In response to my recent diary on the public, Shahar of Perverse Egalitarianism writes:

the “pedagogic” comments are all too irritating, but then again, the hazard of the public is of course, nothing less than the perverse egalitarianism of the internet.

Recently, in an argument or line of reasoning that makes me suspicious or somewhat uncomfortable, I’ve been thinking that democracy is the one “true” form of the political. This line of reasoning arises in response to Socrates’ question in the Euthyphro where it is asked “is piety pious because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is pious?” Under the first option, we get the logic of sovereignity, where the sovereign is the first term (whether that sovereign be the gods, God, the emperor, the priest, or the leader) such that the sovereign makes the good what it is. That is, under this first option there is nothing intrinsic to the nature of the good, but rather it is the will of the sovereign that makes the good what it is. Thus, for example, it is impossible to claim that the actions of Caligula or Nero are wrong in themselves, for Caligula and Nero, as sovereigns, are those who decree and create the law. By contrast, under the second option– moral realism –there are transcendent standards by which sovereignity itself can be evaluated. If the actions of the Greek gods or the Christian God can be said to be wrong, if it is possible to claim that the caesar is a bad emperor, then this is because there is some standard that transcends the gods, God, and the caesar. All of this is bound up intimately with previous diaries I have written on Lacan’s graphs of sexuation and, in particular, the masculine side of the graph of sexuation.

Setting aside the possibility of moral realism (which is a position I reject due to it’s commitment to transcendence), what might lead to the conclusion that democracy– which I do not believe has ever existed or been realized despite certain configurations that call themselves democracy –is the one true form of politics? If democracy is the one true form of politics, then this is because it is that form of the political where relations of power and the social are least obfuscated or disguised. Here my inspiration is Feuerbachian. Feuerbach famously argued that God is nothing but alienated man. That is, we project our highest aspirations and desires onto another being, but then experience these qualities not as existing in and from us, but in something else. God is thus an alienated and distorted image of our own essence or nature.

Something similar seems to occur in the case of political systems. Let us take the example of a monarchial system. In a monarchial system I experience power as residing elsewhere in the figure of the monarch. The monarch possesses some enigmatic feature that grants the monarch a power that other subjects do not possess. However, just as the protagonist of Kafka’s Before the Law is the secret of the law, the source of the law’s power, so too can the monarch only be a monarch if his subjects recognize him as a monarch. In short, the source of the monarch’s power is the monarch’s subjects, yet the monarch’s subjects do not recognize themselves as the ones who give the monarch his power, but instead, like Feuerbach’s religious subjects, see the power of the monarch as a mysterious and enigmatic property that is “in the monarch more than himself”.

In light of this line of reasoning, democracy would be the “true” form of politics insofar as it is that form of politics where the social relations underlying power are no longer obfuscated, but are now encountered directly and immanently. Under democracy social subjects encounter themselves as both the source of power and the principle of their own constraint. Or to put the point a bit differently, every form of politics is democratic since every social organization only sustains itself through the consent of the demos, but only democracy reveals this truth in and for itself. In this connection, rather than claiming that democracy is the “true” politics, it could instead be said that democracy is the real of the political, or the truth of the political. The question would then become that of what would be required for democracy to be genuinely realized. Negri and Hardt have a great deal of interesting things to say, for example, about the problems of representation with regard to radical democracy in Multitudes. At any rate, perhaps others could explain to me why I’m suspicious of this argument or why I should be suspicious of this argument.

This line of reasoning arose out of anxiety in relation to the most recent article I wrote on Deleuze and individuation, where I was asked to discuss politics and individuation. What I discovered as I worked through a good deal of Deleuze, and those influenced by Deleuze, is that while there is a great deal that is of interest and significance to political theorists in Deleuze, there is not, I think (and I could be mistaken), a determinate or worked out conception of the political in the work of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari. Much of their work, I would say, is in fact sociological, describing the dynamics of the social, without being political. And if this is the case– Paul Patton’s treatment of Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche in Deleuze and the Political aside –then this is because we are left without any sort of decision procedure for choosing multiplicities, immanence, nomadic singularities, etc., over molarities and transcendence. Note, in saying this I am not suggesting that a Deleuzian politics is not possible, only that I am unable to find it directly in Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari’s work. Towards the end of Anti-Oedipus, for example, Deleuze and Guattari directly say that they have no political program. However, it is clear that there isn’t a single page of their collaborative work– and much of Deleuze’s own work –that isn’t political in nature.

At any rate, what does any of this have to do with Shahar’s off-hand, yet on-target comment about egalitarianism and the internet? Well, I think Shaher’s comment speaks to questions about the possibility of concretely realizing democracy. In many respects I think it could be said that academia is a sort of reaction formation or defense against democracy. Is it a mistake that Plato forms the academy following the murder of Socrates? Socrates, as it were, reveals a sort of real or impossibility or real at the heart of dialogue, or the manner in which it is always beset by the antagonism of the imaginary. The academy defends against this through the production of regulated encounters in the form of journals, discourse in the form of books, organized conferences with like minded or like conditioned (Bourdieu) individuals, credentializing institutions, the hierchialization between student and professor, and controlled encounters. The academy thus becomes a way of avoiding the repetition of Socrates’ fate. Everyone is happy. The social world need not put up with the irritation of having a gadfly like Socrates on the street corner, and the philosopher can continue on with his or her discussions.

Yet with internet the controlled nature of these encounters is undermined and we are faced, once again, with the question of the uncontrolled, an-archic encounter sans the protections of an academic habitus, ranking, credentialing, or the reassuring and pacifying mediating difference of discussion through articles and books as opposed to sloppy, real-time encounters, etc., by being confronted with a space where everyone can participate (that is, everyone that is who enjoys a rank within the system of capitalism that would allow them internet access… not a small thing). Yet the internet is not simply an an-archic space where one is unable to anticipate his or her interlocutors, where a shared academic habitus cannot be assumed. It is also a space in which one can no longer hide behind polished and delayed work that would allow for the presentation of oneself in the form of a simulacrum of completeness and mastery. Incidentally, the nature of the net as a democratic space would also be why the question of whether to moderate comments is an ethical and political question. The only real democratic solution here would be one of community moderation. This aside, the manner in which all of the nasty elements of the imaginary are released within the space of the an-archic, non-representational encounter raises the question of the possibility of the democratic, as this imaginary dimension seems to internally destroy the democratic, and calls for a renewed thinking of communicative action that would be very different from the idealized picture presented to us by Habermas. Where I’m going with this, I don’t know.

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