Democratic malaise, political disarray and panic: a year after Francois Hollande’s election, things aren’t looking good. Jacques Rancière and Pierre Rosanvallon, two major thinkers and theorists of democracy, attempt to understand our moral and political predicament.
From the 7 May 2013 print edition of Le Monde
Jacques Rancière is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris-VIII. His books include On the Shores of Politics, Short Voyages to the Land of the People, The Nights of Labor, Staging the People, and The Emancipated Spectator. His next book, Aisthesis, is out in June by Verso.
Pierre Rosanvallon is a French center-left thinker, previously involved with François Furer in the Fondation Saint-Simon. His books in English include, amongst others, Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity; Democracy Past and Future; and The Demands of Liberty. In 2002 he founded the République des Idées.
How did you make democracy and equality the central axes of your political concerns, inquiries and research ?
Pierre Rosanvallon: I became a full timer for the CFDT [union federation] when I finished at the HEC [business school] just after May ’68. At that time I began to read an enormous amount on the history of the workers’ movement. I had made contact with a publisher, Léon Centner, who had issued an impressive collection of hundreds of pamphlets on the building of the workers’ movement, Les Révolutions du XIXe siècle [‘The Revolutions of the Nineteenth Century’] in 48 volumes. Having got the CFDT to buy the lot, I dived into reading them. From that point on, I knew well that it is impossible to understand the tasks of the present – the project of self-management then being central – without a long-term perspective on the questions in hand. I wanted, besides, to understand the disorderly phenomena of democracy. To know why the structures of collective organisation did not work as well as expected. All these questions on the organisation of democratic life made for my first field of studies.
Writing in Libération, Jacques Rancière talks about populism and French politics today.
The People Are Not a Brutal and Ignorant Mass
Not a day goes by without the risks of populism being denounced on all sides. But it is not so easy to grasp what the word denotes. What is a populist? Despite various fluctuations of meaning, the dominant discourse seems to characterize it in terms of three essential features: a style of speech addressed directly to the people, bypassing representatives and dignitaries; the assertion that governments and ruling elites are more concerned with feathering their own nest than with the public interest; a rhetoric of identity that expresses fear and rejection of foreigners.
Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague — Marc Perelman
Perelman’s book takes a subversive look at sport and global sporting events such as the Olympics to reveal their darker side. He argues that sport has become an instrument of political control and a vehicle for capitalist monoculture. This timely polemic offers refreshing reading to those looking for an antidote to this summer’s Olympian frenzy.
Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism — Stephen Graham
This authoritative study examines the rapid and dangerous spread and normalization of surveillance and state policing in western cities and warzones alike under the guise of national security. As such it provides an unsettling and provocative insight into the global backdrop of the rising costs and militarization of London’s Olympic Games security operation.
A New Kind of Bleak: Journeys through Urban Britain— Owen Hatherley
Hatherley’s critical tour of Britain’s urban centres incorporates the latest and most high profile attempt at regeneration offering a carefully considered indictment of the architectural and social failures of Stratford’s Olympic sites.
French political philosopher and leading intellectual Jacques Rancière has postponed a visit to Israel, where he was due to speak at Tel Aviv University, after receiving an open letter from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
PACBI, in a letter published online, wrote to Rancière urging him "in the strongest terms" to cancel his visit to the university which they claim "is complicit in maintaining a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid." The letter went on to explain that Rancière's decision to ignore the letter would "violate the Palestinian call for boycott," and, "constitute a blunt rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organisations that comprise the Palestinian BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement."
Rancière was invited to Tel Aviv by, among others, Ariella Azoulay director of the Photo Lexic Research Group at the Minerva Humanities Center. In response to the letter from the PACBI, Rancière, who was due to give a lecture on 25 January, explained why he initially agreed to speak in Israel,
I accepted the invitation to contribute to the debate on the image, of a research group whose work on photography is closely related to the exposure of violations of the rights of the Palestinian people since the birth of the State of Israel.