For the philosopher Jacques Rancière, France’s strange presidential election campaign is no surprise. He thinks that a French system that entrusts all power to professional politicians mechanically churns out candidates who claim to represent a "clean break." Éric Aeschimann spoke to Rancière for the 9–15 March 2017 edition of L’Obs. Translated by David Broder.
Emmanuel Macron at a March 2017 press conference.
From François Hollande’s decision not to stand, to François Fillon’s legal woes, the current presidential campaign has been a succession of dramatic twists. And you, Jacques Rancière, are a unique observer of this spectacle. For years you have denounced the impasses of representative democracy, which you see as incapable of producing a genuine democracy. How would you analyse what is happening?
"Representative democracy" is a more than ambiguous term. It conveys the false idea of an already-constituted people that expresses itself by choosing its representatives. Yet the people is not a given that pre-exists the political process: rather, it is the result of this process. This or that political system creates this or that people, rather than the other way around. Besides, the representative system is founded on the idea that there is a class in society that represents the general interests of society. In the minds of the American founding fathers, that was the class of enlightened landowners. This system creates a people that identifies its legitimate representatives as coming from within this class, periodically reconfirming as much at the ballot box. The representative system gradually became an affair for professionals, who then reproduced themselves. But in so doing this system generated its own reverse, the mythical idea of a people not represented by these professionals and aspiring to provide itself with representatives who really do incarnate it. This is the piece of theatre — of constantly declining quality — that each election now reproduces.
The philosopher Jacques Rancière reviews the causes of the identitarian (and more particularly religious) drift we are currently seeing France. This is a catastrophe that must be fought with politics. Interview by Éric Aeschimann, published in L’Obs 28/01/16, translated by David Broder.
One year after the Charlie Hebdo shootings and two months after the attack on the Bataclan, how do you see the state of French society? Are we at war?
The official discourse says that we are at war because a hostile power is waging war against us. The attacks perpetrated in Paris are interpreted as the operations carried out by detachments executing acts of war for the enemy, in our own country. The question is one of knowing who this enemy is. The government has opted for Bush’s logic, that of a war that is simultaneously both total (aimed at the destruction of the enemy) and circumscribed to a precise target, namely the Islamic State. But according to a different response, related by certain intellectuals, Islam has declared war on us, and is implementing a global plan to impose its own law across the planet. These two logics converge insofar as in fighting Daesh the government has to mobilise a national feeling, which is an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment. The word ‘war’ itself speaks to this conjunction.
According to the philosopher Jacques Rancière, a number of so-called French ‘republican’ intellectuals have been opening the door to the Front National for some time now. In an interview with Éric Aeschimannm, Rancière shows how universalist values have been perverted to the benefit of xenophobic discourse.
In the following interview, author of Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art Jacques Rancière speaks with Anna Wójcik about the politics of art, the meaning of democracy, and the state of art today. Does contemporary art still have the potential to disrupt society and 'redistribute the sensible'?
Paul McCarthy's 'L'Arbre' - provocative or commodified?