Thursday, December 20, 2012

From "The Aesthetic Dimension: Aesthetics, Politics, Knowledge," by Jacques Rancière

To understand dissensus from an aesthetic point of view is to understand it from a point of view that neutralizes the ethical rule of the distribution of power. As I mentioned earlier the ethical rule is actually doubled; the common property is doubled by alternative capacities. According to this rule, power is the exercising of a certain qualification of some over those who don’t possess it; those who exercise power are entitled to do so because they are the priests of God, the descendants of the founders, the eldest, the best of kin, the wisest, the most virtuous, and so on. This is what I have called the circle of the arkhe`, the logic according to which the exercise of power is anticipated in the capacity to exercise it, and this capacity in turn is verified by its exercise. I have claimed that the democratic supplement is the neutralization of that logic, the dismissal of any dissymmetry of positions.

This is what the notion of a power of the demos means. The demos is not the population. Nor is it the majority or the lower classes. It is made up of those who have no particular qualification, no aptitude attached to their location or occupation, no aptitude to rule rather than be ruled, no reason to be ruled rather than to rule.

Democracy is this astounding principle: those who rule do so on the grounds that there is no reason why some persons should rule over others except for the fact that there is no reason.

This is the anarchic principle of democracy, which is the disjunctive junction of power and the demos. The paradox is that that anarchic principle of democracy turns out to be the only ground for the existence of something like a political community and political power.

There are a variety of ethical powers that work at the level of the social: in families, tribes, schools, workshops, and so on; parents over children, the older over the younger, the rich over the poor, teachers over pupils, and so on. But as long as the community is made from the conjunction of those powers and as long as it is ruled on the whole according to one or a combination of those powers it is not yet political.

In order for any community to be a political one there must be one more principle, one more entitlement, that grounds all of the others. But there is only one principle in excess of all the others: the democratic principle or entitlement, the qualification of those who have no qualification.

This is my understanding of the democratic supplement: the demos is a supplement to the collection of social differentiations. It is the supplementary part made of those who have no qualification, who are not counted as units in its count.

I have called it the part of those without part, which does not mean the underdogs but means anyone. The power of the demos is the power of whoever. It is the principle of infinite substitutability or indifference to difference, of the denial of any principle of dissymmetry as the ground of the community. 

The demos is the subject of politics inasmuch as it is heterogeneous to the count of the parts of a society. It is a heteron, but a heteron of a specific kind since its heterogeneity is tantamount to substitutability.

Its specific difference is the indifference to difference, the indifference to the multiplicity of differences—which means inequalities—that make up a social order. Democratic heterogeneity means the disjunctive junction of two logics. What is usually designated as the political is made of two antagonistic logics. On the one hand, there are men who rule over others because they are—or they play the part of—the older, the richer, the wiser, and so on because they are entitled to rule over those who do not have their status or competence.  There are patterns and procedures of rule predicated on a certain distribution of place and competence. This is what I call the rule of the police.

But, on the other hand, that power has to be supplemented by an additional power. To the extent that a power is political, the rulers rule on the ultimate ground that there is no reason why they should rule. Their power rests on its own absence of legitimacy. This is what the power of the people means: the democratic supplement is that which makes politics exist as such.

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