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January 26th, 2011 at 11:05 am

Jacques Ranciere on Democracies Against Democracy

Jacques Ranciere

“It is not in the least evident to me that democracy enjoys total unquestioning support. Things were different during the cold war, when it was democracy versus totalitarianism. But since the Berlin Wall fell, what we’ve witnessed in the countries we call “the democracies” has been a mistrustful and faintly or openly derisive attitude toward democracy.” —Jacques Rancière

In Democracy in What State? , Jacques Rancière is interviewed examines some of the threats to democracy as well as some of its dangers. Below is an excerpt from his interview (For excerpts from other contributors: Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Daniel Bensaid, Wendy Brown, and Jean-Luc Nancy ).

You dissent from the view that today there isn’t anyone who isn’t an adherent, a firm supporter, of democracy. Perhaps it’s because you conceive of democracy quite differently from the way most people do.

Jacques Ranciere: The answer is twofold. In the first place, it is indeed my position that democracy is irreducible to either a form of government or a mode of social life. Second, even granting the so-called ordinary sense of the word democracy, it is not in the least evident to me that democracy enjoys total unquestioning support. Things were different during the cold war, when it was democracy versus totalitarianism. But since the Berlin Wall fell, what we’ve witnessed in the countries we call “the democracies” has been a mistrustful and faintly or openly derisive attitude toward democracy. In Hatred of Democracy I tried to show that a large part of the dominant discourse is working in one way or another against democracy. Take for example the debates in France surrounding the elections of 2002 or the referendum on the European constitution in 2005. We heard all this talk about the democratic catastrophe, about irresponsible individuals, about all these little consumers pondering great national choices as though they were shopping for perfume or something. What all this led to in the end was that the constitution was not resubmitted to the popular vote. Indeed we saw a huge display of distrust of the popular vote. Yet the popular vote is part of the official definition of democracy. We heard the same old line coming from people like Daniel Cohn-Bendit: that democracy brought Hitler to power and so on. Among those regarded as intellectuals the dominant view is that democracy is the rule of the preformatted individual consumer, it is mediocracy, the rule of the media. You find the same stance from the right to the far left, from Alain Finkielkraut to Tikkun.

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