Obsolete Democracy IV: Democracy in Motion, Composing, 15/10/2016

Continued from last post . . . After a very difficult week (and in the face of what could be an even more difficult week starting in a few days), I want to get a moment of real creativity on this blog. After about three years of research on it, I’m about ready to say for sure what the outline of the third part of Utopias will be.

Yesterday, I asked a question that I’ll say, provisionally, is the central question of any democratic thinking. What kind of community is ideal for human life? In that post, I gave a list of examples of how nationalism and ideas of nationhood stand in the way of realizing that ideal.

A protestor at a Trump rally speaks a democracy that blows up
borders and nationhood.
But the ideal itself is pretty simple. An ideal human community is a place where we can all be free to live as we wish and live with dignity

This isn’t a tough question. Yet very rarely can any of our political leaders say that this is the goal of democracy, let alone build policies to push our communities in that direction.

Utopias is going to be a very weird book, but I hope it’ll also be fun. Fun in that model of a thought puzzle. A work of philosophy that’s also a game. And the conclusion of the game will be a justification of enlightenment, a way of thinking about society that’s both the ideal and the next step forward in our democratic tradition. Integrating the democratic tradition with a wider metaphysics and history of human becoming itself.

It’ll be some heavy shit.

So here’s basically how it looks. That last section anyway, flowing from a conclusion that nationalism and the very concepts of nation and nationhood now stand in the way of human freedom. The nation was once a vehicle of freedom, but it’s made itself obsolete today. 

Historical influences will come from the radical democratic tradition. Some of them were communists back in the day, but I'm no communist. That's another obsolete idea – an impossibility in a globalized world. 

Start with the ideals of Mikhail Bakunin – that free people must govern themselves, and live under no kings, dictators, or oligarchs, whether they achieve their power through state control or riches. And yes, one important ideal of Karl Marx – that a wage slave is still a slave, that exhaustion merely for a knife-edge escape from poverty is still a raw deal.

A lesson from Emma Goldman – that civic freedoms are useless if you're too poor or otherwise disadvantaged to have any material freedom of choice in your life. Or the words of Antonio Gramsci – that activists can’t trust the global-level conditions of the world to induce change for the better. Building a better community is a shared project.

Once a long-standing bastion of fascist nationalism in Europe, Spain
is now the home of a thriving radical democratic movement of the
left. Hope never dies as long as there's life.
That shared project needs communication, platform-building, common spaces of conversation, public relations and lobbying. All the means of marshalling and organizing social forces so powerful that they can't be ignored. 

And contemporary influences. Antonio Negri’s theories of globalization* demonstrate that the real progressive path is to finish embracing a global society, not shutting it down just because only the few wealthy have benefited so far. Jacques Rancière’s fiery critiques of those who think civic nationalism and legitimate state authority is all a democracy needs. The deceptively steely pragmatism of Etienne Balibar. And most importantly, the insight into the nature and ease of human terror that Hannah Arendt brought to us through her books on totalitarianism and democracy – the social wills to uniformity and diversity.

* And his philosophies of time will be pretty important to developing the ideas in the first half of Utopias too.

Two thinkers that I think I should still draw on from that Western liberatory tradition are Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, who integrated their philosophical thinking with the progressive and idealist social movements of Europe.

Thinkers from outside the Western sphere will be needed too, though I’m only at the beginning of this research. There’s the classics like Frantz Fanon and Edward Said, of course. But also Partha Chatterjee, Amartya Sen, Pheng Cheah, and indigenous thinkers like Wab Kinew and Glen Sean Coulthard.

The picture isn’t complete by far and it isn’t meant to be. But Utopias will be my own contribution to what Mouffe calls the radicalization of democracy – visions of human society that reconcile civic and material freedoms, where people can live as they wish in communities of strong bonds and vibrant, singular differences.

Where human creativity keeps driving ourselves forward – new ways of life, new thoughts, new societies. Always adapting to changing times and worlds, and changing those worlds as we act. Social becoming. Democracy in motion.

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