Using Spielraum for a Normative Definition of Politics: Obama’s Play Politics and Trump’s Asceticism

Human Studies:1-18 (forthcoming)
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The terms “politics” and “political” have become so overdetermined that it is difficult to use them in any effective manner. We argue that this has dangerous political consequences, and that this could be addressed by providing a new, sounder, notion of politics. This paper argues that defining politics in relation to the notion of play can provide a notion both intuitively appealing and able to withstand the problematic overdeterminations. We argue that politics is the set of practices through which the indeterminate of Spielraum is made more determinate. This suggests that politics is always partly a matter of play: it is about instituting values without making any claims about the legitimacy of this instituting act. With reference to Huizinga and Nietzsche’s analyses of play, we define play as the living unity of seriousness and frivolity, and non-play as either seriousness without frivolity or frivolity without seriousness. In order to illustrate this, we comparatively analyse the attitudes of Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the single context of the well-known yearly White House Correspondent’s Dinner. There, we see two opposed attitudes to playfulness. Our analysis allows us to apply our _Spielraum_ model of politics to show that the thrust of Obama’s attitude involves an embrace of the non-foundational nature of politics as play, whereas Trump’s attitude is politicidal: it is animated by a refusal to acknowledge its own lack of foundation, leading to an oscillation between over-seriousness and over-frivolity.



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Frank Chouraqui
Leiden University

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References found in this work

Beyond Good and Evil.Friedrich Nietzsche & Helen Zimmern - 1908 - International Journal of Ethics 18 (4):517-518.
On the Political.Chantal Mouffe - 2005 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 68 (4):830-832.
In Defence of Politics.Graeme C. Moodie & Bernard Crick - 1964 - Philosophical Quarterly 14 (57):380.
Nietzsche's Philosophy of Play.Lawrence M. Hinman - 1974 - Philosophy Today 18 (2):106-124.

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