When I say the word 'police' in this context, it helps to think of this as a verb. When police forces solve crimes, help prosecute violent offenders, and actually protect the people of their communities, they’re public servants. They aren’t policing in this sense.
Policing as the enforcement of rules is a brutal means of social control. It's the social control of direct violent intimidation and fear. The spectacle of the tank driving down the street, the line of riot police armoured so heavily as they walk through what was once a thriving market district looking more like robot soldiers than people.
|I don't remember ever thinking that guy with the cameo in Home Alone II|
is going to be President of the United States one day. Even though I
wasn't even in puberty yet. Definitely not.
Quite a few of my good friends in Toronto are Syrian immigrants, people who've grown up in a state that controlled its population with secret police. So at least the Trump Administration will likely not embrace this essential institution of totalitarianism.
So in a philosophical sense, policing is control by the explicit and open threat of violence. That violence can take many forms, like actual physical beatings, the insidious buzzing of a surveillance state, or the institutionalized destruction of lives through imprisonment and the social exclusion of former convicts.
Policing is the biggest and most bruising stick of all the ways to exclude people from a legitimate place in a society, for the reason that a person doesn’t follow as they should a set of detailed substantive rules of propriety. As a process and a social force, policing in this sense is the essential anti-democratic activity.
If the nature of democracy as a process – the ontology of democracy – is as the struggle for freedom, then in what does that freedom consist? It’s more substantive than the libertarian sense of freedom, which is the mere absence of state coercion (though that’s incredibly important).
And it isn’t the communitarian sense of freedom either. I’ve been reading some very good critical writing on this concept in a collection of essays by Chantal Mouffe that I picked up from my shelves a while ago.
Communitarian conceptions of democratic inclusion requires such a thick, detailed, and essentially static shared morality in a community that they paradoxically end up embracing policing in the name of freedom. Communitarian conceptions of freedom reduce to a strict and detailed set of social rules that are defined as the proper way to be free. And conformity to these rules means you’ve got to start some heavy policing.
No, real democracy is neither of these. It’s the struggle for greater freedom – developing new vectors for liberation and the movement along those directions.
In Jacques Rancière’s analysis of this problem, he describes he democratic process as the struggles for including all these proliferating differences in a society’s morality.
People are caught between two possibilities if the choice comes down to liberal or communitarian visions of a free society. Yet each of those two possibilities seem to be parallel visions of the other.
Liberalism leaves us disconnected individuals, little more than a bare life bouncing off other such isolates. Our best hopes for life would be to escape being crushed by our institutions or eaten by our neighbours.
Communitarian conceptions of citizenship and freedom position themselves as the antidote to liberal poverty of the subject’s morality. They are correct that rights can only exist with the real support of a whole community. But bearing rights that a community respects doesn’t require comprehensive moral conformity.
In other words, I don’t have to be the same kind of person as you to respect you, and welcome you to my community. Common identity isn’t the reason to respect someone – it’s simply being a person.
That’s the foundation of democracy.