Democracy Against: The Antinomies of Politics
Nelson, Bryan Derek Knox
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How should democracy be thought? How do we go about organising its concept? On what basis? And to what end? Rather than confine democracy to an ancient political constitution or modern system of government, this dissertation pursues a conception of democracy often concealed by the customary institutional analysis. Written as a sustained appraisal of the often antagonistic encounter between philosophy and politics, as a strategy to reframe democracy an emancipatory, transformative agency of the demos, it is proposed that the topic of democracy be initiated according to what democracy is against. This approach serves to entirely reconsider the question of democracy, engendering a renewed interpretation of what the power of the people can mean. Through a series of detailed studies of Jacques Rancire, Claude Lefort and Miguel Abensour, it is argued that democracy invariably appears as a counter or objection to an established social order in which a spectrum of familiar modes of domination are already in place. As the initiation of a unique political controversy and dispute, democracy is presented as an unprecedented challenge to unrestricted and arbitrary rule, concentrations of authority, strategies of inequality and hierarchies of all kinds. It is identified with the forces that seek to expose, contest and transform oppressive and exclusionary arrangements and practices from below, from the outside, from a minoritarian positionality. Ultimately seeking more inclusive, participatory and egalitarian institutions and relations, democracy is consequently conceived as the perpetual democratisation of society. After a preliminary reflection on the Hellenistic roots of politics itself, the dissertation undertakes an extensive analysis of what is determined to be democracys most general form: its being-against the arch (the underlying principle that divides governor from governed, ruler from ruled). It then proceeds to consider two contemporary theoretical models that uncover the against in more distinguishing terms: Rancires democracy against the police and Abensours democracy against the State. It concludes that contrary to its long tradition since Plato, philosophy can enhance and embolden an emancipatory politics, as Lefort demonstrates, when it ventures to advance a radical, savage conception of democracy organised to critique the here and now.