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January 19th, 2011 at 8:10 am

Alain Badiou on Democracy — From “Democracy in What State?”

Alain Badiou

“We will only ever be true democrats, integral to the historic life of peoples, when we become communists again. Roads to that future are gradually becoming visible even now.”—Alain Badiou

Yesterday we posted an excerpt from Giorgio Agamben’s contribution to the new collection Democracy in What State?.

Today in Alain Badiou’s response to the question, ““Is it meaningful to call oneself a democrat? And if so, how do you interpret the word?” In his essay “The Democratic Emblem,” Badiou dissects how the idea or “emblem” of democracy has been manipulated by democrats. He then explores Plato’s critique of democracy and how it relates to the present.

Here is an excerpt:

Our concern is le monde, the world that evidently exists, not tout le monde, where the democrats (Western folk, folk of the emblem) hold sway and everyone else is from another world —which being other, is not a world properly speaking, just a remnant of life, a zone of war, hunger, walls, and delusions. In that “world” or zone, they spend their time packing their bags to get away from the horror or to leave altogether and be with—whom? With the democrats of course, who claim to run the world have jobs that need doing….

In sum, if the world of the democrats is not the world of everyone, if tout le monde isn’t really the whole world after all, then democracy the emblem and custodian of the walls behind which the democrats seek their petty pleasures, is just a word for a conservative oligarchy whose main (and often bellicose) business is to guard its own territory, as animals do, under the usurped name world.

Badiou concludes by writing:

What I have aimed to do here is to set brackets around the authority the word democracy is likely to enjoy, or have enjoyed, in the mind of the reader and make the Platonic critique of democracy comprehensible. But as a coda, we can go right back to the literal meaning of democracy if we like: the power of peoples over their own existence. Politics immanent in the people and the withering away, in open process, of the State. From that perspective, we will only ever be true democrats, integral to the historic life of peoples, when we become communists again. Roads to that future are gradually becoming visible even now.

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