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Thinking Radical Democracy

Thinking Radical Democracy: The Return to Politics in Post-War France

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Thinking Radical Democracy
    Book Description:

    Thinking Radical Democracyis an introduction to nine key political thinkers who contributed to the emergence of radical democratic thought in post-war French political theory: Hannah Arendt, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Pierre Clastres, Claude Lefort, Cornelius Castoriadis, Guy Debord, Jacques Rancière, Étienne Balibar, and Miguel Abensour.

    The essays in this collection connect these writers through their shared contribution to the idea that division and difference in politics can be perceived as productive, creative, and fundamentally democratic. The questions they raise regarding equality and emancipation in a democratic society will be of interest to those studying social and political thought or democratic activist movements like the Occupy movements and Idle No More.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2199-2
    Subjects: History, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Radical Democracy and Twentieth-Century French Thought
    (pp. 3-30)

    Many of the most interesting political situations of our time do not fit the mould of our most common political categories. Consider a few of the political situations that have shaped our present here in North America. There are, first of all, a number of situations that have been officially coined as “movements” – the Occupy movement, the Maple Spring in Quebec, Idle No More, and so on. But there are also any number of widespread and varied organized resistances to, say, the construction of oil and gas pipelines, particularly Keystone XL and Enbridge; the exploitation and injustices faced by...

  5. Part I: The Forebearers of the Return of Radical Democracy

    • 1 Hannah Arendt: Plurality, Publicity, Performativity
      (pp. 33-59)

      As was suggested in the introduction to this volume, a large number of the normative concerns that would come to define the tradition of radical democratic thought in France were anticipated in the political philosophy of Hannah Arendt. The French thinkers included in this volume who productively engaged with Arendt’s works can be seen as providing an earlier articulation of those contemporary interpretations of Arendt that have come to emphasize the agonistic and performative elements in her work, as opposed to the deliberative and rationalistic ones. Indeed, it is this primary opposition that structures most current debates on Arendt, many...

    • 2 Politics à l’écart: Merleau-Ponty and the Flesh of the Social
      (pp. 60-88)

      Rooted in the traditions of phenomenology and existentialism, Maurice Merleau-Ponty was constantly engaged in a radical interrogation of the inherited truths of Western philosophy. This initially took the form of an attempt to elaborate a philosophy of perception outside the Cartesian philosophical dualisms that dominated Western thought; later, it morphed into a critique of philosophy for its failure to interrogate adequately the category of being. These projects helped Merleau-Ponty attain intellectual prominence in the 1950s and ’60s, and led one admirer and critic to label him “a truly great philosopher, the last in France before that giant of a philosopher...

    • 3 The Counter-Hobbes of Pierre Clastres
      (pp. 89-118)

      The preliminary question to which we will try to respond is this: can we interpret the work of Pierre Clastres from the point of view of political philosophy without doing it violence? Interpreters are free to choose their approach, one would think. The question is then more precise: to what extent does the work of Clastres – in what it says, in its aims, in what it invites and allows us to do – question the point of view of political philosophy.

      In our time, we certainly encounter ethnologist-philosophers; confronted both in terms of their own position and practice with...

  6. Part II: The Critique of Totalitarianism and the Emergence of Radical Democratic Thought

    • 4 Claude Lefort: Democracy as the Empty Place of Power
      (pp. 121-140)

      Claude Lefort’s writings are best known for the theory that democracy is a “form of society” in which the “place of power” is represented as an “empty space.” It is on this theory that I primarily focus in this chapter. To bring out the significance and also the concerns that are at stake in this formulation, however, it is useful to begin with an account of the intellectual path that brought Lefort to pose the question of democracy in the first place.

      His philosophical career began in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, as a member of the...

    • 5 Cornelius Castoriadis: Auto-Institution and Radical Democracy
      (pp. 141-164)

      In what sense can Cornelius Castoriadis (1922–97) be considered an important thinker of radical democracy? To be sure, he was an advocate of radical democracy, but advocacy by itself hardly makes one an important thinker. If Castoriadis deserves inclusion in this reader – and it is my belief that he does – it is because he tied democracy to a larger project, that of “autonomy” or “auto-institution.” It is with this larger project – which resonates far beyond the pale of political theory – that the importance of his work lies. And it is in the light of this...

    • 6 Guy Debord and the Politics of Play
      (pp. 165-186)

      It might seem odd to include Guy Debord in a book about rethinking democratic politics. After all, Debord was the de facto leader of the Situationist International (SI), a highly exclusionary avant-garde organization, for its entire fifteen-year existence. During its short incursion onto the French political scene (from 1957 to 1972), the SI expelled at least forty-five members, which is particularly remarkable because the organization had a combined total of only around seventy members.¹ Furthermore, Debord’s crucial concept of the “spectacle” emerges directly out of the Marxist tradition, a body of theory that historically has downplayed questions about the nature...

  7. Part III: New Directions and Possibilities in Radical Democratic Thought

    • 7 A Politics in Writing: Jacques Rancière and the Equality of Intelligences
      (pp. 189-209)

      In recent years Jacques Rancière’s writings have caused a flurry of excitement in certain academic circles. What has particularly captured his readers’ imaginations are his interventions on aesthetics and politics. In relation to politics, it is claims such as democracy is the rule of those whose only qualification is that they have no qualification to rule,¹ or politics “exists when the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part,”² or “politics is the manifestation of dissensus, as the presence of two worlds in one”³ – as well as his analyses...

    • 8 Democracy and Its Conditions: Étienne Balibar and the Contribution of Marxism to Radical Democracy
      (pp. 210-233)

      It is well known among students of recent European political ideas that Étienne Balibar’s philosophical reputation received an early impetus, at the tender age of twenty-three, with his contributions toReading Capital, edited with Louis Althusser in 1965 and containing essays by them and other members of Althusser’s illustrious circle at the École normale supérieure, including Jacques Rancière and Pierre Macherey.¹ Less familiar may be the fact that Balibar maintained close ties to the Parti communiste français (PCF) as one of its most prominent theorists, and tole maîtreAlthusser himself, for many years after this auspicious debut – in...

    • 9 From a Critique of Totalitarian Domination to the Utopia of Insurgent Democracy: On the “Political Philosophy” of Miguel Abensour
      (pp. 234-254)

      In the late 1990s political philosophy made a definitive comeback in French ideas.¹ As we argued in the introduction, intellectual life in twentieth-century France was, for the most part, dominated by the social sciences and the Weberian fact/value distinction. As such it was not particularly receptive to political philosophy:² the study of political ideas was seen, at best, as a regional branch of philosophy; at worst, as ideology disguised as science.³ By thefin-de-siècle, though, things radically changed for political philosophy, and even a cursory analysis of the intellectual context of the times reveals the factors that made a return...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-274)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 275-277)