Identity crisis of democracy

by Social Resistance

Today, there doesn’t seem to be a recipe for the world any longer. And the more it remains untouched, the greater the risk of a general lack of taste. Or worse, the possibility of being burnt. What is at stake is the way in which we relate to the world.

Contemporary politics, mainly portrayed by the liberal democracy, is gradually showing more and more breaking points. They are no simple cracks and tears, but profound ruptures coming from within. The contemporary crisis does not merely refer to superficial ecological or economical problems, but challenges the very foundations of our relation with the world.

The question remains wither or whether another political system is possible today. And no one seems to be able to answer this question. Even more, today, it appears that with the increase of supranational entities, a possible answer not only removes itself gradually from ordinary everyday life, but also becomes more and more penetrated by the preferences of these decision-makers. In other words, on the one hand the general or global political play appears to become of progressively less concern to us.

On the other, it means the powers that be try to straighten the question marks hanging over the fate of the world to their own convictions. But an exclamation mark is nothing more than a question mark in disguise. If anything, a crisis first of all makes clear the politics of the world, all politics, lacks unity or certainty.

A radical definition of democracy might even well be situated in such a lack: in difference and uncertainty. Even more, these could well be democracy’s abysmal grounds. A democracy that becomes instrumentalized by an indefinite thought of unity – be it that of the coalition of the willing, of an apparent neoliberal end of history (cf. Fukuyama) or even that of a so called third way – looses its democratic nature.

As such, it rather refers to a unity of a people, its demos, and no longer to the inherent difference and diversity of such a people. Unfortunately this seems to be the case in a world that increasingly flirts with right-wing demagogues and a discourse of capital. Just think about the differences between rich and poor, north and south, good and (the axis of) evil, between the haves and havenots. Or closer to home: the presumed difference between Flanders and Wallonia and the Flemish claim to limit democratic prosperity to the northern part of the country. Today it seems the people that should govern a democracy does not concern everyone.

The contemporary global crisis at least has to do something with such a thought of exclusivity. And a world, every world, both that of the (supra-)national decision-makers and that of a single individual, can never be complete, which means global, when people are being excluded. A world is indeed the space where everyone can take place (if not there, then where?). If a politics of the world, a cosmopolitanism, wants to signify something today, it needs to place itself above all within such a (cosmo-)polis: within the being-in-common with others, be that within the (Aristotelian) city, within a country or within a world.

Politics primarily refers to the questioning of this common of being. Such an inquiry is nothing other than an exploration of its own foundations and can hence be no reference to an answer that already is penetrated with arguments for the benefit of one or another presumed exclusivity. Rethinking democracy does not in as much refer to the invention of new political forms or systems, but assorts a retracing of its own premisses. Democracy is all about possibilities of opening and re-opening (meta-)physical space. And this demands for another approach of reality than the one that suppresses the world today.

Such an approach does not stop or end at its own limits or exclusivities, but opens up onto its own involvement. This is nothing other than an engagement with the world, an engagement that might bring us further than the limits of our own selves. An engagement that can only concern you and me.