Democracy and Difference

von sophilos

Democracy as the regime of consensus is incompatible with diversity and difference – the institutionalisation of so called liberal institutions within the framework of what is in its essence said to be democracy, however, has altered the democratic regime itself. Liberal democracy, more specifically, its pluralistic regime is concerned with the organisation of dissent, that is the framing of irresolvable differences within the private realm and the acting out of differences on a ‘theatrical stage’, as Schmitt would have it. Liberal democracy is then ever so much in need of difference, which must be staged, enacted and presented so that matters of irresolvable differences may remain within the private.

The organisation of dissent then acquires a wittgensteinian twist, by participating in public discourse, one effectively engages in a specific ‘language game’ and accordingly one is presumed to have acknowledged both its validity as well as the ‘rules of the game’. This then is the fundamental presupposition of liberal democracy, what Mouffe refers to as ‘principles of liberty and equality’ is in lacanese the ‘master-signifier’ giving form to the discourses, positing latent conventions, which one must adhere to. Such conventions do not deny the multiplicity of identities, identity qua sum total of the discourses a specific subjectivity is involved in[1], rather it must be comprehended as the underlying prerequisite rendering possible the organisation of dissent.

As such what is dangerous for contemporary ‘post-ideological’ liberal democracy is not the prevalence of dissent in private matters, religion, beliefs, etiquette and so on, but the very void left in political discourse as ideology dissipated within the liberal institutions themselves – ‘post-politics’ fails, where the age of ideology and politics was successful: in relegating dissent into the private sphere and staging differences in an environment, in which they could be ‘reasonably’ resolved.


[1] Identity on this account is to be understood as the temporal suturing of identifications or nodal points into a diachronic subjectivity