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Democracy in What State?

Giorgio Agamben
Alain Badiou
Daniel Bensaïd
Wendy Brown
Jean-Luc Nancy
Jacques Rancière
Kristin Ross
Slavoj Žižek
Translations from the French by William McCuaig
AMY ALLEN GENERAL EDITOR
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 144
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/agam15298
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  • Book Info
    Democracy in What State?
    Book Description:

    "Is it meaningful to call oneself a democrat? And if so, how do you interpret the word?"

    In responding to this question, eight iconoclastic thinkers prove the rich potential of democracy, along with its critical weaknesses, and reconceive the practice to accommodate new political and cultural realities. Giorgio Agamben traces the tense history of constitutions and their coexistence with various governments. Alain Badiou contrasts current democratic practice with democratic communism. Daniel Bensaid ponders the institutionalization of democracy, while Wendy Brown discusses the democratization of society under neoliberalism. Jean-Luc Nancy measures the difference between democracy as a form of rule and as a human end, and Jacques Rancière highlights its egalitarian nature. Kristin Ross identifies hierarchical relationships within democratic practice, and Slavoj Zizek complicates the distinction between those who desire to own the state and those who wish to do without it.

    Concentrating on the classical roots of democracy and its changing meaning over time and within different contexts, these essays uniquely defend what is left of the left-wing tradition after the fall of Soviet communism. They confront disincentives to active democratic participation that have caused voter turnout to decline in western countries, and they address electoral indifference by invoking and reviving the tradition of citizen involvement. Passionately written and theoretically rich, this collection speaks to all facets of modern political and democratic debate.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52708-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD BY THE FRENCH PUBLISHER
    (pp. vii-viii)

    Contributors to a number of editions of La Révolution Surréaliste in the 1920s were requested to find something new to say about topics on which it seemed at the time that everything sayable had been said—love, suicide, the devil’s bargain, things like that. Nevertheless, by casting intersecting beams, the answers they received from Artaud, Crevel, de Naville, Ernst, and Buñuel did succeed in throwing the chosen topics into high relief. This quality of illumination can still surprise us, close to a century later.

    The present collection was conceived in homage to that model. The question put to our contributors...

  4. TRANSLATOR’S NOTE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. INTRODUCTORY NOTE ON THE CONCEPT OF DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 1-5)
    GIORGIO AGAMBEN

    The term democracy sounds a false note whenever it crops up in debate these days because of a preliminary ambiguity that condemns anyone who uses it to miscommunication. Of what do we speak when we speak of democracy? What is the underlying rationale? An alert observer will soon realize that, whenever she hears the word, it might mean one of two different things: a way of constituting the body politic (in which case we are talking about public law) or a technique of governing (in which case our horizon is that of administrative practice). To put it another way, democracy...

  6. THE DEMOCRATIC EMBLEM
    (pp. 6-15)
    ALAIN BADIOU

    Despite all that is devaluing the word democracy day after day and in front of our eyes, there is no doubt that this word remains the dominant emblem of contemporary political society. An emblem is the “untouchable” in a symbolic system, a third rail. You can say what you like about political society, display unprecedented “critical” zeal, denounce the “economic horror,” you’ll always earn pardon as long as you do so in the name of democracy. The correct tone is something like: “How can a society that claims to be democratic be guilty of this or that?” Ultimately you will...

  7. PERMANENT SCANDAL
    (pp. 16-43)
    DANIEL BENSAÏD

    The end of the long wave of post–World War II expansion, the revelations about the extent of the Soviet Gulag, the horror of Cambodia, then the Iranian Revolution and the onset of the neoliberal reaction: there was a shift in world affairs starting around the middle of the 1970s. The protagonists of the cold war—capitalism versus communism, imperialism versus national liberation—faded from the billboards, and a new titanic struggle between democracy and totalitarianism was proclaimed to a drumbeat of publicity. Actually it was more like the restoration of the French monarchy, with the straightforward term democracy conferring...

  8. “WE ARE ALL DEMOCRATS NOW . . . ”
    (pp. 44-57)
    WENDY BROWN

    Democracy has historically unparalleled global popularity today yet has never been more conceptually footloose or substantively hollow. Perhaps democracy’s current popularity depends on the openness and even vacuity of its meaning and practice—like Barack Obama, it is an empty signifier to which any and all can attach their dreams and hopes. Or perhaps capitalism, modern democracy’s nonidentical birth twin and always the more robust and wily of the two, has finally reduced democracy to a “brand,” a late modern twist on commodity fetishism that wholly severs a product’s salable image from its content.¹ Or perhaps, in the joke on...

  9. FINITE AND INFINITE DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 58-75)
    JEAN-LUC NANCY

    Is it at all meaningful to call oneself a “democrat”? Manifestly, one may and should answer both “no, it’s quite meaningless, since it is no longer possible to call oneself anything else,” and “yes, of course, given that equality, justice, and liberty are under threat from plutocracies, technocracies, and mafiocracies wherever we look.” Democracy has become an exemplary case of the loss of the power to signify: representing both supreme political virtue and the only means of achieving the common good, it grew so fraught that it was no longer capable of generating any problematic or serving any heuristic purpose....

  10. DEMOCRACIES AGAINST DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 76-81)
    JACQUES RANCIÈRE and ERIC HAZAN

    The answer is twofold. In the first place, it is indeed my position that democracy is irreducible to either a form of government or a mode of social life. Second, even granting the so-called ordinary sense of the word democracy, it is not in the least evident to me that democracy enjoys total unquestioning support. Things were different during the cold war, when it was democracy versus totalitarianism. But since the Berlin Wall fell, what we’ve witnessed in the countries we call “the democracies” has been a mistrustful and faintly or openly derisive attitude toward democracy. In Hatred of Democracy...

  11. DEMOCRACY FOR SALE
    (pp. 82-99)
    KRISTIN ROSS

    Am I a democrat? “Democrat,” at least for Auguste Blanqui writing in 1852, was a word, as he put it, “without definition”: “What is a democrat, I ask you. This is a vague and banal word, without any precise meaning, a rubbery word.”¹

    Is “democrat” an any less rubbery name to embrace in our own time?

    In June 2008 Ireland, the only country to hold a popular referendum on the European constitution, voted to reject it. One of the principal authors of the treaty, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, was the first to admit that the text of the treaty (which ran...

  12. FROM DEMOCRACY TO DIVINE VIOLENCE
    (pp. 100-120)
    SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK

    In today’s era, which proclaims itself postideological, ideology is thus more than ever a field of struggle—among other things, the struggle for appropriating past traditions. One of the clearest indications of our predicament is the liberal appropriation of Martin Luther King, in itself an exemplary ideological operation. Henry Louis Taylor recently remarked: “Everyone knows—even the smallest kid knows about Martin Luther King—can say his most famous moment was that ‘I have a dream’ speech. No one can go further than one sentence. All we know is that this guy had a dream. We don’t know what that...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 121-128)
  14. AUTHORS
    (pp. 129-132)