January 23, 2013

Populism or Democracy?

After the December, 2012 constitutional referendum in Egypt we find that electoral success may not translate into popular support. So how do democracies come to diverge from populism?
Democratic governments claim that the will of the populace is represented in government decision-making and policy. Yet historically democracy has had two broad variants. One variation, widespread until the early 19th century, was where ordinary people by force of numbers govern, so that democracy (sometimes known as popular democracy) is shaped by a relation between all the people and a form of government. A second now more commonly accepted form is where carefully selected representatives govern.  The claim of electoral democracies to full democracy is based on the second form, which unfortunately is now widely associated with democracy to the exclusion of the earlier and still popular sense.

January 7, 2013

Jean-Luc Nancy


Jean-Luc Nancy points out that democracy now means (or signifies) a number of totally different things: politics, ethic, law, civilization—and therefore means nothing.

Chantal Mouffe

Much of democratic thought, especially liberal and deliberative forms of democracy, is dependent upon, and emphasizes, consensus and majority rules. But according to Mouffe, consensus oppresses differences--in race, opinions, class, gender, etc.--by forcing conformity according to similarities with, most often, the privileged groups in any society. Because of the ubiquity of power—the tendency for the majority to rule the minority—and the plurality of values in any given society, decisions are never neutral or purely democratic; they are always excluding, privileging, and determining according to certain criteria. It is therefore impossible to achieve the proposed aim of liberal and deliberative democracies: fully inclusive rational consensus.

Jean-François Lyotard

In contemporary politics, the word democracy most often connotes ideas like government, state, human rights, law, etc. It is often perceived as a system or meta-narrative designed to organize and order differences hierarchically according to the majority rule (aggregative democracy), or particular “(I)deas of reason,” such as freedom, patriotism, human rights, nationalism, justice, etc.

Jacques Derrida

Most basically, Jacques Derrida's thesis is that enactment of a democratic political state must, in some fundamental ways, undermine the very principles of democracy upon which it is founded. The paradox of democracy is this: democracy is, by definition, necessarily always open to it’s other, to non-democracy. Democracy, as the direct will of the people, contains the possibility that you could actually vote for the end of democracy. If democracy is truly democratic, then it must be open to the democratic election of a new form of government, or the democratic cessation of democracy. The alternative to democracy, or criticisms of democracy can be held within democracy. Democracy thus only and always exists in and as this tension between its idea and its realization.

Alain Badiou

Building on Plato’s two theses about democracy, Badiou suggests democracy can be viewed as both a form of government (the state), and mode of subject-construction (the democrat). But, according to Badiou, the fundamental question at the heart of the democratic government—at heart of all of its state structures—is “of what objective space, of what settled collectivity, is democracy a democracy.” In other words, over what constituency does democracy govern? His answer: (D)emocrats. Therefore, since the democrat is at the heart of democracy-as-government, Badiou suggests we look for democracy at the subjective impact of this state rather than at its objective state status; he proposes a shift in focus from the legal framework of democracy to the democrat.