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January 20th, 2011 at 8:24 am

Daniel Bensaid on Democracy

Daniel Bensaid

“The widely trumpeted victory of democracy soon yielded a crop of new Tocquevilles voicing their ill-concealed dislike of it…”—Daniel Bensaid

Continuing our series of excerpt from Democracy in What State? (for excerpts by Giorgio Agamben and Alain Badiou), we feature an excerpt from Daniel Bensaid written before his death in 2010.

In his essay “Permanent Scandal,” Bensaid ponders the institutionalization of democracy. Exploring the ideas of a range of theorists, Bensaid also examines the contradictions of democracy’s victory.

Bensaid writes:

With the debacle of bureaucratic despotism and “real” (i. e. unreal) socialism, the floating signifier democracy became a synonym for the victorious West, the triumphant United States of America, the free market, and the level playing field. Simultaneously, a full-scale onslaught against social solidarity and social rights and an unprecedented campaign to privatize everything were causing the public space to shrivel. Hannah Arendt’s erstwhile fear of seeing politics itself, meaning conflictual plurality, disappear from the face of the earth, to be replaced by the routine administration of things beings, was apparently coming about.

The widely trumpeted victory of democracy soon yielded a crop of new Tocquevilles voicing their ill-concealed dislike of it, reminding their readers that democracy meant more than just unfettered exchange and the free circulation of capital: it was also the expression of a disturbing egalitarian principle … we heard the elitist discourse of a restricted group worried by the intemperance, excess, and exuberance of the common heard.

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