Until recently, writings on postliberal democracy used to focus on the ‘established liberal democracies’ in Northern America and Western Europe and consisted mainly in normative sketches of how an ‘improved’ democracy could look like (Schmitter 2006).2
In contrast, Arditi is interested in the experimentation with postliberal politics that is ‘already happening’ across Latin America, ‘presupuesto participativo, municipios autónomos, and usos y cosumbres’ being three keywords here (Arditi 2008: 74).
In general, these postliberal challenges to real-existing democracy in Latin America have come from below: from social movements, indigenous communities and local politics.3 With new governments promising and, indeed, initiating national ‘re-foundations’ via constituent assemblies, these challenges have culminated in processes that aim to profoundly transform political regimes.
Whether in the shape of ‘participatory democracy’ (Pérez et al. 2009; Santos 2005), ‘radical democracy’ (Postero 2010; Van Cott 2008) or ‘radical populism’ (De la Torre 2007), these challenges are widely seen to point towards a transformation of real-existing democracy into something less liberal and somehow differently democratic.
4 Bolivia is a case in point: If there is a Latin American country which combines continuity in terms of basic standards of representative democracy with substantial innovation in the sense of deviations from mainstream notions of liberal democracy, this should be contemporary Bolivia.
Even if democracy is usually defined in rather limited, procedural terms, its actual meaning is de facto much more specific: Democracy as liberal democracy, according to Schmitter (2006: 1), is generally equated with ‘constitutional, representative, individualistic, voluntaristic, privatistic, functionally limited, political democracy as practiced within nation-states’.
Postliberal democracy, then, is about questioning these ‘qualifiers’ without breaking with basic standards of representative democracy in the Dahlian sense (Schmitter 2006: 1-2). This is precisely what Arditi is observing in Latin America. The (incipient) emergence of postliberal politics ‘does not suggest the end of liberal politics and its replacement with something else, yet it is clear that the post of postliberal designates something outside liberalism or at least something that takes place at the edges of liberalism’ (Arditi 2008: 73.).9