Democracy and Inequality

von sophilos

Democracy, as a regime of government qua representative democracy, was only possible with the destruction of feudal relations of production. The abstract monadic subject, preluded by the monadic substance qua private individual in protestant thought, is the consequence of the social relation we have to call capitalism. This atomic subject, solitary, even in community, is the ultimate precondition for citizenship – no longer bound by the particular life-world it is born into, particular struggle mediated in the universal notion of the ‘citizen’.

Formal freedom replacing formal necessities dependent on birth, status, class and so on. Formal freedom in contrast to economic inequality is characteristic of capitalism – formal freedom understood as the right to freely sell one’s labour. It is, however, a misconception to speak of formal freedom, as remaining on the level of form – Hegel knew this all too well: Form is content. As such Marcuse’s dictum ‘freedom precedes liberation’ remains valid – only after having realised one’s equality can one go on to struggle for emancipation proper. Emancipation proper, meaning not to be a member of a community of slaves, but of a community proper as Rancière is keen on emphasising. Egaliberte, equality of all individuals as speaking beings, manifests itself here first, as Zizek notes, as symbolic fiction – yet something peculiar happens: fiction becomes fact and egaliberte acquires symbolic efficacy in the continuous demanding of social actors to achieve a more level playing field (e.g. why are women paid less?).

Formal freedom, devised by liberal thinkers to promote the reign of property over work – is then undermined, given a subversive twist – taken out of context to serve the emancipation of those not yet emancipated.