive to Ljubljana on Wednesday, 1 June, and depart on Saturday, 4 June. Due to the Coronavirus situation, the conference might have a hybrid form (both with participants on the spot and via Zoom). Lunch on both conference days and dinner on the first conference day will be provided by the conference organiser. There is no registration fee.


Please kindly register for the conference and submit your abstract here  by 20 February 2021. For any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us via e-mail:



The research project J5-1749 is (co) financed by the Slovenian Research Agency.