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20

Democracy Without the People

Left populism vs. insipid pluralism

by Thea Riofrancos

0
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3
notes

Riofrancos, T. (2017). Democracy Without the People. n+1, 28, pp. 20-26

20

The anti-imperialist analysis of global conflict, in which America is almost always seen as the primary bad actor, is useful and productive, but the Syrian war has exposed its limits. The political interests involved in the war are so complicated and numerous that even if the US government were persuaded to abandon the pursuit of any of its ambitions in the Middle East, the war would likely continue unabated. Only an international effort to set aside those interests, to remoralize the discussion around war and acknowledge that wars are atrocities by definition, will produce a solution. What’s needed is not an anti-imperialist analysis but an antimilitarist one. Fortunately, antimilitarism is an authentically internationalist stance, for the simple reason that war is equally bad for everyone on the receiving end of it.

—p.20 by Thea Riofrancos 2 years, 8 months ago

The anti-imperialist analysis of global conflict, in which America is almost always seen as the primary bad actor, is useful and productive, but the Syrian war has exposed its limits. The political interests involved in the war are so complicated and numerous that even if the US government were persuaded to abandon the pursuit of any of its ambitions in the Middle East, the war would likely continue unabated. Only an international effort to set aside those interests, to remoralize the discussion around war and acknowledge that wars are atrocities by definition, will produce a solution. What’s needed is not an anti-imperialist analysis but an antimilitarist one. Fortunately, antimilitarism is an authentically internationalist stance, for the simple reason that war is equally bad for everyone on the receiving end of it.

—p.20 by Thea Riofrancos 2 years, 8 months ago
22

The Trump Administration obviously poses serious threats to pluralism and to democracy in the more substantive sense. But Trump’s means of threatening democracy are features of the system, not contraventions of it. His executive orders do undermine substantive democracy, but not because they upset a delicate balance of power among branches of government or partisan political forces. The “bipartisan consensus” cast as the moral backbone of democracy has vested in the presidency inordinate war-making and surveillance powers hidden from public scrutiny and unchecked by democratic debate or accountability. From the war on terror to the deportation pipeline, from domestic spying to Wall Street’s guaranteed seat at the economic-advising table, Trump inherits a branch of government already well equipped to undermine democracy. The President and his crack squad of billionaires and white nationalists will undoubtedly turn these tools to devastating effect, as they already have. However, our critique of Trump — and our determined political resistance to Trumpism — should not rest on mourning a democracy we have never really achieved.

—p.22 by Thea Riofrancos 2 years, 8 months ago

The Trump Administration obviously poses serious threats to pluralism and to democracy in the more substantive sense. But Trump’s means of threatening democracy are features of the system, not contraventions of it. His executive orders do undermine substantive democracy, but not because they upset a delicate balance of power among branches of government or partisan political forces. The “bipartisan consensus” cast as the moral backbone of democracy has vested in the presidency inordinate war-making and surveillance powers hidden from public scrutiny and unchecked by democratic debate or accountability. From the war on terror to the deportation pipeline, from domestic spying to Wall Street’s guaranteed seat at the economic-advising table, Trump inherits a branch of government already well equipped to undermine democracy. The President and his crack squad of billionaires and white nationalists will undoubtedly turn these tools to devastating effect, as they already have. However, our critique of Trump — and our determined political resistance to Trumpism — should not rest on mourning a democracy we have never really achieved.

—p.22 by Thea Riofrancos 2 years, 8 months ago
23

Since the rise of “formal” democracy, populism has dogged it like a shadow, dramatizing, as political scientist Laura Grattan argues, a general paradox of democratic politics. “The people” ostensibly govern themselves in a democracy — but who are “the people”? As Rousseau put it, for a people to self-govern, “the effect would have to become the cause”; the people both constitute democratic institutions and are constituted by them. Democracy is in many ways an ongoing political contest to define the people and their powers. By making claims about the identity of the people and how they enact their political power, populist movements and leaders on both the left and the right confront this fundamental problem of democracy. Their answers, however — how they define “the people” and their prescriptions for democratic practice — could not be more opposed.

Populism can shore up exclusionary visions of the people. But it can also do the opposite, fostering unlikely alliances between marginalized groups. The emancipatory potential of populism relies on the political construction of a “social bloc of the oppressed,” as philosopher Enrique Dussel has argued, drawing on Gramsci and Laclau. Left-wing populism exposes class antagonisms; right-wing populism obscures them, replacing them with cultural chauvinism, xenophobia, and racism. Where left-wing populism contests inequality, right-wing populism redistributes it — making certain kinds of inequality seem not only acceptable but natural.

—p.23 by Thea Riofrancos 2 years, 8 months ago

Since the rise of “formal” democracy, populism has dogged it like a shadow, dramatizing, as political scientist Laura Grattan argues, a general paradox of democratic politics. “The people” ostensibly govern themselves in a democracy — but who are “the people”? As Rousseau put it, for a people to self-govern, “the effect would have to become the cause”; the people both constitute democratic institutions and are constituted by them. Democracy is in many ways an ongoing political contest to define the people and their powers. By making claims about the identity of the people and how they enact their political power, populist movements and leaders on both the left and the right confront this fundamental problem of democracy. Their answers, however — how they define “the people” and their prescriptions for democratic practice — could not be more opposed.

Populism can shore up exclusionary visions of the people. But it can also do the opposite, fostering unlikely alliances between marginalized groups. The emancipatory potential of populism relies on the political construction of a “social bloc of the oppressed,” as philosopher Enrique Dussel has argued, drawing on Gramsci and Laclau. Left-wing populism exposes class antagonisms; right-wing populism obscures them, replacing them with cultural chauvinism, xenophobia, and racism. Where left-wing populism contests inequality, right-wing populism redistributes it — making certain kinds of inequality seem not only acceptable but natural.

—p.23 by Thea Riofrancos 2 years, 8 months ago