“Representation Against Democracy: Jacques Rancière on the French Presidential Elections”

From an interview with Jacques Rancière on the French Presidential Elections (translated from the original in French):

How would you organise collective life without representatives? By drawing lots — a measure you supported in your 2005 book Hatred of Democracy?

We should distinguish between delegation and representation. In a democracy, logically enough some people will carry out certain activities on other people’s behalf. But the delegate plays her role only once, which is not true of representatives. Drawing lots was once the normal democratic way of designating delegates, based on the principle that everyone was equally capable. I proposed bringing it back in order to reverse the drive toward professionalisation. But that is no simple recipe, any more than non-renewable mandates are. These tools are only of interest if they are in the hands of a vast popular movement. Democracy does not exist without these pressures emerging from outside the system, pressures that shake up the institutions of the state — like the “squares movements” did recently. Democracy presupposes that institutions autonomous of state structures and state agendas are able to make these egalitarian moments last.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for adding the link to the French original!

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  2. These tools are only of interest if they are in the hands of a vast popular movement. Democracy does not exist without these pressures emerging from outside the system, pressures that shake up the institutions of the state

    This seems a bit odd. Yes, any movement for democratization in a non-democratic regime must rely on mass mobilization in order to achieve its goals. In a democratic system, however, there is no reason to “shake up the institutions”.

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  3. Yoram,

    >In a democratic system, however, there is no reason to “shake up the institutions”.

    That is only true for those who define democracy as governance by sortition. Most analysts (including Ranciere) would argue that it is rather more complicated — both theoretically and practically. “Democratic” and “non-democratic” are abstract ideal types to which actual systems of governance — past, present and future — can only approximate. There is no magic bullet.

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  4. Ranciere seems to oppose voting:

    Choosing the crook to avoid the fascist is to deserve both of them. And to prepare the way to having both.

    This may be true as a practical matter, but should not be seen as following from the mere fact that elections are not democratic. Yes, voting is not democratic, but it is still a political tool and its use should be judged based on its foreseeable effects, rather than based on some abstract objections.

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  5. Yoram,

    We had a seminar in our department last month on Ranciere’s Hatred of Democracy and nobody suggested that he opposed voting — a dispassionate reading of the sentence you quote would suggest he disapproved of the candidates, not the mechanism. And I’m sure that he would not agree with simplistic programmes to implement “democracy” based purely on anachronistic appeals to authority, definitional fiat, logical syllogisms and other such “abstract objections”. But it is clear that he thinks sortition should be part of a robust and effective democratic political system, as it was in the classical Athenian demokratia.

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