Excursus into disagreement over disagreement!!!!

For Laclau, all politics is basically reducible to ‘populism’. (On Populist Reason).

For Rancière, populism is the convenient name under which is dissimulated the difficulty of government: a kind of dissent is lumped together in relation to the prevailing consensus. (Hatred of Democracy: caution: pdf). This in short is a derogatory coating that results in the realization that people will not be governed properly.

Arditi (Politics on the Edge of Liberalism: caution: pdf) takes issue with Laclau and uses the strong Rancierean perspective to dissect/determine what is meant by ‘populism’.

Rancière in his 1998 book, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (caution: pdf) defines the term disagreement as:

“A determined kind of speech situation: one in which one of the interlocutors at once understands and does not understand what the other is saying. Disagreement is not the conflict between one who says white and another who says black. It is the conflict between one who says white and another who also says white but does not understand the same thing by it or does not understand that the other is saying the same thing in the name of whiteness.”

These three theorists seem to be in disagreement and the analysis here is provided to throw some clarity on the topic.

Let me take Arditi to begin with: The book is oriented with Freud’s oxymoronic notion of ‘Foreign Internal Territory‘ (essentials of Psychoanalysis). The Freudian notion denotes the relation between the ‘repressed’ and the ‘ego’. Arditi uses this in his political analysis and calls it the ‘Internal Periphery’. Internal Peripheries are the paradoxical edges. For Arditi, the edges are not to be looked at as some distances from the center, but are the spaces, where the distinction between the inside and the outside is always in dispute and cannot be conceived without a polemic. This is so much a Derridean notion of ‘Deconstruction’. Arditi rethinks the ‘symptom’ to discern his ‘internal periphery’ of the political analysis and one of the ways to understand this is through the Rancièrean conception of ‘Disagreement’.

For Rancière, ‘Disagreement’ is a political concept par excellence. This has to be distinguished from ‘difference’ and the Lyotardian ‘differend’ (The Differend, 1988). For Lyotard, ‘differend’ stands for a conflict that cannot be resolved in that there there is no legitimate adjudication. Whereas, for Rancière, ‘difference’ is difference from itself plus the ‘differend’ and this goes on to to dictate the structure of the community. Therefore, ‘differend’ is always an ontic problem, what he calls the ‘police’ problem. His ‘politics’ is close to what others in the continental tradition would call ‘the political’.

To quote Chantal Mouffe:

“If we wanted to express such a distinction in a philosophical way, we could, borrowing
the vocabulary of Heidegger, say that politics refers to the ‘ontic’ level while ‘the
political’ has to do with the ‘ontological’ one. This means that the ontic has to do with
the manifold practices of conventional politics, while the ontological concerns the very
way in which society is instituted.”

Rancière dismisses this distinction and claims that politics is rare and what is common is police. Politics is local and occasional, but, admissible to conflicts revolving around the social convulsion. To quote Rancière (Disagreement):

“So nothing is political in itself. But anything may become political if it gives rise to a
meeting of these two logics [police logic, which is opposed to egalitarian/political logic]. The same thing – an election, a strike, a demonstration – can give rise to politics or not give rise to politics. A strike is not political when it calls for reforms rather than a better deal or when it attacks the relationships of authority rather than the inadequacy of wages. It is political when it reconfigures the relationships that determine the workplace in its relation to the community. The domestic household has been turned into a political space not through the simple fact that power relationships are at work in it but because it was the subject of an argument in a dispute over the capacity of women in the community.”

If Disagreement talked about the classical political philosophy, then Hatred of Democracy deals with the present context and here he tells about the ‘here and now’, the ‘you and me’. The undecidability of the ‘internal periphery’ is decided/redecided by what Arditi calls the ‘polemicization’. ‘Polemicization’ refers to the process by which political arguments, disputes lead to transformations that reconfigure, redistribute, reinstitute and redraw the ‘lines of the community. This again gets so close to the Derridean version of drawing lines to set up any order that are neither simply internal, nor simply external (The Truth in Painting: caution: pdf). Rancière’s notion of ‘disagreement’ and the ‘internal periphery’ are akin to one another and the Rancierean notion revolves around a word or a concept. And the word is ‘Equality’.

To quote Rancière:

“Nothing is political in itself for the political only happens by means of a principle that
does not belong to it: equality. The status of this ‘principle’ needs to be specified.
Equality is not a given that politics then presses into service, an essence embodied in the
law or a goal politics sets itself the task of attaining. It is a mere assumption that needs to
be discerned within the practices implementing it…”

Arditi and Laclau would both agree on this. For Laclau, the fundamental term in political ontology is the ‘demand’. Laclau has argued this since his seminal book co-authored with Chantal Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: caution: pdf) that politics should not be confused with ‘fetishized’ positions, such as the class and this laid the foundations of post-Marxism (caution: pdf). Politics could arise wherever antagonisms flare up and they could be from any area like sex, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenry, environment etc. In Laclau, the key notion is the ineradicability of antagonism. Furthermore, Laclau sees the birth of modern politics in the democratic revolutionary space, a Claude Lefortian position and argues that ‘power’ is an empty space anybody can fight for. This gets translated as Rancière’s ‘Equality’. But, the key is Laclau’s dismissing of Rancière’s ’empty-ness’ as placing too much of an optimistic hope on people’s democratic tendencies on the one hand and as reluctant enough to let go of ‘class’, as an undeconstructed Marxist, on the other. Laclau does nod Rancière, when he talks of the Gramscian movement from ‘classes’ to ‘collective wills’ to be completed in order for the latter’s project to be realized.

Laclauian theory suffers from ontological parochiality, a contingent description of a contingent state of affairs. Laclau arrogantly votes for his politics as hegemony as an ontological category. Since all politics is hegemonic in nature, all politics is reducibly populist. For Arditi, populism is still a spectre of democracy and an internal periphery of democratic politics. Rancière, on the other hand gets pessimistic about politics and takes the police as the handmaiden of those who enjoy power.


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