Democracy in crisis

Democracy in crisis: Violence, alterity, community

edited by Stella Gaon
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Democracy in crisis
    Book Description:

    This volume explores the political implications of violence and alterity (radical difference) for the practice of democracy, and reformulates the possibility of community that democracy is said to entail. Most significantly, contributors intervene in traditional democratic theory by boldly contesting the widely-held assumption that increased inclusion, tolerance and cultural recognition are democracy's sufficient conditions. Rather than simply inquiring how best to expand the 'demos', they investigate how claims to self-determination, identity and sovereignty are a problem for democracy and how, paradoxically, alterity may be its greatest strength. Drawing largely on the Left, continental tradition, contributions include an appeal to the tension between fear and love in the face of anti-Semitism in Poland, injunctions to rethink the identity-difference binary and the ideal of 'mutual recognition' that dominate liberal-democratic thought, critiques of the canonical 'we' that constitutes the democratic community, and a call for an ethics and a politics of 'dissensus' in democratic struggles against racist and sexist oppression. The authors mobilise some of the most powerful critical insights emerging across the social sciences and humanities – from anthropology, sociology, critical legal studies, Marxism, psychoanalysis and critical race theory and post-colonial studies – to reconsider the meaning and the possibility of 'democracy' in the face of its contemporary crisis. The book will be of direct interest to students and scholars interested in cutting-edge, critical reflection on the empirical phenomenon of increased violence in the West provoked by radical difference, and on theories of radical political change.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-298-3
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of contributors
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)
    Stella Gaon

    This book interrogates a ‘crisis’ of democracy that is manifest in the increased violence provoked by radical difference (‘alterity’) in Western democratic communities and explores its significance for the thinking and the practical development of democracy today. Significantly, however, the contributors to this volume treat the question of what sustains and what undermines radical democratic practice from an unusual perspective. Rather than beginning from the standard assumption that a greater degree of inclusion of given cultural identities will enhance democracy, the contributors begin from the question of how claims to self-determination and identity are a problem for democracy and, indeed,...

  6. Part 1 Alterity as a crisis for democracy
    • 1 ‘Don’t blame me!’ Seriality and the responsibility of voters
      (pp. 29-47)
      Robert Bernasconi

      Within democracies, politicians are called upon to take responsibility for their decisions, but surprisingly little is heard today about holding voters responsible for the decisions thattheymake when electing their representatives. The rhetoric of voters is represented by the bumper stickers that say, in effect: ‘Don’t blame me’. Nevertheless, at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Britain, the idea of the voters’ responsibility to the nation as a whole took hold for a time. The circumstances surrounding its appearance help to explain what was meant by it. The idea arose when the franchise was still severely restricted, and...

    • 2 Sovereignty, property and the lifeworld: democracy’s colonization of alterity
      (pp. 48-66)
      Mielle Chandler

      Among the inhabitants of ‘Western’ democratic nations, democracy is generally understood as antithetical to colonialism. Indeed, democracy has come to be deified as ‘the good’, in part precisely because it is generally believed to provide the kinds of intersubjective procedures and decisionmaking processes that not only facilitate the peaceful coexistence of a plurality of individuals and nations, but also give rise to and sustain that plurality. This chapter contests this belief, suggesting, rather, that plurality is severely circumscribed by the ontological structure and the economic processes endemic to political participation. Being a state or a citizen requires being recognizable as...

    • 3 Narratives of groups that kill other groups
      (pp. 67-89)
      Jacqueline Stevens

      This chapter examines the relation between otherness and violence by inquiring into the language used to incite and defend group combat and genocide, in particular the discourse of sacrifice used to sanctify insiders and demonize outsiders. What is the meaning of narratives tying the immortality of the state to the sacrifice of, and killing by, its members? How do life’s boundaries of birth and death figure in these state narratives of killing? The chapter argues that when groups hold out the promise of immortality tied to group membership, this enables a paradigm of sacrifice that accommodates mass, systemic violence directed...

    • 4 Technologies of violence and vulnerability
      (pp. 90-109)
      Kelly Oliver

      Given that immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11 one of the most frequently used words was ‘vulnerable’, it is important to reflect on the meaning and effects of vulnerability in relation to violence, particularly since the word most closely following on its heels was ‘war’. Recently, philosophers have embraced vulnerability as constitutive of our humanity. For example, Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva suggest that we need to accept, rather than deny, our own vulnerability, because disavowing vulnerability undermines democratic solidarity and leads to war. Certainly, fantasies that we are invincible and not vulnerable can lead to war. However,...

    • 5 The brackets of recognition: recognition, espionage, camouflage
      (pp. 110-132)
      Elizabeth A. Povinelli

      InTime and the other, Johannes Fabian characterized the relation between anthropology and its object as a ‘political cosmology’, at the centre of which lay a constitutive contradiction. On the one hand, ‘anthropology has its empirical foundation in ethnographic research, inquiries which even hard-nosed practitioners carry out as communicative interactions’, and, on the other hand, ‘when these same ethnographers represent their knowledge in teaching and writing they do this in terms of a discourse that consistently places those who are talked about in a time other than that of the one who talks’ (Fabian, 2006: 143). Demonstrating how the event...

    • 6 Humanitarianism and the representation of alterity: the aporias and prospects of cosmopolitan visuality
      (pp. 133-154)
      Fuyuki Kurasawa

      To state things in a slightly hyperbolic vein, I want to begin by setting out what is arguably one of the major tasks of intellectual labour in our globalized age: pondering the implications, for the liberal-democratic imaginary, of the visual character of Euro-American modes of engagement with non-Western forms of socio-cultural alterity. To speak in such dramatic terms is to recognize that, beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, what has been witnessed is a gradual, yet undeniable – and likely irreversible – transition from textuality to visuality as the dominant Western regime of description and analysis of...

  7. Part 2 Alterity as a provocation to democracy
    • 7 Alterity as democracy-to-come
      (pp. 157-178)
      Stella Gaon

      The increasing force of global capital, together with the rise of inter- and intra-state violence all over the world, has profoundly undermined the sovereignty of nation-states, the solidarity of multi-ethnic political communities and the quality of democracy, even where it does already exist. The 2003 invasion of Iraq in the absence of United Nations support, the introduction of thePatriot Actin the United States, the race riots in France and the ratification of antiterrorist legislation in Canada are only a few of many examples that signal this development. The fact that these recent events, policies and legislation have themselves...

    • 8 The ends of democracy: who, we?
      (pp. 179-198)
      Catherine Kellogg

      Jacques Derrida first delivered his essay ‘The ends of man’ (1982) at a colloquium in New York in October 1968 on the proposed theme of ‘Philosophy and anthropology’. This text, written in the shadow of an ‘American’ war on Vietnam, the uprisings in Paris, and general political unrest in the West, begins by meditating on what he calls ‘philosophical nationalities’, by which he meant national differences of philosophical language, style and doctrinal attitudes. He points towards how the colloquium attempted to negotiate those national differences in the name of what he calls a ‘promised complicity of a common element’, which...

    • 9 From fear to democracy: towards a politics of com-passion
      (pp. 199-219)
      Dorota Glowacka

      In her influential workThe democratic paradox(2000), the French theorist Chantal Mouffe argues that, by privileging rationality, current aggregative and deliberative models of democracy ‘leave aside a central element which is the crucial role played by passions and affects in securing allegiance to democratic values’ (2000: 95). She contends, therefore, that we must mobilize affects and passions towards democratic ends; what is needed is ‘a life politics’ that would enable the creation of ‘a democracy of emotions’, although she never names or describes these emotions (2000: 15).

      In this chapter, I examine the affective modalities of the dilemmas of...

    • 10 Meditations on turning towards violently dead
      (pp. 220-240)
      Sharon Rosenberg

      Taking heed in this essay from Judith Butler’s articulations of violence, community, responsibility, I am immersed (I immerse myself) in a vulnerability of thinking selves in each other’s hands,selvesviolently dead,handsof the ones left behind, endeavouring to face a responsibility that is the condition of living (on). This is vulnerability, this is thought, immersed in Western democracy in the early twenty-first century, in which the crisis of (my) particular concern is the crisis of violent death rendered under the norms of who belongs (and whose lives are thought extinguishable) in the making of contemporary Canada. At stake:...

    • 11 Democracy, accountability and disruption
      (pp. 241-261)
      Rita Kaur Dhamoon

      Over recent decades, there has been a proliferation of literature in contemporary political theory on the relationship between diversity, especially cultural diversity, and democracy. A wide range of theorists have developed and defended various models of democracy (e.g. dialogical, deliberative, communicative, representative or civic–republican democracy) as well as various norms and principles (e.g. reasonable disagreement, egalitarian reciprocity, differentiated citizenship, intercultural dialogue, recognition, non-domination) that aim to promote inclusion and pluralism for the sake of an ideal democratic regime. My goal in this chapter is not to develop or defend a particular kind of democratic model or ideal, but to...

    • 12 Dissensus, ethics and the politics of democracy
      (pp. 262-285)
      Ewa Płonowska Ziarek

      ‘Which ethics for democracy?’, asks Chantal Mouffe, in her article of the same title (2000: 85–94). The numerous answers to this crucial question are mostly characterized by a seemingly irreparable split between obligation and antagonism in political life.¹ In fact, responsibility for the Other constitutes one of the main blind spots in most political theories of antagonism, such as Foucault’s, Deleuze’s or Laclau’s and Mouffe’s, whereas most of the ethical theories of obligation, such as Levinas’s, Derrida’s, Irigaray’s and the numerous commentaries they have inspired, are limited by insufficient attention to the political and subjective dimensions of antagonism. If...

  8. Index
    (pp. 286-310)