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Zhiyuan Cui

Tsinghua University, China
Arendt’s Endorsement of “Soviets” and Its Implications for Contemporary Democratic Theory and Practice
17 February 2020 -
01 April 2020
Political science

Zhiyuan Cui is a Professor at the School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing (since 2004). He received his Ph.D in Political Science from University of Chicago in 1995 and taught at the Department of Political Science at MIT from 1995 to 2002 . He was a Fellow of The Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin (WIKO)in 2003-2004 and  was Anthony W. and Lulu C.Wang Distinguished Visiting Professor at Cornell University Law School in 2007 and 2008. He is also one of the team members who wrote the first public report for The New Development Bank (founded by BRICS countries in Shanghai): “The Role of BRICS in the World Economy and International Development” ( 2017). Since 2018, he serves as a member of academic committee of the Holberg Prize. He is currently working on a book manuscript about “China and the global political economy” after the 2008 financial crisis.

Research Topics

Political Economy and Political Philosophy in general, with a special focus to understand the Chinese reform process’s success and limits.

Arendt’s Endorsement of “Soviets” and Its Implications for Contemporary Democratic Theory and Practice

The starting point of this project is Hannah Arendt’s observation that the original meaning of “soviet” is “council” and that there was a connection between the “councils” of 1905 and 1917 revolutions in Russia and the “Rätesystem” of 1918-1919 revolution in Munich, Germany. Though there is a huge literature on Hannah Arendt’s political thought, her endorsement of “soviet” (as opposed to her rejection of the official “Soviet Union”) is still under-studied, even puzzling. Arendt makes a connection between “soviet” and Thomas Jefferson’s  notion of “elementary republics”. I will argue that the French thinker Cordorcet’s institutional design of  “primary assemblies” can help make sense of Arendt’s support for “soviets” even better. 

Interestingly, today, Terrill Bouricius, a close friend of the US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, proposes a new design of the democratic system based on the mix of voluntariness, sortition and election. The creative mix of these three principles promises to give a new meaning of Arendt’s endorsement of the term “soviet ” in the 21th century.

Contemporary period (1789-…)
Eastern Asia