Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Hatred of Democracy

Today, I received two books written by Jacques Ranciere.

I just started reading the first, Hatred of Democracy, and the first two paragraphs resonate with me.  Here they are:
A young woman keeps France in suspense with her story of a make-believe attack; a few adolescents refuse to take their headscarves off at school; social security is running a deficit; Montesquieu, Voltaire and Baudelaire dethrone Racine and Corneille as texts presented at the baccalaureate; wage earners hold demonstrations to defend their retirement scheme; reality TV, homosexual marriage and artificial insemination increase in popularity.  There is no point looking for what groups together events of such disparate natures.  Book after book, article after article, journalists and writers, have already supplied us with the response.  All these symptoms, they say, are manifestations of the same illness; for all these effects there is only one cause.  The cause is called democracy, that is, the reign of the limitless desire of individuals in modern mass society.
It is imperative to see what constitutes the singularity of this denunciation.  Hatred of democracy is certainly nothing new.  Indeed, it is as old as democracy itself for a simple reason: the word itself is an expression of hatred.  It was, in Ancient Greece, originally used as an insult by those who saw in the unnameable government of the multitude the ruin of any legitimate order.  It remained synonymous with abomination for everyone who thought that power fell by rights to those whose birth predestined them to it or whose capabilities called them to it.  And it still is today for those who construe revelations of divine law as the sole legitimate foundation on which to organize human communities.  The violence of this hatred is certainly on the contemporary agenda.  It is not, though, an objective of this book, for a simple reason: I have nothing in common with those that spread it, and so nothing to discuss with them.
A couple things.  First, the author is French, and so are his examples (for Debra).  Second, in the first paragraph, every example does not in any way implicate democracy, i.e., government action invoked by the will of the people.  Instead, what is implicated (and indicted) is individuals being individuals, something which the modern "market-based" economy requires to continue, as atomization is key to encouraging unnecessary consumption.  Third, in the second paragraph, we see examples of how the very "rugged individualism" that encourages the masses to embrace and speak their individuality, which is horrible, provides the very basis for "elites" to assert their superiority.  The problem is that any "elite" who believes that their capabilities differentiates them is no different than the masses who believe their individuality differentiates them.  Self-described "elites" who think they deserve having more have no clue about the game that is played around them every day.  Therefore, they are not truly elite and will ultimately suffer the same fate as the masses they deride.