Saturday, November 17, 2012

Democracy and its Other

I want to try to engage with the Ranciere reading, even though it’s a bit more dense and nebulous than the other texts for this week. I think that Ranciere’s work is perhaps the most productive because it provides a broad framework with which to think about democracy not solely as a practical institution but as a theoretical object of politics.

I was most intrigued by Ranciere’s assertion that we need to separate government from politics. Government is based on qualifications – who is the wisest, the oldest, the strongest. Politics adds in the question of randomness – it is the supplementary qualification necessary for democratic government to emerge, while at the same time requiring it to be paradoxical. “The very ground for the power of ruling,” he writes, “is that there is no ground at all” (50). Democracy exists by always threatening itself.

It is here that I found Ranciere’s mentions of Derrida to be useful. He notes that Derrida analyzed the way that democracy inherently holds fast to the idea of the self, looking at its ‘auto-immunity.’ Democracy can, and almost needs to be, self-critical, while at the same time retains the right to protect itself against those who “use the freedom of democracy to fight against it” (52). Ranciere here takes umbrage with the idea that this auto-immunity forces the “Other” of democracy to be located outside of democracy. He argues that the heterogeneity of democracy is enough to allow for its Other to exist within itself.

I’m not sure that I agree with Ranciere’s rebuttal. If we take his assertion of the difference between politics and government as valid, then the only “outside” of democracy would also have to be political, not simply governmental – or else they would not be on equal planes. Ranciere does suggest that there is another type of politics, then this is where democracy’s Other is located. Democracy may be heterogeous, but it still subscribes to its own internal logics; even when turning against itself, democracy is following the logics by which it exists in the first place. How, then, can we see the Other existing within democracy? 

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