Rancière (2)

So… democracy.

Rancière doesn’t see democracy as a form of government, or form of State. It is something both more and less than that. States are all more or less despotic, including supposedly “democratic” ones. And non-State forms of authority tend to be based on other forms of unequal power relationships, with authority grounded in age (patriarchy), birth (aristocracy), violence and military prowess (I’m not sure of the name of this), or money and wealth (plutocracy). Our current neoliberal society combines the rule of Capital with the rule of bureaucratic States with their own levels of authority based upon expertise and guardianship of the “rights” of property or Capital. Even though we have a legislature and executive that are chosen by majority, or at least plurality, vote, our society is not very democratic by Rancière’s standards. The role of money in the electoral process, the fact that there are career politicians, the management of increasing aspects of our lives by non-political “experts” (e.g. the Federal Reserve), all militate against what Rancière considers to be even the minimal requirements for democracy.

To a great extent, Rancière uses the idea of “democracy” adjectivally (a society may be more or less democratic) rather than as a noun. For democracy is a tendency, a process, a collective action, rather than a state of affairs, much less an organized State. Democracy is an event; it happens when, for isntance, people militate to change the distribution of what is public and what is private. In the US, the civil rights movement and (more recently) the alterna-globalization protests would be examples of democracy in action. Rancière rightly stresses the activity, which always needs to be renewed, rather than the result. This might be thought of, in Deleuzian terms, as a revolutionary-becoming, rather than an established “revolutionary” State, which is nearly always a disappointment (if not something worse). While I am inclined to agree with Zizek that State power often may need to be actively used in order, for instance, to break the power of Capital, I still find Zizek’s apparent worship of State forms and Party dictatorship reprehensible (it would seem that Zizek has never found an ostensibly left-wing dictator he doesn’t like — except for Tito and Milosevic). Collective processes should not be reduced to State organization, though they may include it. Chavismo is more important than Chavez (whereas Zizek seems to admire Chavez because, rather than in spite of, his tendency to do things that allow his opponents to apply the cliche of “banana-republic dictator” to him). It is admirable that Chavez is using a certain amount of State power, as well as extra-State collective action, in order to break the power of Capital; but to identify a revolutionary process with its leader and authority figure is worse than insane.

But I digress. To value the process of revolutionary-becoming, as Deleuze does, and as Rancière does in a different way, rather than the results of such action, is not to gvie up on lasting change. It is rather to say that change continues to need to happen, as against the faux-utopia of a final resting place, an actually-achieved utopia (which always turns out to be something more like “actually-existing socialism,” as they used to say, precisely because it congeals when the process comes to a stop).

I need to be cautious here about assimilating Rancière too much to Deleuze and Guattari. I am only trying to say that Rancière’s notion of democracy gives substance to something that often sounds too glib and vague when Deleuze and Guattari say it. For Rancière, “democracy” means that no one person or group of people is intrinsically suited to rule, or more suited to rule than anyone else. Democracy means radical contingency, because there is no foundation for the social order. Democracy means absolute egalitarianism; there is no differential qualification that can hierarchize people, or divide rulers from ruled, the worthy from the unworthy. In a democratic situation, anybody is as worthy of respect as anybody else. This means that, for Rancière, the purest form of democracy would be selection by lot (with frequent rotation and replacement), rather than “representative” elections. Selection by chance is grounded in the idea that anyone can exercise a power-function, regardless of “qualifications” or “merit” (let alone the desire to rule or control; if anything, those who desire to have administrative or legislative power are the ones least worthy to have it — to the extent that we can make such a distinction at all).

It is unclear to me whether Rancière actually believes that a total democracy could exist in practice — as opposed to being an ideal to strive for, a kind of Kantian ethical imperative, something we must strive for to the utmost possible, regardless of the degree to which we succeed. (In my previous post, I was privileging both the political and the aesthetic at the expense of the ethical. Here I would add that Kantian morality is not ethics, but perhaps can be seen as the limit of ethics, the point at which it comes closest to politics).

But here’s the point. For Rancière, egalitarianism is not a “fact” (though we can and should continually strive to “verify” it), but an axiom and an imperative. That is to say, it has nothing to do with empirical questions of how much particular people are similar to, or different from, one another (in terms of qualities like manual dexterity or mathematical ability, or for that matter “looks” and “beauty”). Egalitarianism doesn’t deny the fact that any professional tennis player, even a low-ranked one, could effortlessly beat me at tennis, or that Rancière’s philosophical writings are far more profound than mine, or that I couldn’t pass a sophomore college math class. And egalitarianism doesn’t mean that somehow we all ought to be “the same,” whatever that might entail, genetically or experientially. What egalitarianism means, for Rancière, is that we are all intelligent speaking beings, able to communicate with one another. Our very social interaction means that we are on the same level in a very fundamental sense. The person who follows orders is equal to the person who gives orders, in the precise sense that the one who obeys is able to understand the one who commands. In this sense, Rancière says, equality is always already presupposed in any social relation of inequality. You couldn’t have hierarchies and power relations without this more fundamental, axiomatic, equality lying beneath it.

This seems to me to be (though I presume Rancière wouldn’t accept these terms) a sort of Kantian radicalization of Foucault’s claim that power is largely incitative rather than repressive, that it always relies, in almost the last instance (i.e. up to the point of death) upon some sort of consent or acceptance on the part of the one being dominated. Without these fundamental relations of equality, it would not be possible for there to be elites, masters, bosses, people who tell other people what to do, and who have the backing or the authority to do this. So the question of equality is (in Kantian terms) a question of a communication which is not based upon the quantitative rankings that are imposed by the adoption of a “universal equivalent” (money as the commodity against which all other commodities are exchanged) — therefore this, too, relates to the Kantian problematic that I discussed in my previous posting on Rancière.

Of course, in our personal lives, we never treat everyone else with total equality. I love some people, and not others. I am always haunted by Jean Genet’s beautiful text on Rembrandt, where he mourns the way that Rembrandt’s revelation of the common measure, or equality, of everybody means, in a certain register, the death of his desire, the end of lusting after, and loving, and privileging, one individual in particular. But the power of Genet’s essay resides in the fact that, in the ultimate state of things, this universal equality cannot be denied any more than the singularity of desire can be. And that is why, or how, I think that the lesson Genet draws from Rembrandt is close to the lesson on equality that Rancière draws from, among others, the 19th-century French pedagogue Jacotet (the subject of Rancière’s book The Ignorant Schoolmaster).

Democracy, or egalitarianism, is not a question of singular desire; but it is very much a question of how we can, and should, live together socially, given that we are deeply social animals. Which is why I see it a kind of imperative, and as something that we always need to recall ourselves to, amidst the atomization — and deprivation for many — enforced by the neoliberal State and the savage “law” of the “market.” To that extent, I think that Rancière is invaluable.

There is something I miss in Rancière, however, and that is a sense of political economy, as opposed to just politics. This absence may have something to do with Rancière’s rejection of his Althusserian Marxist past. He is certainly aware of the plutocratic aspects of today’s neoliberal network society. He doesn’t make the mistake of focusing all his ire on the State, while ignoring the pseudo-spontaneity of the Market and its financial instruments. But he never addresses, in the course of his account of democracy, the way in which economic organization, as well as political organization, needs to be addressed. Here, again, is a place where I think that Marx remains necessary (and also, as I said in the previous post, Mauss — as expounded, for example, by Kevin Hart). Exploitation cannot be reduced to domination, and the power of money cannot be reduced to the coercive power of the State or of other hierarchies. Aesthetics needs to be coupled with political economy, and not just with politics. So I still find a dimension lacking in Rancière — but he helps, as few contemporary thinkers do, in starting to get us there.

18 Responses to “Rancière (2)”

  1. Steve Platz says:

    Thank you very much for your thought provoking writing about Jacque Rancière, as I’ve just begun an exploration of his work myself and have appreciated your straight-forward analyses of difficult material in the past. My initial concern with regard to the idea of Democracy outlined here is the problematic that is presented by the terms on which it relies: the (perhaps) inevitable slide from its evental representation to a nominal one (I realize that you stressed Rancière’s thought that democracy occurs with radical contingency to each force that legitimizes it; nevertheless, it remains difficult for you, and for each of us, to maintain this character in writing about it – we remain stuck in demanding its instantiation, rather than allowing it to either happen or not); as well as the the difficulty that arises with talk about pure egalitarianism. Maybe J.R. elaborates a way out of this bind (I wouldn’t know), but for me, it remains insurmountable in this discussion, the fact that egalitarianism requires a guarantor for its actuality. It’s likely that our regular social mechanisms have never tended toward equality – just the opposite in fact, as you’ve said – and would therefore need some feature, something in excess of equality, to keep it in place. I like the idea that equality is basic to relations of power; however, that seems here to be rather a glitch in the structure of our argument for democratic happenings, relying too much upon the economy of power relations for our analysis, than an asset. Deleuze has offered an alternative that allows for an accidental democracy (albeit sans equality, of any kind), but I’m not sure that helps your overall project. In any case, I would much rather be admonished on these issues than left feeling the gaping holes of impossible democracy, even for Rancière. Please help.

  2. Steve, I don’t know how to answer the issues you raise. I am still feeling my own way here. I think it is important that the axiom or postulate of equality is in a certain sense always already operative, since it is preassumed by any form of domination or inequality in society. What I meant to add in my posting, but didn’t, is that I find Rancière’s formulations superior to, and far more persuasive than, Derrida’s formulations on a “democracy to come.” The Kantian theme of an imperative that is never entirely fulfilled, but in respect to which we also cannot say “it sounds good in theory, but is of no use in practice” — because it is only in practice that it is meaningful in the first place — this idea seems to me to be better understood in Rancière’s terms than in Derrida’s.

  3. Nate says:

    hi Steve,
    Nice post, and the last one as well. This helped me put a few things together in my head. Some thoughts in no particular order – if you haven’t read it, there are two chapters in Badiou’s Metapolitics which are about Ranciere which are quite good, though I think B’s wrong and R’s right. On Marxism, I also miss the political economy, but I know I read in an interview somewhere that R said his project is in part to politicize how we think about the economy rather than the more typical marxist move which is the reverse – seeing politics as an expression of the economy. I can think of a few places where this reading is compatible with Marx. One is in the beginning of the Grundrisse, somewhere there in the discarded preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy Marx remarks something to the effect that capitalism involves a prior distribution of class relations and people into those relations. All the remarks alluding to primitive accumulation in v1 of Capital and then the final section on prim acc also fit here, I think. On the other hand, it seems to me that Marx is most often a critical of (political economy as) policing. I’m not quite sure how to fit that perspective into Ranciere’s framework. Another bit where I think the Ranciere fits in in with Marx is on the preconditions of capitalism in terms of the forms of cooperation and reproduction that have to go on prior to/alongside the sale of labor for wages. Marx isn’t great on that stuff and sometimes sounds like cooperation is an effect of capital rather than a potential – and I would argue also an actuality – that laborers bring with them when they sell their labor power. I think that’s parallel to Ranciere’s equality as precondition for inequality. Lastly, I’m not up on the literature on the term (because I think it’s either trotskyist or maoist in origin and I’m a bit sectarian) but I think arguably Ranciere’s democracy as event could be read as a return to the old marxist idea of permanent revolution. Or, a phrase I like better, to communism as the real movement which abolishes the present order and as freely associating humans.
    take care,

  4. Steve, Ranciere’s privileging of the political, its severance from the economic, is not a repudiation, but a continuation, of his Althusserian past. No matter how much he was always at some remove from Althusser’s group, and later broke with him over ’68, he nevertheless continues the central tenet of Althusser’s barely disguised Maoism: “put politics in command”. The high wire act by which Althusser creates the ‘relative autonomy’ of the political, while pretending to a certain Marxist orthodoxy, opened the space in which politics could be this ungrounded act of leveling. (One finds something similar, for the same reasons, in Badiou). Unlike Althusser, Ranciere and others were not trying to stay inside the party and hence there’s no game with m aking the unorthodox sound orthodox.

  5. Jodi says:

    I don’t find Ranciere’s supposition of equality convincing: the ‘understanding’ presupposed in giving an order is minimal (if it exists at all). If the servant/slave/worker is thought of as a kind of appendage or tool, then they don’t have to understand the words of an order–we can think of people on an assembly line who don’t speak the language of the supervisor or understand the process of what is being made; we can think of the slave in Aristotle who is just an appendage of the master; we can think of the drones of soldiers in an army who march into situations about which they know little to nothing. There is not an underlying communicativity/communicability here. Another way to put this: the model of teaching/edification is not appropriate here.

    I also don’t find the claim that politics is necessarily democratic convincing–again, what about conquerors? those who undertake a coup? those whose mastery of bureaucracy enables them to shape a situation to their benefit? What about the actions of justices and legislators? To my mind, Ranciere ends up with a view of democracy that is akin to a feeling of hysterical resistance and rejections–no, no, not that, no! There is no responsibility for power or governance in this conception so that any actual governing can only be a form of anti-politics.

    The most compelling idea he has is that democracy means no one is qualified to rule. I’ve been pondering this for a while and don’t know what to do with it. I’m not convinced–yet–that his reading of Aristotle so as to get to this point is persuasive. And, if that derivation is not persuasive, then I’m not sure on what he can rest his claim that this is what democracy means.

  6. Melanie says:

    To the last two:
    MW’s comment is interesting, but I don’t agree that politics gets severed from economics in Badiou or Ranciere. The axiom of equality is necessarily anti-capitalist. And I think there’s some truth to what Shapiro says in that Ranciere’s break from Althusser involved breaking from the tradition that allows the insistence on “the base” and “the final instance” to stand in for politics when it is so often oriented toward class relations being immutable.
    As for Jodi’s comments: Yes, of course, the equality involved in obeying orders is minimal. Ranciere never says otherwise. But his point, following Jocotot, is that there is a minimal equality that must precede all inequality. Inequality is impossible without this minimal equality that makes communication possible. There’s nothing in Ranciere’s argument that presumes soldiers in Iraq know why the war was waged in the first place.
    Also, Ranciere’s link of democracy/politics/equality is not provable and rests on no foundation. If it did, it would be just another example of political philosophy and politics in his sense, which can never be a question of governance unless that governance is seized by those who are excluded. It is in a sense hysterical but the hysteric also can say “yes!”

  7. kieran says:

    steve, great post. i particularly like the kantian emphasis in your recent work, and very much enjoyed your paper at SPEP. i look forward to reading your new book when it comes out, as kant and deleuze is a duo i have an abiding interest in.
    some remarks: i think jodi is right to be suspicious of communication. this thesis of an ‘understanding prior to all exploitation’ smacks of Habermasian ‘consensus’ theory, with its notion of communication through some sort of unspecified ‘sensus communus’, an aspect of which Steve’s post seems on the one hand to deny (via deleuze’s reading of the 3rd critique) and paradoxically elsewhere to imply. perhaps this is due to my lack of familiarity with ranciere, which i admit, as i’m new to him.
    anyway, keep up the great work steve.
    as a closing aside, you might be interested in checking out takashi shirani’s new Tome on Deleuze, entitled “deleuze et une philosophie de l’immanence”. besides being a magesterial and important new systematic study of deleuze, it was also written under the supervision of Ranciere, and contains a preface by him. to my (limited) knowledge, this is the longest discussion i’ve found by Ranciere of Deleuze’s work, albeit in the context of another’s treatment of it. and it speaks to the stuff on the faculties you’re interested in these days.

  8. kieran says:

    ps. Steve, you might be interested in this conference that is coming up. deadline for abstracts is feb 1st. i think it should be pretty interesting, and right up your (current) alley.


  9. Nate says:

    hi Jodi,

    I think the slave and assembly line worker you mention in your comment don’t exist, except in fictions like Aristotle’s. They may be “thought of as a kind of appendage or tool” but they are only _thought_ of that way and the boss may attempt to treat them as such, but that thought and treatment does not exhaust what they are/can be (the history of slavery and labor history make no sense if we say otherwise). Likewise they are only _thought_ not “to understand the words of an order.” And they are thought of in that way for all kinds of obvious and ideological reasons, not least in order to prop up the attempt to continue to treat them as appendages (to continue to force them into surplus labor).

    As for “people on an assembly line who don’t (…) understand the process of what is being made,” who are these people and what does “understand the process” mean? When I did that kind of work (briefly) I didn’t understand the physics of how the machinery worked or the chemical properties of the materials, but I knew a little bit of where the products came from and what they were for. And I certainly understood the command relationship between my boss and me, and the hierarchies among my co-workers. Anecdotes aside, I think it’s just as plausible that assembly line workers have a pretty clear “understand[ing] of the process” as to say they don’t, and I’ve seen more evidence for the former than the latter.

    As for workers and slaves who “who don’t speak the language of the supervisor,” is the implication here that they don’t understand the orders they’re given or do I misread you? Either way, it seems to me that workers and slaves must speak the language of their supervisor (and I think there are many more cases of this than cases of what you suggest, frankly I think there are none of the type you suggest). Can you think of any conditions where this is not the case? Granted, there may be division of labor where one worker or set of workers serves as interpreter for others, but that doesn’t mean “the worker doesn’t speak the language” in any way that erodes Ranciere’s point – there is precisely “an underlying communicativity/communicability here.”

    As for the politics of coups and conquerors, I don’t think that’s a substantive objection to Ranciere. Ranciere essentially begins by saying “I will call some type of phenomena politics and I will call these other phenomena policing.” He doesn’t really present an argument for that use of terms, or not a convincing one, but I’ve yet to see a convincing argument against that use of terms. Basically that means that at least some of the time when you and many others say “politics” the relationship between that utterance and Ranciere’s utterance “politics” is a homophone, not a synonym. Some of what you call “politics” Ranciere calls “police.” I think “why do that?” is a fair question, but to say “Ranciere doesn’t talk about or have any interest in important parts of what we call politics” would be inaccurate. He does. He just uses the word “police” for them. That means he probably has a bigger range of phenomena to which he says “police” and maybe a narrower range to which he says “politics” than is common in many places, and the idiosyncracy may be confusing and annoying, but is there anything actually _wrong_ with it? I don’t see where Ranciere’s making a mistake. I understand that I’m not making a convincing argument for Ranciere, I’m just stating that I don’t think you make a convincing one against.


  10. Jodi says:

    Nate–for me the problem rests in Ranciere’s reliance on communication and understanding to ground his claim for an equality already presupposed by inequality. Empirically, this is not convincing–a quick google search turns up articles on contractors training supervisors to speak Spanish since their workers speak Spanish but not English; it turns up stories of ‘illegal immigrants,’ who speak various Chinese dialects (in France), but nothing else. On a different front, Hardt and Negri discuss the ways employers have used people of different language groups to prevent workers from organizing. So, I don’t think there is an underlying communicativity that can be construed as grounding a claim to equality. It’s like saying that the fact that a dog knows to fetch the stick entails a fundamental equality between owner and dog, rather than a relation of force and training.

    To ‘understand’ a command relationship does not entail an underlying equality–and if it does, it needs to be argued for, established, not simply posited. In accounts of monarchical power during the late middle ages in parts of Europe, there were elaborate justifications of monarchical authority and superiority and the natural inequalities of persons. So, we have an effort to ‘understand’ a command relationship that does not entail that relationship depends on an underlying equality. Shoot, most discussions of the position of women for thousands of years have justified and explained inequality; again, communication does not establish a fundamental or prior equality.

    The claim for equality is political–not presupposed in human relations.

    Ranciere’s ‘terms’ are not just descriptors. There is a critical, normative dimension that validates what is political and invalidates what is policing. It’s a variation on constitutiing and constituted power (and about that convincing, which isn’t very). His terms, then, render every aspect of governance into a problem, which means that any exercise of power and authority is a problem, which means that politics is only resistance without responsibility. For me, that’s not a useful account of politics. And, I think it loses a critical edge.

  11. Nate says:

    hi Jodi,

    Hmm. I’ll agree with you to some extent – I think Ranciere overstates his case and comes close to one of those prefixed-politics things he hates, by making it sound like the very fact of human language use makes for equality as such, as if it was wired into brains or something, and makes equality into a positive thing (which I think means it would pass over into the realm of police, as R sounds to me like his use of the term politics is only ever negative).

    The critical point to my mind is what you noted above, that no one is qualified to rule; it’s basically a prescription – if X is a form of inequality, attack it. The better version of Ranciere’s argument, I think, is not “if there is language use there is already a positive equality” but rather something like “inequality always contradicts itself.” Ranciere would I think say something like “inequality claims involve a claim addressed to those who are held to be unequal; addressing those who are unequal involves taking them as equal in so far as they can understand the utterance ‘you are not equal to us’.” I think that’s a nice rhetorical move and I think Ranciere’s right that this is included in all contexts like that – including the examples you show. In all of those examples it’s possible to show this sort of equality. I don’t know what that showing would really accomplish, though – I don’t know what work Ranciere thinks that does, except perhaps rhetorical, shoring up the commitment to equality of those who are already committed to that notion. Whenever I think of this bit in Ranciere I think about acts of violence. I think Ranciere’s right about the implied notion of equality, but if soldiers murder a family to send a message to others on that block not to get involved in subversive activity I don’t know that that implied notion of equality matters much.

    As for governance … Ranciere does think there are better and worse police orders, he says as much in Disagreement, but he’d still say they’re still police orders. This comes back to the state and its role in politics. Ranciere’s basically an anarchist and you’re not. That’s a pretty major disagreement I think. I’m not sure at all where to start. I’m with Ranciere on that one, but that’s because I was already convinced before I read him.

    take care,

  12. Alain says:

    I know I am late to this discussion but I just wanted to make a small point. I think Nate raises a legitimate concern about Ranciere’s notion of politics: assuming the most generous interpretation of what he is trying to defend, what difference does it make for the real politics of flesh and blood people?

    And I assume this will not be accepted by everyone but it seems that Ranciere does make a Derridean point: That inequality is impossible without some minimal notion of equality to support it. It would seem that in this theory equality is both necessary and impossible – a condition of possibility for inequality and something that cannot be realized in any institutional setting because, by definition, power relations are the province of the Police.

    Now this may in fact be a very defensible argument but it seems to lead to the sort of paradoxical impass that many find unattractive with Derrida’s thought – paradoxical conclusions do not seem to provide any help (or even motivation) dealing with very difficult economic and political challenges.

  13. Nate says:

    hi Alain,
    I’d like to hear what Steve thinks of this (Steve, sorry if I’ve been a boorish party guest here by holding forth in your living room); my take is that Ranciere does believe equality is real, but it’s not clear that it’s instantiable in institutions. There can be better institutions, but institutions still seem to be of the police order, of the assignment of parts. He says that in different ways in both Ignorant Schoolmaster and Disagreement. I think that convincing, but it seems to me that the disruption of the assignment of parts can also involve things which are like institutions – the family goes unproblematized completely in the Ignorant Schoolmaster, for one. I do think R is clear that he doesn’t mean “it’s all police” in a sort of “so it’s all the same” kind of way – the differences in police orders are very important. But I can see how some of this may not be very satisfying. (That aside, if your the Alain I think you are, let’s get a cup of coffee in early january.)

  14. Hi, Nate — no problem, I have enjoyed & learned from reading your comments here, as well as Jodi’s and others’. That I don’t respond very often in comment threads on my own postings is more a consequence of how my attention span works than anything else (basically: it is on/off, with nothing in between; once I’ve finished my post and feel that I have had my say, I basically move on to something else, and thus don’t feel attentive or motivated enough to re-enter the argument).

    But anyway. I do tend to find Ranciere’s positing of a pre-assumed equality behind all structures of inequality to be convincing. I do think it is built into the very way we are linguistic, cultural, and social beings; and that, even at the extreme limits of genocide, extermination, etc., and all the more so in situations of both wage-labor exploitation and of slavery, the rulers, dominators, killers, or exploiters are already operating, and could only operate, on the basis of this pre-assumed equality.

    Though I will not try to argue this out here, I also think that Ranciere’s axiom of equality is a much better way to think about this unavoidably pre-existing relation than any of its competitors are (such competitors would include, most notably, Levinas’ doctrine of infinite debt to the Other; but also psychoanalytic theories, together with various theories about the social bond, the social contract, etc.).

    As for the claim that radical equality may not actually be capable of full instantiation in actual institutions, and that we are unable to avoid some sort of police order (though, as you point out, “the differences in police orders are very important”) — this doesn’t trouble me too much, largely because of the Kantian way that (as I worked out in both my posts) I am reading Ranciere in the first place. Equality is a necessary axiom to start out with, and it is also something that (as Ranciere says in The Ignorant Schoolmaster something that continually needs to be verified — which makes it something of a social heuristic, or (as I would prefer to put it) a Kantian “regulative idea.” Because it is regulative, it is a guide for action (for both praxis and poiesis, if I am correctly remembering how Ranciere reflects on these Greek terms). A society of pure “politics” with no “policing” may never be attained; but I think the way Ranciere projects this politics as a continually renewable practice (of struggle) is vastly preferable to the way Derrida resolves the same Kantian dilemma in the direction of a “democracy to come” which we must always wait for but never attain.

  15. [...] causes state repression which causes larger upheaval, that’s the political fantasy there (politics or police?). V also involves the fantasy of being elect – the small group which has knowledge of the world [...]

  16. yourequal says:

    thanks for posting your notes on ranciere — very interesting material! i also find ranciere’s account of equality persuasive and provocative, much like his admittedly contentious use of the term politics, which does seem quite problematic to me…

    as for the comments, i was surprised by Jodi’s hostility to the axiom of equality, which in her/his comments went as far as implicitly likening workers to dogs who can merely learn to fetch things, but never have the capacity — namely intelligence — equal to their master/owner (since according to Jodi these are not relations of communication or intelligence, but only of “force and training”)… the reference to medieval justifications of the proper social order marked by blatant inequality is also a weak point since those justifications invoked proportion as measure of equality and hence as justification for inequality/proportion in assignment of social roles for prosperity of “all”… in any case, i’m surprised by such reactions to the axiom of equality and generally to ranciere’s writings (which seem to me in Jodi’s comments to be based on one or two reads that are only tangentally related to shaviro’s post)

  17. [...] that systems of power and systems of meaning are simultaneous in their occurence and enactment. Power expresses and enforces meaning, while meaning supports and justifies power. Power and meaning both [...]

  18. mark says:


    I find it difficult to get past the fact that Ranciere was a member of the Maoist organisation, Gauche Proletarienne, when it was recommending random lynching (their word) (ie ad hoc killing) of the bourgeoisie and the eventual liquidation (their word) of the bourgeoisie by the workers. This was demanded in the GP newspaper, La Cause du Peuple, during the Brigitte Dewevre case in 1972. This slaughter was to emerge from the implementation of ‘people’s justice’, a part of the program of direct democracy. Ranciere was working at Paris University at the time, having been selected by Foucault. Neither Foucault, who visited Bruay-en-Artois where the murder took place, nor Ranciere who was a member of the Gauche Proletarienne, could bring themselves to write against this call for mass murder, though Sartre in a remarkable turnaround from his position in relation to the Papin sisters, did write against it. Foucault’s lover was a member of Gauche Proletarienne.

    This might all seem a cruel joke were it not for the fact that only four years later some other Paris University trained politicians, who were members of Maoist organisations while studying in France, put this bizarre policy into action. They renamed their country to begin with the word ‘Democratic’ just to show their intentions. Then they proceeded to do just what the Gauche Proletarienne called for, and set about liquidating the bourgeoisie. Their leader was a Stalinist, but the next layer of henchmen were Paris University trained Maoists. They killed some 1.5 million people – over one quarter of their country’s population before they were stopped by an invasion by a neighbour. The second part of that tragic country’s name is Kampuchea.

    Ranciere, to my knowledge, has never repudiated the position of the party of which he was a member. His book ‘Hatred of Democracy’, by its title alone, continues the tradition of stirring up hate and, thus, violence.

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