Cutting Democracy’s Knot

In his first extended speech in the midst of the rebellions of the banlieues and an officially declared state of emergency, French President Jacques Chirac announced that the problem confronting France was ‘a crisis of meaning, a crisis of reference points and an identity crisis.’ Some time before this, Jean-Luc Nancy had remarked that ‘the “crisis of sense” is, first of all and most visibly, a “crisis of democracy”‘. If, in the events of November 2005 in France as in so many others, it is possible to discern the connections between Chirac’s crisis of meaning, foundation and identity, and that of democracy which Nancy alluded to, it is no less the case, we would argue, that such crises have become as constant as the emergencies that shadow them. Indeed, given that these crises proliferate with an unrelenting–not to mention increasingly militarised–assurance, their routine characterisation as the anachronistic re-appearance of totalitarianism (or sovereignty or fascism) in or against democracy seems incapable of offering more than platitudinous demands for a postponement of responsibility. Whatever else democracy might imply–which is to say, however emptied of meaning it and its formal correlate of citizenship might be–it neither finds nor seeks repose at one pole of the oscillation between a juridico-commercial emptiness and a totalitarian plenitude, between, in other words, the citizen and the subject, by turns more or less empty or more or less absolute. On the contrary, democracy is this very oscillation and, hence, this very ‘crisis’.

Full text. Co-authored with Brett Neilson, Culture Machine, Vol 8 (2006).


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