The last weekend in October of last year, I was at the former Labyrinth Bookstore in New York City where I picked up Jacques Rancière’s The Hatred of Democracy. Ten days later, the country would elect Donald Trump to the presidency. Since then (and well before), the cries against democracy have come in from many corners. Jason Brennan, philosopher at Georgetown, wrote a book Against Democracy in which he calls for an epistocracy. Andrew Sullivan argues that democracies end when they are too democratic in New York Magazine. Caleb Crain discusses the case against it in The New Yorker in the issue published the week before the election. Crain quotes the famous Winston Churchill line, democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried from time to time. That line put me in mind of what Chesterton said about Christianity, that it hasn’t been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and not tried. Or perhaps not difficult, but scandalous. This I believe is what Rancière is arguing about democracy.
Rancière makes three relevant points. First, the people are dismissed as problematic because of a process that divides democratic politics from democratic society and then denigrates all that is associated with democratic society. Second, democracy is a rule without measure, without legitimacy (which is why lottery is the most, perhaps the only true, democratic form of choosing leaders). All efforts to establish legitimacy set up a rationale for rule that make that measure and not the people as such, the source of legitimacy. Third, voting in representative governments is a ruse that gives cover to oligarchic regimes. I argue on the basis of this analysis that blaming democracy or the people in a situation that is not democratic legitimates anti-democratic policies and processes in a system that already was anti-democratic. Read more
As part of the GLCA Ancient Philosophy Collaborative Initiative, I and my collaborators Lewis Trelawny-Cassity and Kevin Miles will be discussing my book Aristotle and the Nature of Community tomorrow, April 17, 2015, at Antioch College, MacGregor 149 at 4 PM. This panel will be convened in conjunction with the philosophy roundtable that meets regularly in Yellow Springs. I’m posting my comments below:
It’s an honor to be given this time and this venue to discuss my research. I’m grateful to Lewis Meeks Trelawny-Cassity and to Kevin Miles for the time and the consideration they have given my book. Kevin Miles was the first person with whom I read the Politics. Since reading Plato and Aristotle with him as a graduate student, I have found a persisting tension between the project of elucidating the question of a text and offering a sympathetic account of it. My own interest in developing a positive account of Aristotle’s Politics might seem to repress rather than illuminate the questions of the text. My drive has been to give the strongest reading in an effort to find an alternative to modern conceptions of political life. I hope that today and not only today, I can try to get clearer about the questions this reading forces upon us. Read more
Last week, one of the tone-setting figures in the field of philosophy, University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter, allowed for some speculation on the reasons for the employment of a nontenured woman philosopher on a thread on his blog (see comment #2 by AnonUntenured). That thread did not take long to deteriorate into a #MRA meltdown where anonymous trolls insist that it is men not women who are the true victims in the current state of the discipline. The target of the initial speculation, Leigh Johnson of Christian Brothers University, submitted a comment in reply to the moderated thread where the speculation first arose but it was not approved. Johnson included that comment in a response which articulated pretty clearly that she is one among many women in philosophy who is just not going to take it anymore. I witnessed some discussion on social media in light of Johnson’s response where there was disagreement over whether Johnson, and not just Johnson but anyone who was upset that a very senior very influential person was allowing speculation over the legitimacy of a junior woman philosopher’s employment, should bring attention to this behavior by addressing it head on or just ignore it. I’ve been thinking all week about why I think this kind of thing needs to be publicized rather than ignored. Her post received 12,000 hits in the first 24 hours it was up in an effort, as she said quoting Gilles Deleuze, “to harm stupidity, to make stupidity shameful.” I completely support that reasoning for publicizing it, but I want to add another. Read more