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We are concerned with the prospects for democracy under the conditions of modernity: two words that need not so much definition as exploration.
When in 1950 Hannah Arendt visited Martin Heidegger for the first time after the Second World War, they went for long walks and she sought to engage him in conversation as to how one was to think of the events that had transpired since their last encounter in 1934. Her early book The Origins of Totalitarianism and the later The Human Condition were her most extended attempts to come to grips with this new world (although one should mention Eichmann in Jerusalem here as well).
This is our problem also – at least one of our problems – if democracy is the activity of a people coming together to deal with what they have in common; that is my first attempt at an exploration. I take it that any theory of democracy must determine an appropriate democratic response to the particular set of problems that confront a given people (or peoples) at a particular time. These problems vary importantly, and what one thinks are the predominant problems of the time may be different from what they in fact are. Identification of the nature of particular problems is thus the first and most important step. As an example: if one understands the problem connected to the practice of segregation in the USA in the first two-thirds of the past century as a problem of civil rights, one will tend to think the appropriate response to be the achievement of voting rights. Such, I might note, was the conclusion of Robert Dahl in his 1956 A Preface to Democratic Theory. If one understands segregation as a problem of ressentiment, the achievement of one's identity by the negation of another's, a democratic response requires something additional.
I cannot here given more than an indication of what I think the most important problems that shape this world are. Partly out of lack of adequate knowledge of some of the parts of the world that are of concern to this volume, but more significantly out of the conviction that different peoples have different problems, I am going to restrict myself to the Anglo-American-European West in the twentieth century.
In the end . . . the old deep, heartfelt plea: become who you are. At first one must emancipate oneself from one’s chains, and in the end, one must also emancipate oneself from one’s emancipation.
Nietzsche to Lou Salomé, end of August 1882
For it is only in the Dionysian mysteries, in the psychology of the Dionysian state, that the basic fact of the Hellenic instinct finds expression – its ‘will to life’. What was it that the Hellene guaranteed himself by means of these mysteries? Eternal life, the eternal return of life; the future promised and hallowed in the past; the triumphant Yes to life beyond all death and change; true life as the over-all continuation of life through procreation, through the mysteries of sexuality. For the Greeks the sexual symbol was therefore the venerable symbol par excellence, the real profundity in the whole of ancient piety. Every single element in the act of procreation, of pregnancy, and of birth aroused the highest and most solemn feelings. In the doctrine of the mysteries, pain is pronounced holy: the pangs of the woman giving birth hallow all pain; all becoming and growing – all that guarantees a future – involves pain. That there may be the eternal joy of creating, that the will to life may eternally affirm itself, the agony of the woman giving birth must also be there eternally.
Political Theology, first published in 1922, represents Carl Schmitt's most important initial engagement with the theme that was to preoccupy him for most of his life: that of sovereignty, that is, of the locus and nature of the agency that constitutes a political system. Die Diktatur is a theory of dictatorship; Political Theology, however, is a theory of sovereignty and an attempt to locate the state of emergency in a theory of sovereignty. More importantly, Political Theology discusses that which for Schmitt underlies the commissarial and sovereign dictatorship and makes both of them possible. Schmitt's insistence on the necessarily and irreducibly human quality of political and legal actions is a key. Those who would elaborate a set of rules by which decisions can be made take the politics out of human life; Schmitt is concerned to keep them in human life.
Political thought is representative. I form an opinion by considering a given issue from different viewpoints, by making present to my mind the standpoints of those who are absent; that is, I represent them. This process of representation does not blindly adopt the actual views of those who stand somewhere else, and hence look upon the world from a different perspective; this is a question neither of empathy, as though I tried to be or to feel like somebody else, nor of counting noses and joining a majority but of being and thinking in my own identity where actually I am not. The more people's standpoints I have present in my mind … the stronger will be my capacity for representative thinking.
Arendt draws here upon the concept of “reflective judgment” in Immanuel Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment. “Reflective judgment” is precisely not my taking someone else's point of view, but thinking as myself (“thinking in my own identity”) that which others think. Such judgment thus re-presents the judgments of all those others to whom I make myself present. I will not necessarily agree with them, but I will have had them present while reflecting. In doing so, Arendt observes, I do not take into account “only my own interests.”
Yet, if Arendt is right, it would seem that there is no room for such a politics in Rousseau: notoriously, he seems opposed to representation as such.
[Melody] does not only imitate, it speaks, and its language - inarticulate but vigorous, burning and passionate - has a hundred times more energy than speech.
Essay on the Origin of Languages, 14 OC v 416.1
Some people think music a primitive art because it has only a few notes and rhythms. But it is simple only on the surface,- its substance on the other hand, which makes it possible to interpret this manifest content, has all the infinite complexity that's suggested in the external forms of other arts and that music conceals. There is a sense in which it is the most sophisticated art of all.
Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, pp. 8-9
There are two commonly accepted, seldom scrutinized, claims about Rousseau. The first is that he opposed representation in politics and was an advocate of direct democracy,- the second is that he was opposed to the theater on the grounds that is distanced citizens from moral understanding.
II faut être absolument moderne. [It is necessary to be absolutely modern.] (Arthur Rimbaud)
There is nothing for it: one must go forward, that is step by step further into decadence. (F. Nietzsche, “For the Ear of Conservatives” Twilight of the Idols)
Other world! There is no other world! Here or nowhere is the whole fact. (R. W. Emerson)
I want to write here about the political uses made of Nietzsche, about what Nietzsche says about politics (broadly understood), and about the politics of reading and writing about Nietzsche. Twenty-five years ago few people would have cared. Nietzsche was a minor figure, stimulating to adolescents, without rigor, a bit silly. Now he is a minor industry in the intellectual professions. Everyone is writing about Nietzsche, some their third or fourth book. Articles appear everywhere: The bastions and inner walls of the most analytic redoubts have fallen,- journals of literature both learned and popular vie for text. Nietzsche seems inexhaustible - he is available, it seems, to everyone. Everything in Nietzsche seems living. Yet if everything is living, everything about Nietzsche also seems fragile.
I want also to say something here about the various claims that have been made on Nietzsche. I do not want so much to argue that Nietzsche is or is not the ally of a particular political persuasion as much as to investigate why he lends himself to such a wide range of positions, and what it means about a writer that he can be subject to so many varying claims of political allegiance. Most importantly, I wish to raise the question of what it means for a writer, such as Nietzsche, to resist the currently available political identities.
In the profane understanding, anyone who is also interested in the latest German writing is a Kantian. In the scholarly understanding, a Kantian is only he who believes that Kant is the truth and that, if the mail coach from Konigsberg were ever to have an accident one might well find oneself without the truth for some weeks.
F. Schlegel, Athenaeum, Fragment 104
We have to stand by our traditions . . . if we do not want to disavow ourselves.
Jürgen Habermas, “On the Public Use of History”
If in what follows we appear critical, it is not because we are unappreciative of the real achievement of the work of Jürgen Habermas. The theory of communicative action makes the case that rationality is a relevant moral social concept. That humans speak with and to each other places them, he shows, in a moral relationship, simply by the actuality of the fact of that speech. Habermas develops this position into a critical defense of modernity around a vision of the “formation of autonomous public spheres, which . . . enter into communication with one another as soon as the potential for selforganization and the self-organized employment of communication media is made use of.” This is a democratic picture based upon the potential egalitarianism of uncoerced participation in discourse.
Anna Louise Strong was part of the first generation of those westerners who reported extensively and sympathetically on socialist revolutions. Born in Nebraska in 1885, she obtained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1908, became involved in the labour movement in Seattle where she helped organize the general strike in 1919 and went first to the Soviet Union in 1921 on the advice of Lincoln Steffens. She became during the 1920s and 1930s probably the best-known American journalist reporting on the domestic policies of the Soviet Union. Her reportage was unswervingly sympathetic – what doubts she had were hidden in letters to friends, in strained disavowals, in odd turns of phrase in her many articles and books.